While attending Volksfest a few years ago, Susan Wilkie could see the polka ready to come out in hesitant and shy attendees and was struck with inspiration. If people felt like they didn’t know how to dance, she would teach them.
The member and drill sergeant of the Evansville International Folk Dancers began the Bierstube Bootcamp as a precursor to the bierstube season each year to help willing dancers learn how to polka the night away.
“We would see people just standing there looking like they wanted to dance. You would see so many repressed dancers,” says Wilkie. “You don’t want to go and just sit and drink and nothing else. Everybody knows how to eat and drink on their own. They need our help to do the dancing. They want to dance, but they don’t have the nerve to do it. That’s why we came up with this.”
The bootcamp at the Germania Maennerchor teaches dancers how to do the polka, waltz, schottische, and schuhplattler (a folk dance where dancers stomp, clap, and strike the bottoms of their feet, thighs, and knees with their hands) and sing German songs like “Happy Wonder,” “Ein Profit,” and “The Schnitzelbank Song.”
“The important thing is you don’t have to come with a partner. You don’t have to come with someone of the opposite sex,” says Evansville International Folk Dancer Mary Engelland. “Line dances — it doesn’t matter who you’re next to. At a party you’re just dancing to move, and you meet people you dance with.”
“Everyone who comes knows they are to be willing to dance with a stranger,” says Wilkie.
Though the Bierstube Bootcamp is meant to leave participants prepared for Volksfest, Aug. 2 to 4 this year, and other German festivals, the main goal is to get people out of their comfort zones and onto the dance floor.
“We guarantee at the end of the evening they will be able to do something that resembles a polka that does not cause any damage to people or property,” says Wilkie.
Evansville International Folk Dancers