by: Jay Aland
In 1834 Anna Slezakova** invented the “Quick-Quick-Slow” (QQS) step, changing dancing forever. Before that, partner dancing was done with walking steps, all slow. Waltz, the most popular dance up to then, was faster, but still meant stepping on each beat. QQS (or SQQ – same thing) added an element of rhythm to partner dancing, where there had only been figures and direction changes while walking. Slezakova’s “Polka” quickly spread worldwide, and also spawned other QQS dances, such as 2-Step, Zydeco (with a tap on the slow), Balboa (with a kick on the slow), shag, salsa, maxixe, rumba, foxtrot and more. With an additional slow step, it became country 2-Step, Mamou, and Arthur Murray’s foxtrot “Magic step”. With 2 additional slow steps it became tango and chacha (SSQQS), and swing (SSQQSQQS). The dance world bloomed with new rhythms based on the QQS step. There was an infinite variety of step combinations, with QQS steps mixed with SS and QQ steps to match the rhythms in the music.
About 100 years ago, the tango dancers started doing their (slow 4/4) QQS tango steps to fast 3/4 time waltz music. Thus was born the “vals cruzada”, now called “tango vals”. There are no tango vals steps, or even rhythms; tango vals is a rhythmic adaptation of slow QQS tango steps, done to fast 3/4 time waltz music, by only stepping on some of the beats. The variables of choosing which beats to step on, and how many of the beats to step on, give an infinite variety of rhythmic combinations. The dancers invent the rhythm as they dance (along with inventing the moves). This inventing of both rhythm and moves has given tango an extraordinary spontaneity and inventiveness. But this has also given tango an extraordinary need for connection between partners, with clear leading and following. It is said that tango is an “expert” dance which takes years of lessons to learn.
** “The actual dance and accompanying music called “Polka” are generally attributed to a girl, or young woman, Anna Slezakova of Labska Tynice, Bohemia, to accompany a local folk song called “Strycek Nimra koupil simla”, or Uncle Nimra Brought a White Horse, in 1834. She is said to have called the dance Madera, simply meaning “quick”. By 1835, this dance had spread to the ballrooms of Prague, where it was called Pulka for its quick 2/4 step. From there, it spread to Vienna by 1839, and in 1840 was introduced in Paris by Raab, a Prague dance instructor.
The Polka was so well-received that it became a sort of dance craze, spreading across all of Europe, and to the US within a decade. It remained a dominantly popular dance in these areas until the 20th century. The Polka also evolved into the two-step in 1860 as women’s fashions replaced layers of petticoats with hoop skirts, with their risk of exposing an ankle in a bouncy dance.
Polish, Slovakians, and other Eastern Europeans frequently dance the polka exuberantly, bounding across the dance floor. Others prefer a smooth style, with no up/down movement, similar to a waltz. Both can be quite satisfying. Germans and Austrians usually polka so smoothly that it looks like a waltz.” – copied from the Wikipedia