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Getting Lost in the Volk-ness: Dancing in Helen, Georgia

The roots of Oktoberfest: a surfeit of beer and excuse to party in Bavarian style (a Prince’s wedding) in 1810. All the elements that make the celebration so distinct fell into place around the opportunity. German music was already among the world’s most distinctive and folksy; Bach had even written memorable classical church hymns that could compete with folk tunes on Sundays. Folk bands at Oktoberfest play stomping rhythms well suited for chanting, slapping, percussive spoon playing. Dancing, naturally, has become a bombastic part of Oktoberfest.

The main forms of traditional Oktoberfest music can be characterized as Volk (of the people) or “Oompah.” There are subcategories, but we’ll keep it simple: Volk music is string-dominant (often zithers and harmonicas) and often lyrical with memorable stories; “Oompah” is horn dominant (definitely with a big bass tuba sound) with either a waltz or a 2/4—oom, pah—beat.

The rhythm of traditional German music creates a sense of wanting to skip around or move erratically because it’s jerky, with huge upbeats. If you want to dance when you’re in Helen and you don’t know where to start, you’ll be in good company. This year at our 49th Oktoberfest, as always, there will be an array of bands playing throughout September and October for your enjoyment. Traditional songs are accompanied by short tutorials for those interested.

If, however, you want to get the most out of the big celebration, think about practicing some moves now. Better yet, visit Helen in May for our 50th anniversary as a German-styled town, the Spring Bierfest. Here are some dances to start with:

The chicken dance is the easiest. You are not too cool for it. In fact, this will put you in the proper mindset of how you are expected to act un-self-consciously as possible during Oktoberfest. The chicken dance is a fixture loved by all ages.

How to chicken dance

Next, try some basic partner polka steps, characterized by double-time choppy steps.

How to Polka dance

Or, if you like to fly around the room solo, here are some polka hops. This is great exercise too.

How to polka hop

One peculiar style of Alpine dance, Schuhplattler, allows groups of men to show off their lederhosened legs with slaps and stomps. While it would take years to get really good at this style, nothing is stopping you from getting slap happy with some starter moves:


Oktoberfest holds onto traditions, but welcomes new ones over time. Schlager, Germany’s answer to country music is popular, as are other modernized variants of German folk that sound more like club music. Don’t be surprised to hear “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” by John Denver or “Sweet Caroline,” both recently adopted classics of Munich.

The German spirit seen at Oktoberfest is about light-hearted community. You can enjoy the choreographed routines by dance troops and in the next breath, fly around the room like a buzzed airplane. Get lost in the volk-ness of it.

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