Collier's Encyclopedia tells us that the polka is originally a Czech dance in quick double time. It was said to have been danced for the first time around 1830 by a Czech peasant girl, but it quickly spread from Bohemia throughout Europe and into the ballrooms of New York where it aroused a mania similar to that of the waltz.
It was the composer Smetana who introduced this dance into art music with a number of famous polkas fro the piano. He included the polka in his operatta, "The Bartered Bride."
At the popular level, the polka proved to be a dance from with universal appeal as it spread among the peasantry of Europe. In a short time it became firmly rooted in the cultures of Russia, Prussia, Germany, Sweden, Poland, Lithuania, the Ukraine, and virtually all other European countries. Polkas are today included in the traditional dance repertoire of virtually every European culture, and many cultures beyond.
It is, nevertheless, the Poles who are most closely identified with polkas and it is the descendants of these peasant farmers who raised the polka to its present level of popularity in the United States. It is here that the polka, grown on roots of Polish folk traditions, reached its highest levels of sophistication.
Unschooled musicians with their "skrzypki" and "klarnci" brought the traditional melodies and stylings to the United States around the turn of the century,
The second generation of musicians, educated in music and surrounded by the sounds of the roaring twenties and the despair of the Great Depression, married this traditional music with the emerging modern stylings to create a new popular form particularly Polish-American in nature.
Unlike their predecessors and even their peers, the Polish-American orchestras learned to play the foxtrot as adeptly as they did the polka. Their obereks, mazurkas, szacy (Schottishes), kujawiaks and other Polish musical forms only served to lend variety to their increasingly popular dances. This modern period of polkas began in the early 1930's and continued well into the 1970's, with polka bands often drawing crowds of two to three thousand dancers and spectators.
The "Golden Age of Polkas" was a post-war phenomenon which ran from the mid-1940's through the late 1960's when the music reached its highest level of quality and sophistication. It is the period that gave birth to the most famous of all the polka bands.
In recent years the polka musicians themselves have acquired a stature of their own through the high levels of proficiency. Former polka band musicians have found positions in many world-recoognized musical institutions including the Boston Symphony, the Boston Pops, and the Springfield Symphony.
The magic of polka remains strong today as is evidenced in its present popularity. It has survived many changes in style and taste and continues to deliver a strong and positive message of joy and happiness in contrast to the often negative popular culture of today.
Source (Kielbasa Polkas)