BLUE EARTH - They did the "Chicken Dance" and the "Hokey Pokey," learned about lumberjacks and railroads, and found out bits of Minnesota trivia, all mixed to the bouncy polka beat of Mike Schneider's accordion.
Schneider, of Milwaukee, visited the Blue Earth Community Library and Winnebago's municipal building Tuesday with his "Pint Size Polka" show, which nearly 50 kids and a number of adults attended.
Flips-flops flew off in Blue Earth and grins stretched wide in Winnebago as the kids danced energetically. Little ones barely old enough to walk toddled among the dancers, watching the moves and even trying some themselves.
JOIN?RIGHT?IN — Uncle Mike Schneider plays polka Tuesday as Bethany Foster and Aiden Wass look on at the Winnebago Community Building. The event was part of the Pint Size Polka series.
On Thursday, Schneider will visit the Fairmont library at 1 p.m. and the Trimont library at 4 p.m. The program is sponsored by the Traverse des Sioux Regional Library System and is funded by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. It is free and open to all ages.
Polka music started in the 1800s and moved west with the immigrants, Schneider said.
"By the 1940s, polka music was almost as popular as Hannah Montana is now," he said.
He played "Occupations, Jobs and Careers" in which he had one of the kids wear a hat and the others guess who would wear such a hat. When the kids guessed railroad conductor, Schneider played "I've Been Working on the Railroad" and told them the first commercially successful internal combustion engine locomotive in the United States was made in Minnesota by General Electric.
That was something that Tyler Scott, 10, said he learned.
"I liked all of it," he added.
The best part for Terry Moore, 9, was singing "EIEIO" which Schneider turned into a contest between the right and left side of the room.
Schneider picked kids out of the audience to help demonstrate the dances, like "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" and, in Blue Earth, kids got a video lesson about how to dance the polka.
Malarie Scholtes, 11, liked learning the polka. Malorie Huber, 11, and Julia Hanson, 11, said their favorite part was playing "Name That Tune." Cassie Peterson, 11, liked the "Chicken Dance."
The girls said they learned things too.
"I didn't know the most popular airport," Hanson said.
"Who invented the first train engine," Huber said.
Scholtes and Peterson said they learned how to polka.
"I want it to be here next year," Scholtes added and the other girls agreed, but Hanson had a request.
"I want him to play the accordion with a bass guitar and learn the 'Cotton-Eyed Joe,'" she said.
That's the kind of enthusiasm Schneider wants the kids to catch.
"I'd like to build a few lifelong polka fans in the process of playing these programs," Schneider said.
He picked up the accordion at age 6 and was playing church festivals 10 years later. He had noticed the reaction of children to the toe-tapping music, but it wasn't until his wife, Heather, suggested playing for kids that he considered it.
He promoted the show, got some TV exposure, and a librarian called. His performances have grown from nine libraries to an interstate traveling show that includes Minnesota, Indiana and Missouri. Schneider has even been to Georgia. Although the children down there have not been exposed to polka music, "they loved it," he said.
"There are a number of benefits," Schneider said of the show.
Among them: Kids learn about the alphabet, numbers, occupations, personal hygiene, some regional culture and, of course, polka music.
"I want them to have education they can take home with them and develop a lifelong love of polka," he said.