Fear is everywhere on the dial as day-after updates stream in from France. Meanwhile, on the carpeted dance floor inside the Northwest Community Television studio in Brooklyn Park, there's nothing but love.
The Night Owls are live in the house this early afternoon providing the tunes. Ron Lazarski, Marine Corps-fit and bespectacled, clasps the opposite hand of his wife Karen, his bride of 22 years, who's outfitted in a stunning black dress. Eagan's Ted and Mary Ringberg, now in their 58th year of matrimony, are nearby. The couples navigate the cramped dance floor, turning perfect circles. Not far away, Ron and Sharon Meyer, who've been married for 56 years, work the perimeter kicking their legs in matching "UFF DA" suspenders.
On the second Saturday of every month, these folks, along with dozens of others, make the pilgrimage to the northwest Minneapolis suburb for the taping of "Polka Spotlight," a community cable TV show that's the "American Bandstand" for seniors. Participants bring a change of clothes as they tape two episodes. Then it's lights on, music kicking, everyone busting a move, and having a fabulously good time.
"My doctor told me, 'You keep dancing the way you're dancing and you don't have to go to the gym to work out,'" says Ron Lazarski, who's been a regular on the show with his wife for 15 years. "It's good for your whole body from head to toe. Good for the people who watch and it's good for us."
Polka Spotlight is so much more than kitsch programming, however. It's a cultural institution.
Now in its 20th year, the all-volunteer produced show, airs in three states and ten Midwestern markets, including Fargo and Willmar. It's beamed into 350,000 Twin Cities' homes via Northwest Channel 20 and Metro Cable Network Channel 6, among others. According to husband and wife co-hosts Dan and Yvonne Viehman, Polka Spotlight is one of the most popular local cable offerings, soaked up by a demographic from age 50 to centenarian that numbers in the umpteenth thousands.
"People are really enamored with the dancing and the dancers and with the music," says Yvonne Viehman. "We do dedications. We celebrate life."
Polka Spotlight is founder John Bulajic's dream come true. Twenty years ago, Bulajic, who still works as executive director, wanted to create a cable show that focused on music from around the world. When the tour made a polka stop in Germany, he discovered he had an instant hit.
"The cable people tell me, 'People calling in. Do some more polka,'" Bulajic says. "I said to guy, I don't really want to do just polka because I don't know how it will sound because I never grow up with it or anything. But tell him, alright. So, I do a few more polka shows, then a few more and and now it's so popular.…
"Anybody can show up to dance. But we don't want to advertise because — Ha! — if we do, we have ten thousand people here! And I don't want to do that. I really most proud because I make so many people so happy. You can't imagine how many people are home-bounded and how many people live on fixed income. They see this show it's just like a Bible to them! They just love it!"
Many dancers who heed the monthly call have become celebrities. Ted Ringberg gets stopped at the grocery store by a fan, asking, "Hey Ted, where's your hat?"
The Meyers are known for their trademark suspenders.
Says Sharon Meyer, "Our daughter won't go to the state fair anymore with us because we get stopped too many times."
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