by Carla Ceballos
Anthropologists believe that one of the first forms of self expression in human history was dancing. Though dancing has changed forms over the years, it is still an important part of the human experience, and Sweetwater County is no exception with its rich history of emigrant cultures and their dances.
It is important to understand how powerful dancing can be: The connection people feel while social dancing is physical, emotional and spiritual. The physical connection is obvious: arms are put around shoulders, hands are held, and sometimes even feet are stepped on! The contact is mutual and respectful—what social researcher Juliana Flinn called “a social interaction that is acceptable and yet very warming.” Fortunately we have an upcoming opportunity to share in this experience at the New Year’s Eve Dance at the Sweetwater County Events Complex. If you are worried about your two left feet before going to the dance, never fear: The Rock Springs Library will be hosting a polka and two-step dance class Thursday, December 27th at 6:30pm. Everyone is invited so you can step on the dance floor with confidence and flair!
The New Year’s Eve Dance is a favorite local event, but social dances and especially polka have been an important part of Rock Spring’s identity as “Home of 56 nationalities.” Polka is a dance originating in 19th century Bohemia, adopted and made popular by the Czech, and then spread throughout Europe to Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Croatia, Slovenia, Germany, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Slovakia. Immigrants from these countries who came to work for the mines and railroads brought their dances as a way to preserve their heritage. Polka and other folk dances extended throughout the United States during the Industrial Revolution, working their way into the very fabric of American culture.
This trend was witnessed in Rock Springs by 1913 with the construction of the Slovenski Dom: Slovenian emigrants and organizations contracted with Superior Lumber to build a community hall for meetings, events and, of course, dances. The building cost $9,440 and was financed primarily through the sale of building bonds in the community. It was finished in time to hold the New Year’s Eve dance on December 31, 1913. Though we go to the Events Center for the New Year’s Eve Dance now, the Slovenski Dom was restored in the 1990’s to how it looked in 1913 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.
Polka and social dance has played a significant role in the history and culture of Sweetwater County but it has also had an important role in our connection as humans. The emotional connection that we feel while dancing comes from the group effort of attempting to solve a problem; in this case, dancing. An evening of social dancing is a shared effort: It takes at least two people to make a polka dance effective, and it takes everyone on the floor to make a whole evening successful. One recreational dancer observed “by the time you get [people] moving to the same rhythm, there is really a connection feeling that inspires”. The steps are hard, and specific moves such as turns, lifts and dips are even harder, but when dances advertise lessons (such as at Rock Springs Library) or that “no experience is necessary,” the overall goal is dancing together. Though any dancer wants to improve on their skills, for those that truly love dance it is more important to share and cultivate a love for dancing: the skills will follow with practice, and practice will follow with enthusiasm!
So I hope to see you at the Rock Springs Library to practice participating in our proud culture of polka dance if we do not see you New Year’s Eve. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!