The Classical Period: Part 4
By Nina Pinzarrone
The polka was the second most important couple dance (after the waltz) in classical-period ballrooms. In 2/4 meter, the polka originated in Bohemia as a peasant dance. With its moderate to allegro tempo and light and lively quality, it became extremely popular by 1844 and was soon danced in Vienna, Paris, London, and the United States. Ballroom composers such as the Strauss family wrote original tunes and adapted operatic melodies to the polka rhythm.
In ballets, the polka form is used for many female variations, such as the Silver Fairy Polka in The Sleeping Beauty, the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker, and the Pizzicato Polka in Sylvia. In class, the polka is ideal for tendus, dégagés, and petits battements at the barre, and for petit and medium allegro in the center. Try clapping the polka rhythm (a1&2 a1&2) with your students when teaching a basic polka step.
Also in 2/4 meter, the galop, named after the running gait of a horse, is a lively country dance introduced in Paris at the Carnival of 1829 by the Duchesse de Berry. A closed-position couple dance like the waltz and polka, it combines glissade and chassé steps at a vivace tempo. Considered the forerunner of the polka, the galop was popularly used as the final dance of the evening, accelerating to a presto tempo to signal to ballgoers that it was time to go home.
Many ballet codas at the end of an act or pas de deux, such as in Don Quixote, are galops. In class, the galop is useful for frappés and petits battements at the barre, and for piqué turns, fouettés, and tours à la seconde in the center.
Nina Pinzarrone, pianist at San Francisco Ballet since 1992, has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the University of Illinois and has recorded seven CDs for ballet class.