As a child, you may have seen your grandparents dancing at a family wedding to music played by a live band which often included an accordion, clarinet, bass and drums. While it won't top the pop charts, Polka music remains popular in this area.
You can hear polka music played during the summer at ethnic and church festivals and concerts in the park. But two Trumbull County establishments keep polka alive the rest of the year - McMenamy's Restaurant and Banquet Centre on Route U.S. 422 in Niles and Kuzman's Bar on State Street in Girard.
One of the reasons for the continued popularity is that "Polka is happy music," said Joe Leonard, a drummer in McMenamy's Polka Band.
The Frank Stanger Band from Latrobe, Pa., performs at a recent polka night at Kuzman’s in Girard.
At McMenamy's on a Friday night between 5:30 and 9:30 p.m., you will see a lot of smiling faces at the free polka night, from the dancers to the people watching at their tables to the members of the band onstage.
The evening is set up as a jam session with different musicians every week. There are a few regulars such as the leaders of the band, Leonard, Pete November, Tony Trontel and Joe Godina, but anyone can bring their instruments, an accordion, saxophone, guitar, bass and even a banjo and join in as long as they play in the polka rhythms.
Many of the musicians originally performed polka music at the Summit Cafe in Niles. When the owner passed away and the cafe closed, the musicians needed another place to play. Leonard suggested McMenamy's.
"Polka is fun music,"?said Larry Maffitt, manager of Kuzman's Bar. "Nobody's dog got lost. Nobody's wife ran away. The truck's still working. There's no such thing as a sad polka."
Kuzman's has been hosting polka dances and events for 60 years.
Many different ethnic groups relocated from Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Italy to the Mahoning Valley. When these immigrants settled here, they brought their versions of polka music and dance to the area.
Maffitt said that polka is a family tradition here and that people grew up listening and dancing to the music.
Kuzman's hosts Polish and Slovene polka nights on different Saturdays from 7 to 11 p.m. with a cover charge. Once a month from September to April are afternoon dances from 3 to 7 p.m.
A local favorite, Del Sinchak is often seen onstage there as well as, out of town bands from Pittsburgh, Chicago, Buffalo and Cleveland.
A recent polka bash brought in local dancers and others from New Jersey, Philadelphia, Erie and Columbus
For George Heffner of Maryland and Pat Daugherty of Newton Falls, polka music offered an opportunity to widen their social circle and find a dance partner.
Heffner and Daugherty met at Slovenefest in Enon Valley, Pa., when he was driving to Cleveland to visit his parents. He met Daugherty there, and for the past seven years he has come up every other weekend to polka dance with her at McMenamy's and Kuzman's.
Age is not a deterrent when it comes to playing or dancing to polka music.
Steve Fabian of Girard learned to play the button box accordion, which has buttons instead of a keyboard to play the melody when he was 82 years old. Eight years later, he is a regular participant at McMenemy's polka nights.
At 90, Lillian Dillon, still enjoys dancing to her favorite polka tunes.
Even with the success of the polka bash, Maffitt is concerned. He sees his crowd aging, and younger people aren't coming in to take their place because the traditional dance has not passed on to third and fourth generation grandchildren of immigrants.
At recent festivals, there are signs that perhaps aging boomers are taking up the dance and finding out that when they leave a live performance of polka music that everyone is in a good mood. They can't help it.