Prepare to polka
It takes diverse elements to make a good Oktoberfest. Beer and bratwurst. The Fab Four and football. Polka dancers and sauerbraten.
For Elinor Rutz, the biggest draw is the polka.
“People get so confused as to what the polka is, and it’s so simple,” she said.
Rutz will be at this year’s Oktoberfest, Sept. 21 at Oleson Park, wearing the full authentic German outfit she picked up while dancing in Germany.
“My husband and I traveled with the Wendinger polka band,” Rutz said. “So we have been on 20 international trips.”
Rutz’s husband, Gary Trickey, was killed in a motorcycle crash in 2012 southeast of Fort Dodge.
The couple had danced in Olso and Prague, and attended Oktoberfest in Munich at least twice.
Rutz said she’s always known how to polka.
“I’m from La Crosse, and in La Crosse you drink beer and dance polka, and I didn’t drink beer. So I had to dance more,” Rutz said.
People try to make polka more complicated than it really is, she said.
Basically, the polka is three light, bouncing steps on the balls of your feet. Men start on the right foot and women on the left.
“It’s long-short-short, with a hesitation on the third one,” she said. “Hop-hop-step.”
It’s one bigger step followed by two shorter steps. The first three steps come quickly, and the third lasts longer, in order to fit three steps into songs played in two-four time.
Rutz said she’s always eager to take new dancers and walk them through the steps.
“I take them around the floor and around the floor, and after twice around the floor you can polka,” she said. “The Iowa Polka Club will be there, and anyone who wants to learn to polka, the club will dance with them. And they are really good polka dancers.
“A group of dancers gets together at Willie Moe’s on Monday nights, and we work with people who want to learn to dance.”
Polka is Czech for “half-step,” Rutz said.
“It started as a peasant dance in 1833 in the Czech Republic,” she said. “It didn’t take off in the U.S. until they came up with the ‘Beer Barrel Polka’ also known as ‘Roll Out the Barrel.'”
Rutz said the Oktoberfest polka bands always draw a big crowd.
The crowds will get even bigger later in the evening when a different kind of band takes the stage, said Shellabration President Jim Reed.
The Fab Four Beatles tribute band was a big hit when it appeared at Shellabration in 2002, and Reed said he knows they will lead to bigger attendance this year.
“We upped the ante this year with the headliner,” Reed said. “This should be our biggest so far.”
The goal has always been to appeal to wide interests, he said.
“It’s this eclectic mix of dancing, food, beverages and college football that makes for a real unique atmosphere. And when the weather’s great, what a good day to spend in a city park.”
The Iowa vs. Western Michigan game will begin at 11:05 a.m., shown on 90-inch TVs at the fest, Reed said.
“Tea Thyme does an incredible sauerbraten. It’s a traditional German marinated pot roast, or beef roast. They do that with mashed potatoes, German sour cream and gravy,” he said. “They’ve got sweet and sour red cabbage. The folks from Willow Ridge bring out a roast whole hog – a German beer-braised whole hog. I’m talking a hog on a stick. They do a mean apple strudel. We’ll have bratwurst and German potatoes, and we’ll have some American food for the less adventurous.”
Malek’s Fishermen and Barefoot Becky will trade sets beginning at noon, while the Fab Four will play from 8 to 10 p.m.