Last dance fit for a (Polka) queen

  • Article by: JIM WALSH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 12, 2009 - 11:57 PM

Minnesota's cable-TV polka queen quits her unpaid show to concentrate on a comedy career.

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'Polka queen' Bev Rambough (center/black dress) waves a sign-off to the camera.

Maybe you've seen her, as you click past "Viva & Jerry's Country Music Videos," "Democracy Now!," "T.C. Musique," "Somali TV" and the rest of the dimly lit denizens of the cable-access airwaves.

Long dark hair, infectious smile, classy dresses, a hipster-wholesomeness and generous spirit straight out of "The Lawrence Welk Show." That would be Bev Rambough, the 46-year-old host of "Polka Spotlight."

"I've gone to polka events with her, and she's a rock star to all the octogenarians," said Rambough's lifelong friend Dina Rogalla. "I went to the Medina Ballroom with her once, and she was rushed -- by elderly people with walkers. They come up to her and want to touch her, pet her. They love her so much. She's got stalkers."

A visit to the North West Cable Television studios in Brooklyn Park on a recent Saturday afternoon confirms as much. As Rambough begins taping the first of two shows, the regular dancers, clad in hoop skirts, lederhosen, relax-fit jeans and Harley-Davidson gear, approach her as if they want to either adopt or make out with her -- a phenomenon not unique to the studio audience.

"Polka Spotlight" is the highest-rated show on the local cable airwaves, with a hard-core base of 35,000 viewers who tune in each week to hear the live polka band, watch the dancers and revel in Rambough's gentle grace and affinity for all things Minnesotan. She also distributes her show to other cable outlets across the country. All of which has made her "the cable polka queen" (as her e-mail address has it) for the past 15 years. Her reign came to end Saturday, however, when the Robbinsdale wife and mother of one taped her final show, seeking to spread her creative wings as a comedian and emcee.

"I want people to know that it's very hard leaving, because I enjoy it so much," she said. "But it's an economic issue. I think people don't realize I'm a volunteer. They all think I'm paid, and I'm not. And economically for me and my family, I need to move on to something that is a little more lucrative than ... nothing."

"Polka Spotlight" was conceived as a world- music showcase. But after experimenting with all stripes of music for the first season in 1995, it was polka -- the dance music with deep roots in the Scandi- and German-fed waters of Minnesota and the Upper Midwest -- that ultimately "took off like a shot."

"I'm a child of the rock 'n' roll revolution and I grew up in Hawaii, so the extent of my experience with polka was wedding dances," said Rambough. "I knew nothing. But if you spend 15 years hanging out with people in their 80s and 90s, you're going to pick up a few things."

Not only about polka.

"After every show, I get this incredible high and then an hour later I just collapse. I'm so exhausted, the rest of the night is shot for me," she said. "And I'm blown away by these senior citizens who dance at the show all day and then go out at night and dance again. These are 70- to 95-year-old people, and they amaze me. I want to be dancing when I'm 90."

Jim Walsh is a Minneapolis writer and musician.

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