Caitlin Orsak Named First Runner-Up in Miss Czech Slovak US Contest

Caitlin Orsak, Miss Texas Czech Slovak, was named first runner-up in the US contest held this past weekend in Wilber, Nebraska. Jennifer Salva of Kansas was crowned queen and Allie Knouse of Nebraska was second runner-up. Caitlin says it was one of the best experiences of her life!

"All of the girls I competed against were so sweet and so involved in their heritage! We were all so proud to represent our states at the national competition," Caitlin reports. "I cannot wait to travel more and spread my love of Czech culture on a broader scale. The pageant went smoothly thanks to MaryElizabeth Lackey and the Wilber Hotel where we stayed was lovely. We were in two parades and went to St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church. We also visited the residents in the nursing home and met the Czech Ambassador. The food was great! Nebraska knows how to throw a Czech Festival. Almost as good as us Texans ;)."

If they selected Miss Czech-Slovak US based only on smiles, then Caitlin from Shiner would have won hands down. Her smile just lights up the room. But the US pageant goes for more than looks. The girls were judged on personal interviews with the judges, an on-stage interview and question related to their desires to celebrate and preserve their heritage, kroj modeling and a talent competition. Jennifer Salva won numerous prizes, including a free trip to the Czech Republic. In looking at pageant history since 1987, there have been two Miss Czech-Slovak US queens from Texas--Angela Young of Houston in 1993 and Sarah Middlebrook of West in 2006. We have had second runner-up once and two first runners up, including Melanie Zavodny in 1995. Melanie is the director of communications for SPJST in Temple and the editor of Vestnik. Meet the 2012-13 court.

I met Caitlin at the Kolache Festival in East Bernard. I'm proud to know that she is Czech and has such a bright future ahead of her. Polkabeat fans congratulate her on representing Texas so well. Now, let's find out a little more about her.

Why did you participate in the Miss Texas Czech Slovak contest? I was really interested in the Czech pageant and loved the idea of being able to help spread Czech heritage all over Texas.

Where did you get the kroj? My aunt and I made the kroj. It was a great experience for both of us and we are thinking about making another one.

What did you do for the talent portion of the contest? I sang the Immigrants’ Waltz. It is a song written by Daniel Klapuk and sung by the Dujka Brothers that tells of the journey from Europe to America.

What are your duties as MTCS? I attend many parades, festivals, polka dances, and celebrations throughout Texas and spread awareness of Cezh heritage. I have also given a few presentations on Czech heritage to different groups ranging from elementary children to adults.

Are you in school? If so, what are you majoring in? In August I will be attending Texas A&M University and majoring in Agribusiness. I’m not totally decided yet what I'll do after graduation. There’s a few options I’m looking into. But one day I would really like to own my own business and get into marketing.

Tell me about your family. All polka lovers? Yes. My family is full of polka lovers. Everyone from aunts and uncles to cousins, to my grandparents attend many polka dances and listen to polka music daily. It is something I have grown up with and some of my favorite songs are polka music. (She is also the niece of Mark Hermes of the Czechaholics Polka Band and plays the flute.)

What's your favorite polka? Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie. It has been my favorite since I was little and I got to sing it with my Little Sister, Kenna Kubenka, and the Czechaholics at the Queen’s Dance in West after the Miss Texas Pageant.

Which polka CD/mp3 songs have you been listening to lately? Immigrants’ Waltz, Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie, A Ja Sam, Moon Over Moravia, In Heaven There is No Beer, Pretty Dancing Girl, Beer Barrel Polka, Red Rose Polka, Shiner Polka...

Do you go to polka dances often? I go to polka dances as much as I go to country dances. I love to dance to polkas and waltzes; they are a lot of fun and I love the music.

What do you think would help attract more young people to attend polka dances? Many young people like polka music and will dance to it but they prefer country. A polka dance with only polka music isn’t enough. If you incorporated some country songs every now and then more young dancers would come. Whenever there is a dance with a country band and a polka band playing there are more young people, and they will dance to both the country and the polkas.

Polka on Caitlin!

Polka Klub Picks Two Amazing Scholarship Winners

The Polka Lovers Klub of America (PoLK of A) Texas Chapter I recently presented a $500 scholarship to Emily Barton of Needville and Scott Lyssy of Falls City. Like the Klub’s recipients in the past, Emily and Scott just blew me away with all their accomplishments and great attitude. It was inspiring to visit with them about their future plans and thoughts on their polka music heritage. Emily graduated from Needville High School as valedictorian, was the president of the National Honor Society, played French horn in the band, homecoming queen and band sweetheart, worked as a waitress. Her brother, John Paul, received the scholarship in 2009. He is entering his senior year at Texas A&M, trumpet player and leader of the Fightin’ Aggie Band. He announced at the PoLK of A meeting that he is considering entering the seminary. Emily plans to attend Texas A&M in College Station and major in international studies.

Scott graduated from Falls City High School (Falls City is about an hour south of San Antonio), playing just about every sport there was, president of National Honor Society, FFA, member of the band and working at Lyssy Brothers Tree Farm. Scott plans to attend Texas A&M in Corpus Christi and major in business.

It was great to find out more about these two overachievers!

See more photos.

Did you grow up going to polka dances? What do you remember about them? Emily: I did grow up going to polka dances. I remember them being very hot, especially the Dubina and High Hill Picnics. I also remember my dad teaching me how to polka dance. Scott: I have danced a little polka at weddings.

Do you go to polka dances now? Emily: Yes, I do occasionally go to polka dances. I still go to the Dubina and High Hill Picnics almost every year, as well as a few local church picnics that have polka dancing there. Scott: Just mainly at weddings.

Who are some of your favorite bands? Emily: My favorite band, of course, is the Shiner Hobo Band (Emily’s grandfather Johnny Barton is a member of the band), followed by the Red Ravens and the Dujka Brothers. Scott: Any type of Texas country.

What are some of your favorite polka tunes? Emily: Beer Barrel Polka, The Shiner Song, Fraulein, The Fire Brigade Polka, Blueberry Hill and In Heaven There Is No Beer. Scott: Beer Barrel Polka.

Do you have any polka tunes on your mp3 player? Emily: I have a few of my favorites mentioned above! Scott: No, not yet.

What was the best thing about growing up in a small town? Emily: The best thing about growing up in Needville is having a nice, quiet, safe community around me that fostered healthy growth and education. Scott: The small town atmosphere and having the chance to be very involved in extracurricular activities. I also love living in the country.

What do you hope to do with your degree? Emily: I'm not really sure. Maybe I will be a translator of some sort (she speaks Spanish). I still have to do a lot of research about it. Scott: I chose A&M Corpus Christi because I have heard great things about the campus and its professors and the campus atmosphere as a whole. I have also had three older brothers who have, or are currently, attending college there. I hope to get a job in the business field that I will enjoy and become successful in.

Which instruments do you play? Will you continue playing in college? Emily: I play the French Horn and a little piano. I probably will not play the French Horn anymore, because they cost around $4,000. Hopefully I will be able to practice more on the piano in college. I do really love music and want to increase my skills in it. Scott: I have played the baritone since I was in fifth grade, and throughout high school I was a baritone section leader. If it will work into my schedule I may attempt to continue playing.

How can we get more young people to attend polka dances? Emily: I think most young people don't even know what polka music or polka dancing is, because when I talk to them about it, they always ask me, "What is that?" So in order to get them to attend polka dances, I think we just need to spread the word on what good, clean fun it is! Maybe also advertise for some free food at the dance--kids always go for free food! But once they learn how easy it is to polka, and once they get that polka music in their heart, I don't understand why they wouldn't want to attend! I will definitely Polka On, and I will spread as much polka fever in college as I can! Scott: In our area there really are not many polka dances taking place so I really don't know how to attract teenagers, but if I had to take a guess I would say have door prizes for those who attend the dance and help advertise polka to other young teens.

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.

From Nigeria to Ohio to Texas; Polka Dancing Is Fun!

When you’re at a polka dance with a bunch of Czechs and Germans, it doesn’t take long to notice the guy from Nigeria. Oluwadamilare Adeyeri—'damilare for short—was at the Mollie B Polka Party Taping in Ennis, March 8-11, helping out with tickets, taking photos and giving dance lessons. Of course, I had to find out how he got involved with polka dancing.

'damilare and Mollie B dancing at the Mollie B Polka Party Ennis, TX - Day 2

'damilare and Mollie B dancing at the Mollie B Polka Party Ennis, TX - Day 2

Where in Nigeria are you originally from?

I was born in Akure, Ondo State in the South-west part of Nigeria but have lived and traveled across different parts of the country.

When did you come to the U.S.?

I initially came to the U.S. in the summers of 2008 and 2009, for an exchange program and then back again in 2010 for graduate school.

Ohio, right? Where in Ohio?

I currently live in Bowling Green, Ohio.

Why did you come here?

When I first came in 2008 and 2009, I was on educational and cultural exchange through the International YMCA Camp Counselor Program, which brings young people from different parts of the world to work with children in U.S. summer camps to teach Americans about international people and cultures as well as for us to learn about U.S. culture. I returned to Nigeria both years at the end of the summer camps, until January 2010 when I came back to the U.S. to work on a Master's degree in Cross-cultural and International Education at Bowling Green State University, where I currently am.

How did you get involved in polka dancing?

Mid last year, I was invited by my friend who is a former professor at the university to one of the polka events at the Bavarian Haus in Deshler, OH. From there, I connected with another couple who are retired professors from the university who keep me posted on polka events in the area.

Why do you like to dance polka?

It's a combination of things I enjoy very much. I enjoy dancing and engaging with different cultures and polka dancing enables these. My dance background actually covers social dancing, teaching, and performing across different dance genres, including Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, Swing, Chacha, Waltz, Argentine Tango, Samba, AfroCuban, and African dance medleys.

When did you start working with Mollie B Polka Party staff?

I do not work as a regular staff for the Mollie B Polka Party. I met Mollie B in July last year at the Hamler Summer Fest in Hamler Ohio, which I attended and her band SqueezeBox had played. We exchanged contacts, later became friends, and continued to be in touch since then. Earlier this year, Mollie asked me if I could be available to be part of the Ennis, TX tapings and it worked out with my schedule.

What are your job duties?

As a fill-in volunteer for the tapings of the Mollie B Polka Party at Ennis, TX, I covered various duties as required. I, however, mainly helped with ticketing at the door and photography of the event for the four days. I also filled in at the pre-party dance lessons when needed and had a great time dancing and being part of the dancing crowd at the parties.

Polka on 'damilare!

See more photos of the Mollie B taping in Ennis. See the videos.