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Push on for state recognition of the polka, square dance

Monday, November 10, 2003

By The Associated Press

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. -- School districts and others who depend on state funding are not the only ones frustrated by the state's budget impasse.

Supporters of an effort to have the square dance and the polka recognized as official state dances fear the deadlock will keep them going around and around in the halls of government.

The state House is again poised to vote on whether the polka should become Pennsylvania's official state dance and the square dance the official American folk dance of Pennsylvania.

In 2001, the House approved the measure by a vote of 197-3, but the bill became a wallflower in a Senate committee, sitting on the sidelines until it died.

Since the 1980s, supporters have been trying to get all 50 states to grant official recognition to the dance, which places four couples in a square moving to instructions by a "caller." To date, they say, more than 30 states have done so.

There have also been in Congress to designate the square dance a national dance, added to other national symbols such as the flag, the Great Seal, the national anthem, the bald eagle, and the American rose.

In Pennsylvania, Sen. Charles Lemmond, R-Dallas, who chairs the State Government Committee, has derailed efforts to create a state dance along with other would-be state symbols, such as a bid to make chocolate chip the official state cookie.

"There is a consensus in the committee that has to be reached before we do it, and I'm not convinced that we've reached that," he said. "There are a lot of requests, and I just don't believe in naming state symbols for the sake of naming a symbol."

This year, with a budget still unfinished, concerns about medical malpractice and plans to increase the state's prescription drug plan for seniors, Lemmond said the issue isn't even on lawmakers' radar.

"It would not be appropriate," he said. "We have a ton of challenges ahead of us."

But John Stankovic, band leader of John Stanky and the Coal Miners, said the issue isn't a waste of time. On the contrary, he said, state symbol status could give a needed boost to the declining art form.

Where John Stanky and the Coal Miners once played to packed dance halls, today their gigs are mostly in nursing homes and retirement communities. Weddings, once a steady source of bookings, now mostly have disc jockeys.

"We don't have the young people," Stankovic said. "Before, we had 30 to 40 weddings a year that we'd play. Now, we only play one or two weddings a year."

State Rep. Jim Wansacz, D-Old Forge, who co-sponsored the bill, said there would be enough votes to approve the measure if it got out of committee.

"We already have 17 state symbols. What's one more?" said State Rep. Ed Wojnaroski, D-Cambria, the bill's prime sponsor.

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