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New York Girls
(Cant You Dance The Polka)




This popular capstan shanty has many names - the Penguin Book of American Folksongs calls this version 'As I Walked Out On Broadway' while Hugill calls it 'Can't Ye Dance The Polka', and also gives versions entitled 'Away, Susanna' and 'The New York Gals'. Each version tells a different story - usually about Jack's amorous adventures ashore in New York, but there was also a version listing places all over the world where Jack had been.

Words from other shanties could easily be fitted into this song if the job was taking a long time: 'Heave Away, Me Johnnies', 'The Banks of Newfoundland' and 'The Fireship', were often so used and Captain John Short of Watchett sang the shanty
variously known as 'Yellow Meal', 'Lay Me Down' or 'The Irish Emigrant' to this tune and chorus.

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New York Girls
New York Girls
(Can't You Dance The Polka)


As I walked out on Broadway,
One evening in July
I met a maid who asked my trade,
"A Sailor John" said I


And away you Santee, my dear Annie
Oh you New York girls, can't you dance the polka?


I took her down to Tiffany's,
I did not mind expense
I bought her two gold earrings
And they cost me fifty cents.

She said "You lime-juice sailor,
Now take me home you may."
But when we reached her cottage door
She unto me did say

"My flashman he's a Yankee,
With his hair cut short behind
He wears a tarry jumper
And he sails in the Black Ball Line."

"He's homeward bound this evening,
And with me he will stay.
So get a move on, sailor-boy
You'd best be on your way."

I kissed her hard and proper
Before her flashman came
Saying "Fare you well you Bowery girl,
I know your little game."

I wrapped my glad rags around me,
And for the docks did steer
I'll never court another maid;
I'll stick to rum and beer.

I joined a Yankee blood-boat
And sailed away next morn
Don't ever fool around with gals,
You're safer off Cape Horn


And away you Santee, my dear Annie
Oh you New York girls, can't you dance the polka?


 
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New York Girls, sung by Sharp As Razors
The Polka

The polka is an energetic dance for couples, with brisk music in 2/4 time, generally considered to have originated in South Bohemia in the village of Labska Tynice (GPS 49.47, 14.40), which lies between the Czech Republic's two brewing meccas of Budweis and Pilsen. In 1834, while dancing to a local folk song 'Uncle Nimra Bought a White Horse',  a peasant girl called Anna Slezakova invented a step she called "madera", a Czech word meaning 'quick'.

By the following year, the dance had spread to the ballrooms of Prague, where it was called “pulka”, meaning “half-step,” describing the characteristic pattern of stepping lightly from one foot to the other. In the next fifteen years the Polka became a world-wide dance craze, reaching Vienna and Paris by 1840, then going on to conquer the whole of the "civilised" world. Britain and the USA quickly succumbed, as did Australia and many South American countries. It was quickly adopted into the traditional dance repertoires of Scandinavian and Irish musicians, and retained its dominant popularity on dance floors in the English-speaking world until being edged out by jazz, and the dance crazes of the 1920s.

The polka also found many adherents among classical composers
, perhaps better known today for their waltzes, particularly Viennese composers such as Josef Lanner and the Strausses: Johann I, Johann II, Eduard and Josef Strauss. The Frenchman Emile Waldteufel, and composers such as Shostakovich and Stravinsky also composed polkas.

It's popularity with sailors from the 1840s is not hard to explain: you had to hold your partner firmly to whirl her round the floor at high speed and maybe even lift her right off the ground. And like their sisters in other seaports, the New York girls were always ready to oblige - at a price.

 
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