A polka queen, right in our own backyard

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PHOTO GALLERY | Holly Scarfone, Polka Queen

PITTSFIELD — When 12-year-old Holly Scarfone practices polka dancing, she often uses her stuffed animals as partners.

"I love animals," Scarfone said with one of her favorite stuffed animals, a husky named Hut, nearby.

On May 27, that passion may have sealed her Junior Miss United States Polka Association crown and, in turn, her participation in Pittsfield's 4th of July Parade. As a part of the pageant in Cleveland, Ohio, which, according to the organization's website, evaluated four contestants on their answers to "an on stage question, appearance, poise and enjoyment in dance," Scarfone expressed her desire to be a veterinarian.

"I feel bad for all the injured animals, so I really want to help them," she recalled saying at the event.

Scarfone's mother and dance partner at the pageant, Joanne Kolodziej, said she could hear the crowd's positive response after her daughter's remarks. Still, she wasn't sure Scarfone would win the coveted crown and sash.

"You never know what they're looking for," Kolodziej said of the judges.

"I was surprised," Scarfone said after she was announced as the winner.

Scarfone's journey to Cleveland started when she learned how to polka about three years ago. While the United States Polka Association's website states that its junior competition, comprised of 10 to 13-year-olds, judges contestants on their enthusiasm for the dance rather than their skill, Scarfone practices dancing the polka roughly two times per month. From September to May, she rehearses at the Polish American Citizens' Club in Ludlow, Mass. During the summer, she performs at Pulaski Park in Three Rivers, Mass.

While these sessions have helped, her mother plays a significant role in her development, too. Kolodziej has been a dancer since she was 8 years old, getting her start on the Polish Falcons dance and drill team. She passed down her love for polka to her daughter.

"I'm so into it and so Polish and so dedicated to [Polish] tradition," Kolodziej said. For example, she noted that her daughter helps her mother, whom Scarfone cited at the pageant as one of her biggest influences, with making buttered lambs at Easter.

Kolodziej's ardor for dance was apparent during a joint interview with her daughter, but it raised the question: Did her daughter ever have the opportunity to not pursue polka?

Scarfone nodded when asked this question. Her mother pointed out that it was Scarfone's idea to enter the pageant, which required a submitted application by May 1. In the application, Scarfone included some of her activities outside of dance, such as playing the saxophone and clarinet.

"Before we moved forward, I said, `Are you sure? Because if you win, there's a commitment level with this.' And she said, `Mom, I want to try," Kolodziej recalled.

Winners of the competition must wear their crown and sash to every polka event they attend. Scarfone said she now feels more connection to her Polish heritage after going through the experience, and Kolodziej said her daughter will be attending more functions now that she has won.

One of them will be Pittsfield's annual parade on Independence Day. Saddled with a sore ankle, Scarfone will be riding in a car, waving as a queen.


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