Dance falls out of stepDays might be numbered for area polka fests, a form of entertainment that’s been part of the area’s culture since Europeans arrived here. “I give them five years,” said Alice Malsam, 70-something, of Aberdeen. “The older people are dying and young people aren’t interested. It’s a shame.”
By: An AP Member Exchange Feature By Russ Keen, Aberdeen American News, The Jamestown Sun
ABERDEEN, S.D. — Days might be numbered for area polka fests, a form of entertainment that’s been part of the area’s culture since Europeans arrived here.
“I give them five years,” said Alice Malsam, 70-something, of Aberdeen. “The older people are dying and young people aren’t interested. It’s a shame.”
She’s not the only one giving a bleak South Dakota forecast for the peppy dance. Jay Davis of Sioux Falls said the 2009 state polka and music festival he orchestrated in June in Sioux Falls will be his last.
“Not enough dancers,” he said. “I don’t think other polka fests will last much longer either.”
Davis, 56, is an international polka dancer. The dance has roots in Central Europe. He has organized the state festival for several consecutive years. Davis lost thousands of dollars this year and last because too few people attend, he said.
“I am not going to spend that kind of money anymore.”
Less than 25 percent of this year’s attendees were South Dakotans, he said.
“Most of the dancers were from Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. There were even a few from Wisconsin and Colorado.”
This year, Davis added some bands he hoped would appeal to the younger set, but doing that served only to make older people mad, he said.
Davis estimates 200 hard-core polka dancers remain in South Dakota. Alice and her husband, Ludwig, said fests they attend usually attract 200 to 250. Places where they’ve danced include Rapid City, Mitchell, Mobridge, Napoleon, N.D., Valley City, N.D., Sheridan, Wyo., and towns in Minnesota.
The Malsams started polkaing at young ages. Ludwig, 80, was 14 when he started the half-step dance with a little hop. Alice started as soon as she was old enough to go to wedding dances with her parents.
Both have been polkaing pretty much ever since, and they travel in their camper to dance in several states.
“My doctor says, ‘Malsam, don’t stop dancing, and don’t stop walking,”‘ Ludwig said.
Alice had a knee replaced in June 2008 and was back on the dance floor three months later, she said.
“I could have started dancing sooner, but thought I’d better not.”
When the Malsams retired, they moved from Pierre to Aberdeen to be closer to some polka fests, they said.
Fests usually last three days, running from noon to midnight on a Friday and a Saturday and from noon to 10 p.m. on a Sunday, Alice said. Cost is typically $10 to $12 per day per person.
Polka fests usually include waltzes and other traditional dances as well, she said. Young adults are more likely to be seen at North Dakota events, Alice said. But even there, young dancers rarely number more than 10, she said.
Long Lake in McPherson County is known for polka fests hosted by the American Legion for the past 14 years. Attendance is usually about 250, said Charles Fischer of Long Lake. That includes lots of young people, but some come just for the German food, he said.
Ludwig and Alice, married for 55 years, came up with the same word to explain why they go: fun.
“It’s the best fun you can have,” Ludwig said.
“We’ve met so many nice people,” Alice said.
With the possibility that fests will wane, the Malsams know they’re slowing down, too.
“We’re getting older,” Alice said. “We used to dance seven polkas in a row.”
“Now, two in a row is about it,” Ludwig said.