Wisconsin Polka Dancers Add a Touch of Ballroom Class

Before each taping of the Mollie B Polka Party in Ennis Thursday through Saturday, Randy and Ashley Thull gave dance lessons. Then they attended the tapings and continued dancing with each other and others. And they never seemed to run out of energy. I thought it was cool how they made polka look like those other ballroom dances you see on Dancing with the Stars, which by the way, when are they going to have the stars dance polka instead of fox trot? Anyway, meet these great young polka ambassadors.

How did y'all meet? We met at a Wisconsin German Polka Fest 12 years ago. We danced the night away. After that we became friends and danced together at dances when we ran into each other. Eight years ago we started dating and then were married two years later.

What are your polka stories? Randy: I'm German and Polish and I grew up dancing to my grandfather's band, The Bill Thull Orchestra. I went to many dances with my parents starting at a very young age, mostly dancing to Dutchmen style music. In fifth grade, I started playing clarinet in the school band and later switched to trumpet in seventh grade. I currently perform with my family in a band called The Goodtime Dutchmen, which started in August 1991.

Ashley: I grew up polka dancing with my family. My parents taught me and my two brothers how to dance. Dad was a polka dance instructor for the Wisconsin Polka Boosters, which is where he met my mom and the dancing began. I have a German heritage, but danced mostly to Polish style polkas.

Why dance and promote polka? We dance and promote polka because we truly enjoy dancing and polka music. Our hope is to help influence the younger generations that see us that it can be an energetic and fun dance. It can also be comparable to professional ballroom dancing as well, which it really hasn’t been before.

We love polka and can’t imagine life without it. Also, it helps keep us in shape and is fun exercise. We have been blessed with many opportunities that would not have been available to us, such as Randy went to Japan and Washington D.C. to promote polka music and demonstrate the polka (I was pregnant with our second child at the time, so I was unable to go to Japan). We were also featured in three theatre shows, as well as with Mollie B’s Christmas Special and have danced with Jimmy Sturr. Polka has taught us that even though many think it is not a cool thing to do, being true to who you are can take you to more places than we ever thought possible.

What do you tell people when some say it's a dying music genre? It depends where you are. There are towns and cities that we have been to where polka music is still played at high school dances, in parades, and also where young musicians seem to start up their own polka bands. We have found these towns/cities bring their kids along when they go to polka dances. That is one way to bring change and grow polka music. Everyone needs to work together to bring polka music back around. Just as a smile is contagious so is polka music. We have never seen a person not smile when hearing polka music.

What did you think of the Texas polka dancers? We thought they are great! We had a lot of fun dancing and talking with so many people in Texas we are already trying to figure out when we can get back down there to see everyone again. In our eyes, Texas is filled with wonderful people and hearts as big as Texas.

What surprised you the most as you danced with Texans at the Mollie B tapings? We loved the atmosphere, the people, but the beautiful Texas waltzes surprised us the most. They are played much slower in Texas than they are in Wisconsin and they were a lot of fun to dance to!

What are your day jobs? Randy: I am the herd manager on the family dairy farm in Kewaskum, WI, where I work with my dad, uncle and grandfather. We have a herd of about 320 cows. Most of the milking part is done by hired help, but I handle the breeding, herd checks, taking care of the sick, and even do the hoof trimming. Ashley: I work for US Foods – Milwaukee as a Procurement Coordinator/Administrative Assistant to the Vice President.

We dance mostly on the weekends, but we also take ballroom dance lessons during the week to learn other dances and be a more rounded couple. We have also converted our living room into a dance studio so we can practice during the week after our kids have gone to bed. We try to fit in dancing as much as we can, but it can be difficult with our work schedules.

Cows give more milk when they listen to polka. Is that true? We believe that is true. A happy cow gives more milk. Since polka is happy music, you'll have happy cows.

How old are your kids? Our son, Ryan, is 4 and our daughter, Ashlyn is 3.

Too young to compete in dancing? They are still learning how to dance the polka, and we have not put them in any competitions. If in the future they want to compete we will help them do so.

Ashley, what are your job duties as dance director for Polka America Corporation? My main duty for PAC is to provide someone looking for dance lessons or dancers a contact in which they can get in touch with. Based on where they are, I can recommend dancers that I know in that area to help them out or dance instructors in the area that could help provide dance lessons. PAC has also in the past put on a show called “Polka Dancing Stars.” In this show my main role is to keep the dancers up to date on what is going on with the show, make sure they know when they need to be where, help with make-up, hair, dance costumes, or wherever needed.

There have been three Polka Dancing Stars shows produced and available on DVD. We did have one every year, but we haven't done one in while due to funding and the participation of good dancers. It is not a competition, but rather a theatre show, which features good dancers who perform/choerograph songs they have chosen. It's about a two-hour show with audience participation, in which they danced on stage for a portion of the show. We also did a couple of group dances, such as group polka, group waltz, and group swing.

What's the first thing you tell someone who is learning to dance the polka? One of the first things we tell someone who is learning to dance is, “Even if you don’t get it right away, you’ll get there. It’s just like riding a bike, it takes a couple of times and before you know you’ll be dancing like a pro! But most of all have fun! Polka is all about having a good time!”

Can anyone dance the polka? Absolutely! Our feeling is, if you can walk, you can polka!

See Mollie B taping photos. See Mollie B taping videos.