For polka lovers, beach is perfect place to roll out the barrel POSTCARD FROM THE BEACH

September 17, 1994|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,Ocean City Bureau of The Sun

Ocean City -- They've been doing the polka for three days and the dance floor is never empty at Polkamotion by the Ocean. At first glance, the Convention Center upper room is a sea of bobbing heads in a roar of accordions and a thumping backbeat.

Watch for a while, and the dancers and the dance sort themselves out. Polka comes in a lot of flavors: the Chicago style, a smooth, waltzy step; the old-fashioned kind, a slow glide; and the one prevalent on this dance floor -- the Eastern style, a faster motion with a lot of hop in it.

Midway through the festival, which ends tomorrow, everyone is having a good time, no matter which polka is preferred.

"Happy music, happy people!" says Bernie Classon of Bel Air. He's been coming to Polkamotion for every one of its 15 years, and is a festival volunteer.

"We got hooked on it at a wedding," he says.

Then he met Gil Ziemski, a Baltimore resident and one of Polkamotion's two founders, at church in Harford County. The rest is dancing history.

"I'm not Polish but I have Polish feet!" he jokes.

He's in the minority at Polkamotion, though -- red and white, the Polish national colors, are everywhere from streamers to shirts. Nearly everyone is Polish and most learned to polka at home.

"What we have is what our great-grandparents brought with them -- it's frozen in time," says Polkamotion co-founder Freddie Bulinski of Hanover.

Although the polka in America is widely associated with Poles, most dance historians trace its origins to Czechoslovakia. It came to this country with East European immigrants and families kept it alive, passing it down through generations.

"I grew up knowing how!" says Natalie Boyd of Bel Air. "But we did the old-fashioned one."

That's the polka that Anna Ziemski, a volunteer at her son's festival, remembers.

"I don't do polkas anymore, though," she confides. "Maybe a waltz. But I'm 83 years old -- it's time to settle down."

However many styles of polkas there are, the common thread is family. Young or old, the dancers learned to polka at home from parents or grandparents.

"I've been doing it since I was 2 -- I go every weekend," says Joan Gadomski, a 21-year-old college student from New Jersey. With her is Bev Betz, who's enthusiastic about polkas now but wasn't at first.

ZTC "My parents dragged me into it -- I didn't like it at first," says the 22-year-old hairdresser from Pennsylvania. That was eight years ago and now? "I love it."

"I grew up with it," says Ellen Urbanovitch, 29, who's come to Ocean City from Green Bay, Wis. Polka literally changed her life, she says: After meeting so many friends from Wisconsin at polka festivals around the country, she left her native Massachusetts and moved to Green Bay.

Her experience (if not her relocation) is typical. These polka lovers find friends and keep them, festival to festival, dance to dance.

"You come to the festival and you see people from Massachusetts, Wisconsin . . . we all know each other," Ms. Betz explains.

The family connection runs up on stage, too, where TKO, a Baltimore polka band, is performing.

Like the dancers below them, the band learned polka at home. Horn player Mike Ziemski is the son of the festival's founder. "All of us have played for half our lives!" he says.

Drummer Kenny Adamski provides the heavy beat that identifies the polka, playing the drums with his shoes off and his right pants leg rolled up.

There's no age limit and no partner restrictions here -- as TKO played, a grandfather danced with his toddler granddaughter, young couples, parents, grandparents and several all-girl pairs whirled around the floor, part of a Thursday night crowd estimated at 1,700.

Last night and tonight were expected to draw nearly 3,000 people both nights to the Convention Center, and a large crowd is expected for tomorrow's Polka Mass at 10 a.m.

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