Wisconsin Public Television’s all-new film Polka! – premiering 7 p.m. tonight, March 6! – goes inside Wisconsin’s vibrant polka culture to see why so many people love this lively dance.
Who better to host this warm tribute than internationally known polka star Mollie Busta, also known as Mollie B.? Ahead of the premiere, WPT’s Erik Ernst caught up with Mollie to talk about how polka has shaped her life and why Wisconsin is such a great polka state.
Wisconsin celebrates family, community and life with polka. It’s the law, after all: designated our Official State Dance in 1993.
Join us for an hour of fun as we discover how this lively dance got here in the first place and why revelers young and old still love it today.
Traveling statewide to festivals, music venues and celebrations where the polka community thrives and the rich tradition continues to grow, Mollie Busta uncovers how this lively dance arrived in Wisconsin, and why revelers young and old still love it, generations later. We’ll visit Pulaski Polka Days, the Event in Bevent, New Glarus’ Roger Bright Memorial Polka Fest, an Oktoberfest celebration in Madison, a wedding reception in Burlington, a Polka Mass at the Wisconsin State Polka Festival in Oconomowoc and other events across the state.
And we’ll hear stories of how polka kindled marriages, of grandmas teaching the traditional steps to the little ones on special occasions, and of the ways families pass the love and lore to the next generation.
Growing up in a small town, Mollie Busta began performing polka music at a young age, starting with singing in her father’s traveling band at age 3. She progressed to piano and trumpet, eventually fronting her own band, Squeezebox.
Today, she’s an award-winning vocalist, instrumentalist, TV show producer, choreographer, dancer, director, music teacher, and more, with a cable television show airing in over 55 million homes.
Erik Ernst: Why is polka music so special to you?
Mollie Busta: I’ve played all kinds of music, all my life, but I’ve played polka music since I was three years old and I absolutely love it. My dad has a band; my brother and other siblings played in it; my mom taught me how to dance. It’s what I grew up with. It’s what I love.
When I think of my childhood, I think of polka music. I love carrying on this tradition – not only for my family, but also for the traditions that were brought to the United States back in the 1800s that represented my family’s culture back in Germany and the Czech Republic at that time.
[A polka dance] is such a happy event that includes everybody and anybody that comes to it. Anyone can come in the door, and someone is going to take you by the hand and bring you out to the dance floor with them. That’s why I love polka music, and that’s why I continue to perform it.
Erik Ernst: What does it mean to be a part of a program like this that celebrates that culture of polka?
Mollie Busta: I really enjoy being a part of Polka! because it’s a way I can bring polka to more people. It can also help remind people what polka music is all about. I hope people in the audience get to turn this on and have fond memories of the 1960s, ‘70s or even earlier. Or those who are just starting to listen to polka music will be reminded what wonderful music this is that brings people together.
Erik Ernst: What do you find most unique about the Wisconsin polka community?
Mollie Busta: I’ve been very fortunate to travel literally all over the world playing polka music: the Caribbean, Europe, even Japan and all over the United States. But there is something special about Wisconsin. Everyone seems to know what the polka is about. People come out for all of these church picnics and special events to celebrate life with polka. That is what is unique about polka here in Wisconsin.
Funding for Polka! is provided in part by Stanley J. Cottrill Fund, International Polka Association, Wisconsin Dells Polka Fest and Friends of Wisconsin Public Television.