Three generations keep polka alive (Video)
Surrounded by seasoned polka dancers - both in age and experience - 11-year-old Sara Buccigrossi followed her grandfather out on the dance floor.
Standing in front of her grandfather, who Sara lovingly calls Poppi, she assumed a dancing embrace with confidence. She clenched Poppi's right hand with hers and placed her left hand behind his back. Then Poppi gazed downward and leaned forward on the down beat, setting the pair in a circular motion around the Inez Community Center dance floor.
Poppi, or Franklin Elles, has twirled Sara around many dance floors in her lifetime. And now that she's old enough to hold her own among experienced dancers, Elles hopes his beloved polka culture will be preserved for at least one more generation.
"That's the sad part - it's fading," said Elles, 78, discussing the ripe polka and waltz culture he grew up with in La Salle. "The kids have too many other activities these days that keep them from learning it. It's hard to accept that this is the way it is."
For Elles, a proud Czech and polka and waltz enthusiast, dancing the polka is as much a part of his present as it is a part of his past.
Attending dances like Sunday's annual Polkafest is how families bonded and friends remained connected in past generations, he said. Polka dances are where men met their wives - something he can attest to himself because he met his wife, Lois Elles, at a Schroeder Hall polka dance more than 50 years ago.
The Elleses passed down their polka passions to their children, and they, too, repeated the tradition.
When Sara turned 3 years old, Elles paid for her membership with SPJST Insurance, which sponsors the Inez Polkafest each year.
"I don't think it's crazy. I love it," Sara said, recognizing that polka isn't as popular among younger generations. "When you know what you're doing, it's fun."
Sara's father, Mark Buccigrossi, also dances polka with Sara and said the dances are a great way for families to spend time together.
"It gives us something to do as a family, and she gets to spend time with her grandfather," Buccigrossi said. "It also keeps her out of trouble."
At home, Sara enjoys dancing polka but also has interests in modern and pop dances.
"I do all kinds of dancing," she said, smiling.
Sara said she sees herself continuing to dance the polka in the future, and she's proud to be part of a family who enjoys a common activity.
"I wish more kids would learn," she said.
So whether she's dancing with Poppi or twirling around the dance floor with her father, Sara said as long as she knows the steps, she's guaranteed a good time while dancing polka.
"It's really fun. If you learn to dance Czech (polka), you never know who you'll get to dance with," she said.