Home » TNFD Dances » Dance Info Pages » USA » Tokyo Polka

Tokyo Polka (Ievan Polkka) – USA [Richard Powers]

Anime girl, Orihime, spinning a leek vegetable
Loituma “Leekspin” Girl
Alias:Ievan Polkka
Choreographer:Richard Powers
Format:Line Dance
Date Taught:02/21/23

My YouTube rabbit hole for the week has been Ieva’s Polkka/Ievan Polka/Tokyo Polka. Here’s my synopsis of the origin story from Wikipedia. This traditional polka tune from the Savonian region of Finland, which is on the east, bordering Russia, is said to have originated in the early 19th century. Several similar tunes exist. In the early 1930s, Eino Kettunen penned lyrics in the Savo Finnish dialect telling the story of Ieva’s (Eva’s) lover who wants to polka with her, but her mother won’t let him. They sneak away and polka and dance all night, and when they return to her angry mother, the boy proclaims that Ieva and he will be together no matter what. Note that the name “Ieva” is spelled with a capital i, not an ell (this possibly could be blamed on san-serif fonts: I vs l, but you can’t stretch that to account for a lower-case ell in a title rather than upper case i). Someone propagated this misspelling, and it is now widespread. I’m still trying to unlearn it, because I first saw it as “Levin Polka.” I’m also trying to get rid of the Ievan Polkka earworm stuck in my head.

In 1995, the Finnish folk group, Loituma, released an a cappella  version of Ieva’s Polka on their debut album, Things of Beauty. The version featured some verses with improvisational/nonsensical/gibberish lyrics that morphed into legit jazz scat singing as the song progressed. The album didn’t draw much attention at the time, but the scat section of Ieva’s Polka became part of an Internet meme in 2006 when a 4-frame flash video clip of the anime character Orihime, from the Bleach series, twirling a leek (or Welsh onion) was looped to 27 seconds of the scat singing section of Loituma’s Ieva’s Polka. This became Loituma Girl and sometimes Leekspin Girl (the clip, sans music, is atop this post). The next year, Loituma released an updated single of Ieva’s Polka, and numerous videos, remixes, and parodies–inspired by Loitmua Girl–sprung forth.

In 2007, Japanese creator Otomania composed a VOCALOID Synthesizer video cover of Loitmua’s Ieva’s Polka using the Sega video game, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA. Vocaloid software allows users to input lyrics and melody to create a singing voice. The Otomania Hatsune Miku “Ievan Polkka” is 100% synthesized,uses 100% gibberish lyrics, keeps the Leekspin Girl meme alive (except for the spinning part), and spawned another couple hundred remixes and video covers. Most of the remixes are of the dance club, beat-heavy genre.

That history was a bit difficult to disaggregate from so many sources, but there’s your history on the tune. Now on to the dance!

Ken & Dee taught us something they learned from Tom Masterson, which I glean was a version of Otomania’s actual video. It was pre-COVID that they dropped that on us, and I remember it being very strange. Richard Powers of Stanford University choreographed a line dance in 2011, which is what I will be teaching on Tuesday. It, strangely enough, features many polka steps. Susan doesn’t like the robo-voice vocaloid so much, but it does have a good dance beat. I also found a Finnish Folk-Punk group, Slack Bird, that does an excellent claw-hammer banjo/accordion-vocal version with accelerating Finnish tongue. Here’s your learning links:

Stanford group with accelerating Hatsune Miku: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYKgS7RStiw

Slower, easier to follow learning video by Rosemary Gledhill: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mldDi0NB4Ww

Folk Dance Musings with more info, videos, and lyrics in Finnish & English: https://folkdancemusings.blogspot.com/2018/03/tokyo-polkaievan-polkka-usafinlandjapan.html

Non-Dance Links:
2021 COVID Quarantine Track Mix by Loituma
Hanni Autere of Loituma teaching you the Finnish lyrics
The best remix out there, not from the Vocaloid: The Kiffness – Ievan Polkka ft. Bilal Göregen (Club Remix)
A human recreating the Otomania Hatsune Miku video

Teaching & Dancing Examples

The OG: Richard Powers
Dancing: UT Austin Social Dance Soirée
Dancing: Rosemary Gledhill
Dancing: RD-Apple Higashi

Music Examples

Music: Otomania’s VOCALOID Synthesizer game capture
Music: Slack Bird Clawhammer Banjo, Accordion & Voice
Music: The Kiffness remix (needs editing for dancing)
Music: But not the dance
Musi: Original Loituma acapella Ieva’s Polka (needs editing for dancing)