| Breton Folk Dances
, A Detailed Look
Posted: 07-Jun-2004, 10:35 PM
Wanderer and Vagabond
Group: Celtic Nation
Realm: Wytheville, Virginia
| The following is a detailed look at some of the traditional folk dances of Brittany. Hope you enjoy it!
This information was found at
Dance Descriptions and Background
Traditional dances of Brittany generally vary by geographical region - each pays (district) having a different dance or different variety of a more widely spread dance type. The best introduction to the complexity of defining and mapping different dances in Brittany is Jean-Michel Guilcher's classic "La Tradition populaire de la danse on Basse-Bretagne" (1963).
In general, three different types of dances can be found in Brittany (per Serge Moëlo's "Guide de la musique bretonne"). First are the oldest dances which are often performed as a three-part suite. These are most commonly dances in lines or circles, and include dances such as the gavotte, an dro, hanter dro, laridé or ridée, or dañs plinn. In some areas of Brittany sub-varieties of these dances have been developed (gavotte d'Aven, gavotte pourlette, etc). The second category of dances is made up of more recent figure dances influenced by British dances of the 17th century or French contredances of the 18th century. Included here are the jabadao, pach-pi and bals. In the third category, one finds couple dances introduced to Brittany in the 19th and 20th century such as the polka, mazurka, and scottisches. Although of more recent introduction, these dances have been adapted by Bretons to become a unique part of the Breton heritage.
Dance descriptions are reproduced here with Yves Moreau's very kind permission.
Formation: Mixed open circle with leader at L end. Little fingers interlocked ("pinky hold"). Hands fwd of body at waist level, with forearms parallel to floor and parallel to neighbours' - care should be taken that dancers in the circle remain close together but not bumping. All face very slightly L of centre of hall.
Style: Light , bouncy and buoyant. Mostly on the balls of the feet with the free foot brought up sharply 4 - 8" off the floor. The line moves constantly RLOD. Metre: 2/4
Dance only takes two measures of music to perform; these are repeated throughout the dance.
No introduction - the leader may start at the beginning of any musical phrase.
1. Step fwd slightly L of ctr on ball of foot (count 1), close ball of R to side of L heel (&), still moving slightly L of ctr, step fwd L on flat of foot to produce a small accent (NOT a stamp), bringing R ft up sharply behind (2), hold (&).
2. Maintaining same body position, moving either straight bkwd or slightly RLOD; step bkwd R (count 1), close ball of L along but slightly fwd of R (&), step bkwd R with slight accent, at same time bring L ft up sharply in front (2), hold (&).
HAND AND ARM WORK - simultaneous with Footwork above
1. Push fwd and upward with emphasis in a circular motion (count 1), loop hands upwards and toward body to continue large arc (&), continue looping hands down and fwd (2), raise hands up and fwd to complete a small loop, ending the loop about shoulder height (&).
2. Exact reverse trace of path of hands and arms in measure 1, except at the end (&).
Pull hands down and twd body to begin a small loop (1), raise hands up and start them fwd to continue the loop (&), push hands fwd and down with emphasis in a large arc (2), pull hands bkwd twd body so that the arms are parallel to the floor (and to neighbours') and elbows have moved as far back as comfortable - hands will come back almost to the waist (&).
Avant-Deux De Travers
This is a popular form of a dance done throughout Brittany. This one is done in mixed lines and comes from L'Orient region on the coast.
Formation: Short mixed lines, 4 - 6 people. Tight hold; arms held upwards (under shoulder height), elbows bent, very close. Looks somewhat like a Turkish-type hold, but fingers are not interlocked. Metre 2/4.
"Travelling Two Step"
1 Step fwd onto R (ct 1); close L to R (ct &)
2 Repeat action as above but reversing direction and footwork (moving bkwd and at the same time turning entire line CW, freely in room).
3 Repeat action of meas 1-2 three imes.
1 Take a small step fwd onto R (ct 1); small hop on R (ct &); small step bkwd onto L (ct 2); small hop on L (ct &).
2 Take small step to R on R (ct 1); small hop on R (ct &); small step to L on L (ct 20; small hop on l (ct &).
3-8 Repeat action of 1-2 three times. Do not move around room on this step.
Dance repeats from beginning.
Le Bal De Jugon
Couple dance from Haute-Bretagne (upper Brittany).
Formation: Circles of couples in Varsouvienne hold, facing CCW. Meter 4/4. No introduction.
Footwork is the same for men and women.
Part I HEEL, TOE and ½ TURN
1-2 Facing LOD, touch L heel diagonally L forward (1), touch L toe next to R toe (2)
3-4 Keep arms in varsouvienne position and step LRL, pivot on the spot CW individually to face RLOD. M should still be on inside of circle.
5-8 Repeat counts 1-4 with opposite footwork and turn CCW.
9-32 Repeat counts 1-8 three more times
Part II PROMENADE
1-2 Facing LOD, step L-R-L (a two-step) moving LOD-CCW around circle, swinging hands and bodies slightly.
3-4 Repeat counts 1-2 with opp. footwork
5-28 Repeat counts 1-4 six more times (making it 14 two-steps in total)
29-30 Step L in place, step R in place
Monsieur Le Curé ne veut pas, que les gars embrassent les filles
Mais il ne défend pas, que les filles embraasent les gars!
Monsieur Le Curé ne veut pas, que les gars embrassent les filles
Mais Monsieur l'Maire a dit, de les embrasser malgré lui!
Tra, la, la, la lère etc...
Line dance, arms in W-position, little fingers linked, metre 2/4.
One note introduction. Measure PART I - SIDE STEP TO L etc
1 Facing centre, step on L to L, flexing knees slightly before each step (1). Close R to L (2). HAND ACTION for cts 1 and 2: Make a complete CW circle with the hands, bringing hands up, fwd, around down, and back up to beginning position. Action for cts 1,2 constitutes side close step. Repeat side close step action meas 1, cts 1,2 (3,4)
2 Repeat meas 1, cts 1-4 two side close steps.
PART II - POINT ACTION
3 Extend R ft fwd, touch R toe, pushing hands straight fwd from shoulders (1). Pull R back to L, touch action, no weight. At same time, pull hands back to shoulders (&). Extend R ft fwd again, touching toe, extending hands (2). Close R to L, stepping on R, bringing hands back to shoulders (&). Repeat action of step close step, meas 1, cts 1,2. (3,4).
4 Repeat meas 3, cts 1-4.
Slight retard in music, dance begins again.
This dance is from Lower Brittany.
Formation: Mixed lines (or open circle), hands joined down at sides. Weight is on R ft, face slightly L of ctr. Leader is at L end of line. Metre 2/4.
Introduction: Not easy to identify; musicians play the complete melody line once through, without any rhythm accompaniment. Approximate length of Introduction is 30 seconds! Measure Steps
I BASIC GAVOTTE
1 Step on L to L (ct 1); step on R across in front of L (ct 2).
2 Step on L to L with slight knee bend (ct 1); brisk touch of full R foot in front of L, no weight change, and straightening knee (ct &); transfer weight even more fully to L ft, picking up R foot sharply ("pumping" motion) (ct 2).
3 Step on R across L to L (ct 1); step on L to L (ct 2).
4 Step sharply on R twd ctr with marked knee bend and with marked "thump" simultaneously picking up L foot behind R calf (ct 1); hold (ct 2).
5-7 Repeat measures 1-3.
8 Repeat measure 4, but when stepping to centre on R, pivot CCW to L, keeping weight on R and pointing L foot in front (thus you now face wall).
9-16 Repeat measures 1-8 but now facing wall and still going to L.
17-24 Repeat measures 1-8 (except no turn on last measure - face centre).
I ARMS for above GAVOTTE STEP
1-7 Arms swing straight and strongly bkwd and fwd (odd measure bkwd, even measure fwd).
8 When doing pivot on R foot, arms continue fwd and swing up high (let go of neighbours!), then come down and back to continue regular motion.
II FISEL STEP
Arms: Arms here are joined in tightly closed arm grasp (Turkish-style), but do not interlock fingers - thumb over thumb only.
1 Facing centre, step on L to L, simultaneously sliding R toward L foot (ct 1); sharp leap onto R foot next to L, and kicking L leg up bkwd sharply, knee bent (ct 2).
2 Repeat measure 1.
3 Dance three small steps, L,R,L slightly to L.
4 Repeat measure 3 but with opposite footwork and direction.
5-24 Repeat measures 1-4 five more times.
Note: Measures 3-4 can sometimes be replaced by leaps L and hold, R and hold (free foot kicks behind and dangles sharply).
Repeat dance from beginning.
This dance comes from the coastal areas of Brittany.
Formation: M and W in open circle, hands joined at shoulder height in "W" position. Everybody should be close to neighbours, leader at L of line. All face L of centre. End people also have free hand at shoulder level. Metre 2/4.
I BASIC FIGURE
1 Step on L ft to L (ct 1); step on R ft to L (ct 2)
2 Step on L to L (ct 1); step on R to L (ct &); step on L to L (ct 2).
3 Step on R to L (ct 1); step on L to L (ct 2).
4 Step on R to L (ct 1); small hop on R ft in place, simultaneously raising L foot crossed in front of R (ct 2).
5-16 Repeat action of meas 1-4 three more times.
II HEEL CLICKS
17 Facing ctr, and bringing arms down at sides, two small hops on R ft travelling slightly L and simultaneously "clicking" inner L ft on R (cts 1,2). Knees are slightly bent and ft are close to the ground. It is not a Polish-style heel click.
18 Facing L, small running step onto L to L (ct 1); small running step onto R, crossing in front of L (ct 2).
19 Facing ctr, sharp jump onto both ft, bending knees (ct 1); change wt sharply onto L ft, simultaneously kicking R ft sharply diag fwd (ct 2)
20 Small leap bkwd onto R ft (ct 1); bring L ft around sharply and "click" it against R as in meas 17 (ct 2).
Dance repeats from beginning and alternates as above.
Dance from Basse-Bretagne (lower Brittany) near the towns of Vannes and Lorient. It is a Breton version of the "Hora" or Pravo Horo but in reverse direction!
Formation: Open circle, mixed, strong arm hold (Turkish style)L foot free. Face slightly L of centre. 2/4 Metre. Measure Step
1 Small step on L to L (ct 1, small step on R across L ct 2)
2 Small step on L to L (ct 1), pause (ct 2). Sometimes instead of a pause the R foot points or touches the floor briskly.
3 Small step on R slightly bkwd (ct 1), pause (ct 2)
Dance repeats from beginning.
This dance is very popular in the regions of Nantes and Vannes. 2/4 rhythm.
Formation: Mixed lines of M & W, leader at L end, little fingers locked ("pinky hold"), hands down but elbows not locked; bodies close but not bumping - take care that people do NOT separate so that hands are pulled out from sides of body. All face centre.
Style: Light and bouncy - taking care not to rush the feet and arm actions.
Note: It is easier to learn the dance by counting it straight through, than using the counts within the measures. Thus the counts become: 1,2,3,4,5-&-6,7-&-8.
FOOTWORK: There are four measures of footwork, repeated throughout the dance. Measure Step
No Intro Leader may start at the beginning of any musical phrase.
1-2 Step L to L (ct 1); close R to L (ct 2); step L to L (ct 1); close R to L (ct 2)
3 Start to rise on balls of both feet by bending knees slightly fwd (ct 1); complete the rise on the balls of both feet (ct &); lower heels lightly to floor (ct 2).
4 Swing L ft fwd w/out pointing toes, knee straight - this is a "soft" not vigorous action (ct 1); rise on ball of R ft(ct &). This is one smooth continuous action, not two separate sequential ones. Lower R heel to floor, bringing L ft alongside R without touching floor (ct 2)
HAND AND ARMWORK: Simultaneous with FOOTWORK above. 1 With relatively straight arms, swing arms and hands comfortably fwd - but not up to straight fwd (ct 1); swing hands and arms bkwd to reflex position, just behind sides of body.
2 Repeat action of measure 1 exactly.
3 Push hands and arms fwd and up in a large arc - with its highest about chin height (ct 1); complete the arc by bringing the hands bkwd and down to end in a tuck between the chest and shoulder height, the elbows move bkwd to produce this motion (ct 2).
4 This measure reverses the action of meas 3. Push hands and arms up and fwd in an arc and start down - the emphasis is on the "push" (ct 1); continue the arc swinging hands down and back (ct 2), finishing with arms at full length (slightly bent elbows) and hands at reflex point behind body on count &.
Note: The dance pattern is only four meas long and is continuously repeated. The dance moves RLOD during the first two meas, and then in place for the last two measures. The dancers face centre throughout the dance.
Formation: circle everyone faces centre
Hands: linked to person on either side, in little finger (pinky hold)
Everyone moves clockwise. Count Step
Footwork Figure 1
1 & 2 & R L R pause
3 & 4 & L R L pause
Repeat above three more times
Figure 1 Hands describe a small circle at chest height, RH clockwise, LH counter clockwise, in the first bar, then vice versa in the second bar etc., the circle being made in a vertical plane at right angles to the line of ancers.
Footwork Figure 2
Count Step (on the spot)
1 2 R L (on the spot)
3 4 R Tog
5 6 R L
7 8 R Tog
Repeat Counts 1-8
Some other significant traditional Breton Dances which we do not have descriptions for, are: Dans Plinn, Jabadaw, Kas a Barh, Kost Ar C'Hoat and Ronde de Loudéac. If anyone can help with these, we would very much appreciate it. It would be lovely to have as many Breton descriptions as possible.
Slàn agus beannachd,
Allen R. Alderman
'S i Alba tìr mo chridhe. 'S i Gàidhlig cànan m' anama.
Scotland is the land of my heart. Gaelic is the language of my soul.
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