Folk Dancing: Bird Dance

In the next installment of our folk dancing series, Jaclyn walks through the German polka, Bird Dance.

Bird Dance

The Bird Dance is a dance of genuine international appeal.  It originated in Germany as a beer and polka dance (think October Fest) where participants, having had a few too many, willingly abandoned their normal propriety and enjoyed the antics of the dance. This musical arrangement is performed in original polka style. Unfortunately, since few Americans know how to polka, the second part is often reduced to a right and left elbow swing. Polka or elbow swing, the dance is a delight for young and old.

FormationCouple randomly spread around the floor.
PositionCouples begin facing each other, then depending on the selected variation, change to a shoulder-waste position (boy’s two hands on the girl’s waste, girl’s two hands on the boy’s shoulders) or right and left elbows alternately hooked for the elbow swings.
StepsBird pantomiming, polka (hop-step-close-step) skip or, as the tempo increases… run.
Music2/4 polka meter (&1 &2) tempo accelerating throughout the dance. Counted in 2 or 8.
Teaching HintsIf the polka is the variation of choice, then mastering the steps (hop-step-close-step, whether turning or progressing forward) needs to take place before the dance is done. If the elbow swings are the choice, then have at it. It’s easy and kids love it.

Below is the structure of the dance:

Bird Gestures: 8 Counts

  • (Beaks) Opening and closing hands 4 times (&1, &2)
  • (Wings) Bent elbows flapping 4 times (&3, &4)
  • (Tails) Wiggle the derriere 4 times (&5, &6)
  • (Human gesture) clap hands 4 times (&7, &8)
  • Repeat gestures 3 additional times for a total of 4 each repeat of the dance.

Polka Pattern

(Traditional shoulder-waster polka) 17 polka steps counter clockwise around the room. Boys hop on their right foot but step out to the left on their left foot, close right foot to left, step again on the left foot (&1, &2). On the next hop (left foot) rotate 180 degrees (midair) to step on the right foot going right, close left to right, step right (&1, &2). Girls use opposite footwork (hopping left foot first, stepping out on the right foot) maintaining synchrony with the boys stepping and turning sequence.


(Traditional side-by-side polka) 16 polka steps same footwork (hop-step-close-step) without the turning. Boy’s right arm around the girl’s waste, girl’s left hand on boy’s right shoulder. The polka steps progress forward around the room.  Or (Traditional side-by-side two-step) rather than doing a polka, do a two-step pattern. The two-step leaves out the hop and the turning using simpler step-together-step footwork (1, &2). This variation requires less energy and is much easier for some folks to perform.

Elbow Swing

Hook right elbows with your partner and skip 16 times in a circle. Change elbows and skip 16 times in the opposite direction. However, as the dance progresses the tempo gets faster and faster. Toward the end the skipping might be hard to match the tempo so it’s customary to run or get around any way you can.

Below is the link to Bird Dance music

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Jaclyn Brown is originally from Roosevelt, Utah. Jaclyn hails from Utah Valley University’s (UVU) BFA Modern Dance program, where she performed with Contemporary Dance Ensemble, the department’s pre-professional modern performing group, and also choreographed and performed for Synergy Dance Company. Outside of RDT, Jaclyn performs with Monica Campbell & Dancers. As a member of these companies, Jaclyn has worked with nationally recognized artists, such as, Susan Hadley, Damon Rago, John Allen, Doris Hudson de Trujillo, Jennifer Huffman, Omar Olivas, and Mike Esperanza. Beyond her local training, Jaclyn also traveled to Spain for a study abroad in dance (2010). She also appeared in Alex Boye’s music video “Merci Bon Dieu.” Jaclyn was also honored to first perform for Repertory Dance Theatre as a guest artist in “Commonplace” (2013). Jaclyn is thrilled to be joining the company for her sixth season and would like to thank her husband, family, and friends for their unwavering support.

RDT appreciates the generous funding provided by the Utah Legislature and the Utah Board of Education that help make our Arts-in-Education Programs possible in Utah’s Public Schools.

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