OK Czech dancers share culture, heritage

After June trip to South Dakota, members prep for Czech Day

The Oklahoma Czech Folk Dancers perform during the 74th Annual Tabor Czech Days Festival in South Dakota: From left, Hannah Thomason, Kim Rex, Aspen Hein, Lisa Gigstad Francel, Matthew Kessler, Kate Rex, and Elaine Benda.

By Conrad Dudderar
Associate Editor

With Yukon’s Czech Day just around the corner, the Oklahoma Czech Folk Dancers are preparing a performance that will feature some new dances.

The 57th Annual Oklahoma Czech Festival will be this Saturday, Oct. 7 in Yukon with a free entertainment program featuring authentic folk dances and songs from all regions of the Czech Republic.

The dancing and music start at 9 a.m. and continue through the morning and afternoon under the tent outside the Oklahoma Czechs Building, 5th and Cedar.

Nineteen members of the Oklahoma Czech Folk Dancers traveled this summer to South Dakota to march in the parade and perform during the 74th Annual Tabor Czech Days Festival.

They were joined by many members of their families for the June 15-17 event.

“It is always an honor to be invited to perform at other Czech festivals and celebrations,” said Elaine Benda, director of folk dancing for the Oklahoma Czechs.

The trip to Tabor, S.D. gave the Oklahoma Czech Folk Dancers an opportunity to share songs and dances they have carefully researched to be authentic – and show what they are doing to celebrate their shared culture and heritage.

It also gave the group an opportunity to both experience and participate in the heritage and customs that another Czech/American community does.

The Oklahoma Czech Folk Dancers were able to meet and bond with others who are doing the same things they do – but have a different perspective.

“We are connected to all of the Czech/American communities in this country by our love of our heritage and attending and performing at other Czech festivals enriches us and always leads to making many new friends,” Benda said.

“My grandpa Svejkovsky’s family came to Oklahoma from South Dakota, where they had settled after immigrating. There are a few photos in my family albums from the one trip my mom made with her family to South Dakota when my mom was a tiny girl, but that was the only time they returned to see family there.”

Benda did not have the opportunity during this summer’s South Dakota trip to investigate her genealogy, but she did talk to people to see if she could be lucky enough to make a family connection.

She looked at everyone she met at Tabor Czech Days as a possible cousin.

“And I must say that everyone there treated us like family!” Benda pointed out. “The people of Tabor could not have been more hospitable and welcoming to us. And my quest to find my relatives there continues!”

In past years, the Oklahoma Czech Folk Dancers traveled to and performed at Czech festivals in Texas, Iowa, Kansas, and now South Dakota. They always welcome an invitation to perform.

Nineteen members of the Oklahoma Czech Folk Dancers attend this summer’s 74th Annual Tabor (S.D.) Czech Days Festival: Back row from left, Kate Rex, Keaton Mason, Matthew Kessler, Kim Rex, Jayden Mason, Paul Francel, and Lisa Gigstad Francel; middle from left, Robbie Hogan, Amanda Hogan, Amanda Erwin, Francina Barney, Aspen Hein, Hannah Thomason, and Lenita Krejci; and front from left, Derek Powell, Hailey Erwin, London Lippencott, Emma Fraser, and Elaine Benda.


The Oklahoma Czech Folk Dancers continue to prepare for the Oct. 7th Oklahoma Czech Festival in Yukon.

The ensemble features more than 70 members ranging from ages 4 to 60-plus. Three main groups (or “classes”) practiced weekly all summer with two subset groups working on special dances.

“One class will be debuting two dances never before performed in our community – and likely never performed in the U.S.!” Benda shared. “After the festival, we will begin working on more new dances that we hope to debut at the annual Masopust Dance at Yukon Czech Hall in February.”

The folk dancing director reiterated that all the dances and songs performed on Czech Day are authentic.

After Czech Day, the Oklahoma Czech Folk Dancers will take a brief break before getting back to learning new songs and dances – and perfecting everything they know.

Members will perform again Saturday, Dec. 2 at the annual Yukon Czech Christmas Market in the parking lot of 10 W Main.

“I research and study to ensure their historical accuracy,” she said. “This is our mission and goal — to be as historically accurate and authentic as possible.

“Also, much like the beautiful music that our polka bands play, every time we perform a song or dance is a unique event, as the same steps are artistically performed by the dancers in the moment.”

Her mother Laverne Benda always said the Czech songs and dances are traditions will always be part of the festival, much like how every family puts up a Christmas tree and cooks specific dishes for the holiday season.

“Our Oklahoma Czech Festival is a holiday to the Czechs, and it is a great reunion of friends that we consider family,” Elaine Benda said.

“Our music and dance are an integral part of this celebration. You cannot have a Czech festival without Czech music and dancing—whether it be in Oklahoma or in the Czech Republic itself!”