French Dances

French traditional dancing encompases a huge range of geographically and culturally separate groups. At first glance there is little common ground between the hypnotic circle dances of Brittany, the graceful couple dances of central France and the wild Fandangos of the Basque Country. However, they all form part of the larger group of European dances, all of which have developed from simple circle dances with frequent contacts between the different regions. For a review of the recent history of French traditional music and dance see the excellent article by Guillaume Veillet.

Dance regions

French dance can be roughly divided into the following cultural and regional boundaries:

  • Central France, including Bourrées in 2 and 3-time, Mazurkas, Waltzes, Branles and Scottisches
  • Brittany, Further split into Eastern, French and Gallo-speaking ‘Haute Bretagne’ (rond de St. Vincent, etc) and the Western, Breton-speaking ‘Basse Bretagne’ (An Dro, Hanter Dro, Laridé, Gavotte, Plinn, Kost ar C’Hoat).For descriptions of many of the more common dances see Peter Harvey’s Breton dance crib sheet
  • Béarn, in the South-west, home of the Branle d’Ossau, Sauts and rondeaux in chains and in couples.
  • Basque Country, Just next door, straddling the spanish border, featuring more Sauts, fandangos and more.
  • Alps, Home of the lively rigodons, with their links to english country dancing.
  • Alsace, on the German border, featuring 5 and 8-time waltzes, zwiefachers from Germany and contredanses.

Thanks for help in preparing these pages go, in no particular order, to Helena Reynolds, Kathy Oakwood, Chris Shaw and Laurel de Vietri.
A brief history of the French traditional music revival and a look ahead at this year’s French festival scene, all conducted by Guillaume Veillet, compiler of the forthcoming Rough Guide To The Music Of France CD. French Routes

I suppose it was a perfectly normal reaction for an ethnocentric French tourist, visiting a big British record store for the first time. There were two things I wanted to find out: did they have a ‘world music’ section? Did they stock French CDs there? The answer to both questions was ‘yes’, but I was surprised to see which artists were included: Edith Piaf, Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin (English, but wife of the latter!) All big names of the chanson française scene. So our light music is ‘world music’ for you? Interesting change of perspective!

During recent years, the range has somehow widened. The Parisian melting-pot has given birth to an incredibly dynamic roots music scene, which is well-known in Britain. Artists like Manu Chao, Lo’Jo or Souad Massi are now a hit in record stores or at festivals. There’s no need to cross the Channel to listen to French-based global sounds – a trip to Womad is enough to make you happy. However, you non-frogs are missing something if you’ve not yet come across the vitality of French regional music. There is so much to discover, and this summer seems like the perfect time to attend your first French folk festival or discover a new one.

Before taking you on a short Tour de France of the main events, some background information may be useful. France is composed of very different regions, each keeping its traditions and its local language, it is hardly surprising, therefore, that the French folk scene is very diverse. Bagpipes and hurdy-gurdies from central France, Catalan coblas, Breton kan ha diskan singing, Alpine fiddlesŠ the list is almost endless, and there is a strong revival movement in most places. Traditional instruments have never been so popular as they are today and young musicians have never been so talented. The context is favourable: many CDs, and sheet music or tablatures are available to learn the local repertoire. Furthermore, quality training courses are organised throughout France for would-be bagpipers, melodeon players and singers.

The younger generation, though, doesn’t realise how much it owes to American and British folk revivalists of the 1950s and 1960s. Back then, traditional music had bad press in France. The memory of Maréchal Pétain’s Vichy regime was vivid. The ultra-reactionary government of the early 1940s had tried to impose folk song as the symbol of an idealised rural life. This failed, of course, and after World War II, only a few Gallic crooners like Yves Montand added some traditional songs to their repertoire. They would perform them like any fashionable light song, accompanied by a piano or a big music hall orchestra. Of course, the countryside was still full of good singers and fiddlers, but there were less and less opportunities for them to perform. Local folk dances were replaced with Parisian-inspired bal-musette (and later, rock music), and there were no young musicians to hand the torch to. Only a few ethnomusicologists continued to study this fast-disappearing rural world.

Then came Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Ewan McColl. There was a resurgence of interest in the ‘voice of the people’ in English-speaking countries. This spread quickly to France. As early as 1964, singer Lionel Rocheman created the first French ‘hootenanny’ at a Parisian student centre, the Centre Américain d’Etudiants & d’Artistes. Several other folk clubs were founded in the mid-1960s, very much on the British model (a small admission fee, no more than two songs per performer, and a friendly atmosphere). The big stars of the time were people like Joan Baez or Bob Dylan, who was popularised in France by Hugues Auffray who translated his songs. Quite understandably, everybody was singing American songs or playing ‘old time’ tunes. Several English-speaking performers like Roger Mason and John Wright made a name for themselves in this small, but rapidly expanding music scene.

It was British-born John Wright who finally asked the simple, but fundamental question: ‘Why stick to American or English stuff? Isn’t there a local repertoire?’ There was, indeed. It was rich, diverse and, fortunately, the last bearers of the tradition were still there to transmit their knowledge to a younger generation. Hundreds of highly motivated city dwellers started scouring the countryside, recording old singers, fiddlers, bagpipers and accordeonists. Some of them had stored their instruments away in a dusty attic years ago, and were amazed to see that their music exerted such a great fascination over a bunch of kids from the city. This led to some misunderstandings, but also to life-changing encounters. Some source singers recorded in the early 1970s are still worshipped today; among them Madame Bertrand, the Goadeg sisters from Brittany, Louise Reichert in southern France, and fiddler Emile Escalle in the French Alps.

The Mouvement Folk was born. It developed in clubs like Le Bourdon and Le TMS in Paris and La Chanterelle in Lyons. The first festivals were set up, often in rural areas (Lambesc in 1970, Malataverne in 1971, Pons in 1973). Soon folk music reached the concert halls – harpist Alan Stivell, born in Celtic Brittany, and his band were top of the bill. They tried to create a Breton pop sound which attracted a wide audience. Their concert at the Olympia hall in Paris in 1973 was an outstanding moment and the live album, recorded for the occasion, still sells well 30 years later.

Regional music often had a strong political motivation at the time. Singing in your local language was a way of asserting your own roots and denouncing the hyper-centralised French state, which refused to acknowledge local traditions and cultures. Some, though, felt less concerned with this regionalist perspective. Stivell’s guitarist, 20-year-old Gabriel Yacoub, for instance, wanted to explore the French-speaking repertoire. In 1973 he recorded what may be the first trans-French folk album, including songs and tunes from all over the country. Its title, Pierre de Grenoble, comes from a well-known traditional ballad. Yacoub went on to found Malicorne, the most influential band of the 1970s. Malicorne albums are still a fascinating listening experience, 20 years after the band separated in 1981. Their music could be compared to that of Steeleye Span. Gabriel Yacoub is a Martin Carthy fan, and Malicorne even recorded their own Almanach album in 1976. Other folk superbands of the time include the polyphonic trio Mélusine, La Bamboche from central France, Tri Yann from Brittany (still going) and Perlinpinpin Folc from southern France.

Just like in the UK, folk music became less fashionable in the late 1970s and early 1980s. At the same time, it gained official recognition from the new Socialist government which came to power in 1981. A roots music lover, Maurice Fleuret, became head of the national institution dealing with dance and music. Therefore grassroots associations and festivals were more readily sponsored and supported. Several Regional Centres For Traditional Music were created or institutionalised, like Dastum in Brittany or the Conservatoire Occitan in Toulouse. The name musique folk was replaced in official texts with the more serious musique traditionnelle. Thus folk musicians became traditional musicians!

The pioneering folk enthusiasts of the 1970s were a bit older, and in a way they became the source singers and musicians for a new generation. Many of them also found work in state-financed institutions. For instance, bagpipes wizard Jean Blanchard, co-founder of La Bamboche, now heads the Centre For Traditional Music in the Rhône-Alpes region. His pal, Eric Montbel, does the same in the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur region. Jean-François Dutertre, of Mélusine fame, was for several years in charge of the national Information Centre For Traditional Music, the CIMT. You could say that these people help to promote traditional music in two ways: they are still talented and respected performers, but they also hold a position of responsibility. Let us not forget that France is now a multicultural society. As a result these local institutions are not only concerned with deeply-rooted regional music. Their task is to promote any traditional music played in their area, which includes music from African or Asian migrants. The mix is not an artificial one: contemporary French roots music is an incredible melting-pot. Over the years, French-born musicians have got used to exchanging ideas and playing with musicians from other backgrounds or cultures.

Brittany is especially dynamic as far as cross-cultural musical experiences are concerned. Kan ha diskan specialist, Yann-Fanch Kemener, has worked a lot with jazz pianist Didier Squiban and now sings accompanied by cellist Aldo Ripoche. His friend, Erik Marchand, tours Europe with a Romanian gypsy band, the Taraf de Caransebes. The two albums they recorded together – Dor (BMG, 1998) and Sag an tan ell (Silex, 1994) – went virtually unnoticed in Britain, yet they are masterpieces combining Breton singing at its best and the energy of Gypsy music. Marchand has also collaborated with Gypsy-influenced guitarist Thierry ‘Titi’ Robin (fR208), who recently released a CD with Rajasthani singer Gulabi Sapera, as well as with Albanian and Sardinian polyphonic ensembles. There are many other examples which also deserve a mention: The Bagad Men Ha Tan, a traditional Breton pipe band, which has recorded a good album with Senegalese percussionist Doudou N’Diaye Rose. The dance band, Carré Manchot, who often play with a West Indian ensemble, Akiyo KaŠ and so the list goes on.

To sum up the state of the nation as far as traditional music is concerned: there is a lively roots scene which is very diverse, where people are not afraid of sharing the stage with musicians from other cultures. So where can someone listen to all this stuff? Time to begin our musical Tour de France! As we are talking about a centralised country, it may be wise to start in Paris. The international capital of ‘world music’ has a lot to offer to fans of raï, Congolese soukous, Moroccan gnawa musicŠ and the rest. The Maison des Cultures des Mondes (101, boulevard Raspail, Paris) organises its Festival de l’Imaginaire each year in early spring, which features very traditional music from all over the world. The Information Centre For Traditional Music (CIMT) also has its own festival, called Planète Musiques, which tries to promote French regional music in the intimate setting of the Maroquinerie concert hall. For bigger venues, try the brand new Stade de France – each year, for Saint-Patrick’s Day, people gather there in their tens of thousands to listen to the most famous names on the Celtic music scene (Alan Stivell, Dan Ar Braz, Carlos Nuñez). Later in the spring, folk fans should not miss the Festival Musiques & Danses du Monde, one of the oldest in existence. It takes place in a pretty park in Courcouronnes, in the Parisian suburbs (this year, it is on May 24th). In June, the admirers of Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt may wish to visit his hometown, Samois-sur-Seine, for the local jazz festival which features many Manouche (Gypsy) musicians (June 23rd-29th).

A pilgrimage to Brittany could be your next step. Of course, attending at least one fest noz (night dance) is almost compulsory! In summertime they are numerous. Every small town is bound to host at least one, in the village hall or under a big tent especially set up for the occasion. People gather in their hundreds to dance to the traditional an dro, suite gavotte, suite plinn, suite fiselŠ Naturally, they also drink and eat a lot. At such an event you can hear two symbolic local instruments: the bombarde, a loud and high-pitched oboe, and the biniou, a kind of small bagpipe, although nowadays folk-rock bands have added guitars and a rhythm section to this traditional duet. Festou noz are popular, so they pay well and allow several hundred Breton musicians to make a living from their music. In a way, it helps the home scene to remain dynamic and creative.

It seems an impossible task to list all of the interesting Breton music festivals. The biggest event is, of course, the Festival Interceltique in Lorient, which is the meeting point for hundreds of thousands of Celtic music fans. This year it takes place from August 1st-10th. What else? Clarinet lovers may wish to attend the yearly Rencontres Internationales de Clarinette Populaire which usually takes place in May in the Finistère département. Other festivals to look out for in the summer are the less specialist Tombées de la Nuit in Rennes (early July), or the Festival de Cornouaille in Quimper (July 19th-27th). Finally, there is one event which is very special to all traditional song lovers. The Bogue d’Or is organised in October in Redon, a small town in the Gallo country (the French-speaking part of Brittany). It is a competition where each contestant performs a song, often self-collected (for the younger singers) or passed on through family tradition. Indeed the Redon area still has many source singers who take part in the contest and often (but not always) win!

Outside Brittany, another outpost of folk music is central France. In the former province of Berry, the small village of Saint-Chartier welcomes the annual Rencontres Internationales de Luthiers & Maîtres-Sonneurs (maîtres-sonneurs are traditional bagpipers and hurdy-gurdy players, as described by 19th-century writer, George Sand). This festival, maybe the most friendly and enjoyable of all, was created in 1976 as a professional event for traditional instrument makers, but it soon became the meeting point of all folk music fans. The official festival is set up in the park of Saint-Chartier Castle. In the day, you can browse among the instrument makers’ stands, chat with friends and learn the latest news. Everybody brings their instruments, and there is music everywhere. Each night there is a big concert. The fringe festival kicks off afterwards, just outside the castle. Here, several dance floors allow hundreds of people to take part in all-night folk dancing sessions (including the local favourite, the bourrée). Some hardcore revellers don’t even bother to sleep or wash for five days. There is mud everywhere, anyway, and there are no hot showers around so there seems little point.

[Editors note – this article is published for historical purposes – St Chartier is now no longer the venue for the annual Rencontres Internationales de Luthiers & Maîtres-Sonneurs – It has now moved to]

When Saint-Chartier is over, many crazy dancers go on to attend the Grand Bal de l’Europe that follows, not too far away in the small town of Gennetines, where they can keep dancing for a week. Would-be participants should note, however, that there is a limited number of tickets available and advanced reservation is advised.

If you fancy a break after ten days of frenetic dancing, you could head to southern France. Regionalists call the area ‘Occitania’ (the place where Occitan is spoken). The Mediterranean town of Marseille, the second biggest French town, has a very lively home scene, symbolised by the Occitan ragga-dub band Massilia Sound System. They are part of a wider musical family, which also include the Fabulous Trobadors, from Toulouse, or La Talvera, from the Midi-Pyrenees region. One good way of learning more about Occitan culture is to attend the Estivada Festival in Rodez (late July each year). There is also a good annual world music festival in Arles, near Marseille and the Camargue, in mid-July.

If you are a fan of polyphonic singing, there are three regions worth visiting in southern France: Nice, on the French Riviera, the small Mediterranean island of Corsica and the Basque country. Then there are all the specialist festivals, created by fanatics for fanatics. Accordeon lovers attend the Fête de l’Accordéon in Saint-Léger sous Beuvray (Eastern Burgundy, in mid-August) or the Nuits de Nacre in Tulle (late September). There is also a festival dedicated to Cajun music in Saulieu (Burgundy) in early August. Tullins, in the Isère département, specialises in blues, bluegrass and country, whilst hurdy-gurdy fans go to the Fête de la Vielle en Morvan in Anost (in late August). Because it is fashionable, a ‘Celtic Festival’ is always organised by several non-Breton towns like Vic-le-Comte (late June) or Bourg-de-Péage (late August).

If you want to know more then refer to the main French folk magazine, Trad Magazine, which publishes a 24-page supplement every year in its May/June issue. This contains useful information about summer folk festivals which should help. Bon été!

For more information, check out these web sites, though the list is not exhaustive.

Central French Dances

This guide is intended to act as an aide-mémoire for people learning and enjoying the traditional dances of central France. The bourrée, waltz, schottische and mazurka are found in various forms in much of France and elsewhere in Europe and form the core of the central French dance repertoire.

This is not intended as a historical treatise on the origins of the dances although I’ve tried to include what I know about the history of the dances. It is intended more as a reminder of what you may have seen on the dance floor with a few extra notes on things might not be so obvious.

The origin of most of these dances is pretty unclear, both because of a lack of historical material on peasant dances and because historians don’t seem to be very interested in studying them. What is known about the dances mostly comes from the attempts of a few individuals to catalogue songs and dances at various times. This mainly happened when these folk dances came into fashion in royal courts and started to be danced in high society.

One thing we do know is that most of France’s folk dances are descendants of early circle dances or branles, and they were originally accompanied only by song with no instruments. The dances gradually increased in complexity and the form of the dances developed from a circle, to sets of couples in a circle, to broken chains and couple dances. As musical instruments became more affordable to ordinary people, these started to be used to accompany the dances.

Dance Types

  • 2-time Bourrée

  • 3-time Bourrée

  • Scottische

  • Waltz

  • Mazurka

  • Polka

Dress and Footwear

It’s nice to wear light loose clothing for French dancing. Many people like to dress up for a bal and put on their posh frock, and the flowing, turning dances certainly show off a long dress or billowy shirt nicely. Footwear should be reasonably slippy, particularly if the floor isn’t very well polished. Hard leather soles are particularly good for sliding and turning gracefully. Trainers with good grips can really strain your ankles as you turn.

Let’s not get too worried about this though – these are only folk dances!


These dances can be seriously seductive! No responsibility is taken by the author for any marital problems, loss of income or endless daydreaming resulting from an obsession with the dances or with your chosen dance partner!

If you do find yourself getting seriously hooked then we can help put you in contact with fellow sufferers.


The name ‘Scottische’ apparently comes from the German for ‘The Scottish Dance’. The Scottische is danced in various forms throughout France, Western Germany, Switzerland, Austria and in most of Scandinavia, amongst other places.

Form of the Dance

This couple dance starts with the men facing anticlockwise (ballroom direction) around the room and is danced using a standard ballroom hold. The first part of the dance involves sidesteps into the middle of the room and out again and the second part is a slow turn.


1st Part: Side-steps into the middle of the room and out again (beats 1-4)
2nd Part: Slow turn (Beats 5-8)

Bar 1 2 3 4
Beat 1 and 2 3 and 4 5 6 7 8
Man L r l R l r L R L R
Woman R l r L r l R L R L


There’s a large repertoire of French and Scandinavian scottisches. The music is related to the English reel but slower. It is usually written in 4/4 time with a strong emphasis on the 1st crotchet and a lesser emphasis on the 3rd crotchet. It’s sometimes written in 2/2 time to reflect this double emphasis.

Variations and Improvisation

Again, the scottische leaves lots of room for improvisation and variations. A common variation involves an open hold with the man’s arm around the woman’s waist. Both partners face towards the centre of the room on the first 2 beats, out of the room on the second two beats and then take a ballroom hold for the turn. The step is as described above. Turns can be thrown in and the Scandinavians are keen on throwing in hand claps and foot slapping.

2-time bourrée

This French dance classic is a direct descendant of the branle circle dances. It is now danced in many forms in different areas of central France.  The style described below is the Bourbonnais style most commonly danced in ‘bals’ throughout Europe but similar bourrées are danced in the Auvergne, Berry, Nivernais and Morvan regions, each with their own distinct variations.  The word bourrée means ‘drunk’ in modern French slang but was once used to describe bundles of sticks in rural France.  If anyone knows which of these, if either, gave the dance its name I’d be grateful for information.

Form of the Dance

The 2-time bourrée is popularly danced in a ‘longways set’ with men facing women across the room, about 3 or 4 feet apart. The style is loose and relaxed with slightly bent knees and relaxed arms. The dance comes in two parts: in the A-section, everyone moves forward into the centre and then back to place 4 times. In the B-section, everyone moves forward and then carries on crossing into their partner’s place.  Plenty of eye contact is essential, if a little unnerving for those of a more British temperament.


The bourrée starts on the left foot, as do most French group dances but in contrast to most English social dancing. As you go forwards on the left, aim slightly to the right of your partner and turn slightly to face them on the right step.

A – Section

L – Fairly long step with the left foot
Rlr – Medium length step with the right foot and a small ‘push’ with the left foot before dropping back onto the right foot.

Beat (Bar)






L forwards


L Back


Repeat 4 times in total.
The style is relaxed and natural, but can be fairly brisk.


The step is the same but travelling to a different place.
Beat 1 – move forwards to face your partner as above, turning slightly left to face them.
Beat 2 – continue forwards to your partner’s place, turning about a three-quarter turn to the right to face back towards them. Repeat 4 times in total.


There are loads of tunes and songs out there for bourrées. The music is in 2/4 with the emphasis on the main beats (1, 2, 3, 4 above: The first beats of each bar.)

Variations and Improvisation

One of the delights of the bourrée is the room for improvisation. One partner can follow the other’s steps in a game of ‘chase’. Extra turns and spins can be thrown in as well as a million other variations.  The challenge is to develop an understanding with your partner so neither dancer needs to say what variation they’re going to do next.  Advancing more suddenly towards your partner, angling your body differently or spinning further can be used as clues as to what you’re going to do next and in any case it’s always funnier if it all goes horribly wrong.

3-time bourrée

This livelier version of the bourrée is descended from traditional dances in several areas of central France. The version described below is the more common Bourbonnais style, and see the comments in the 2-time bourrée section for more on regional variations.  Worth a particular mention is the marvellous Bourrée tournante des Grandes Potteries from the Berry region (also known as the turning bourrée or the ‘ice cream bourrée’).  There are also many dances in other formations: lines of 3 or 4 dancers, circle dances, sets of 6 and many more.  See below for comments on the Giatte.

Form of the Dance

The 3-time bourrée can be danced in lines but is often danced in small sets of 2 couples in a square. There are many different variations, and more are being written all the time. As with the 2-time bourrée, the dance comes in two parts: in this version, in the A-section, everyone moves into the centre and then back to place 4 times. In the B-section, everyone goes round the circle, crossing with their partner and contra-partner.


The same as the 2-time bourrée but with slightly less time to do the steps!

A – Section

L – Fairly long step with the left foot
Rlr – Medium length step with the right foot and a small ‘push’ with the left foot before dropping back onto the right foot.

Beat (Bar) 1 2 3 4
Beat L forwards Rlr L Back Rlr

Repeat 4 times in total.

The style is quite brisk and snappier than the 2 time bourrée.


The step is the same but the movement is different:
Beats 1+2 – Turn to face your partner. Move forwards towards your partner as above, turning slightly left to face them.
Beats 3+4 – continue forwards to your partner’s place, turning right to face your contra-partner (quarter turn for women, three-quarter turn for men)
Repeat steps 1 and 2 with your contra-partner. You should end up on the opposite side of the set.
Then repeat again with partner and then contra-partner to get back where you started.


Written in 3/8 time, the music feels quicker and snappier than that of the 2 time bourrée. The emphasis is again on the main beats (1, 2, 3, 4 above) which is the first beat of each bar.

Variations and Improvisation

Again there are a huge number of different traditional dances and potential variations. Another popular form of 3/8 bourrée involves: A-part: Men go into the middle on 1 and 2, and then women go in on 3 &4 as the men go back. B-Part: Men cross through the centre on 1 and 2, women cross on 3 & 4.


Description from Laurel de Vietri.

The dance called Giatte is done to music which is trés coupée, sacadée (cut and crisp).  It is from a specific region (in, I think, Les Combrailles in the Auvergne). In contrast to 3 time bourrées from the Auvergne, giattes can be full of frappées (stamps and ‘punctuations’) which reflect the crisp style of music. The usual 3-time bourrée has an emphasis in its grace and its gliding step and uses the frappées only to embellish or to add interest from time to time.  Normally you don’t do a giatte to any piece of 3-time bourrée music. The giatte step is circular (rather like a sautiere), the circle being completed in 4 bars. This is done usually by two people or in fours. Apart from the giatte step , there is normally another part to the dance which is either a circling around each other or a simple bourrée type step (side to side in an ellipse).  The giatte can done around a bottle by 2 or 4 people.


A sultry seductive couple dance, the mazurka is found in much of western, central and northern Europe. The form most often danced in France is a variation combining the basic mazurka step and the waltz step.

Form of the Dance

This couple dance involves alternating mazurka steps and waltz steps with a bit of a confusing twist…


The mazurka step is a rocking step onto one foot and then back onto the other followed by a slight pause and is counted ‘one, two, lift’. The mazurka step alternates with a waltz step as follows:

1. Mazurka step on the spot starting man’s left, woman’s right.
2. Waltz step turning a quarter turn to the left (anticlockwise)
3. Mazurka step turning to the right, starting man’s Rt., woman’s Lt.
4. Waltz step continuing the turn. (Total one and a quarter turns to Rt.)

Count: Ma-zur-ka-1-2-3-Ma-zur-ka-1-2-3.

Bar 1 2 3 4
Beat 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3
Man L R – L R L R L – R L R
Woman R L – R L R L R – L R L

All steps should be as close as possible to your partner to enable you to spin as much as possible.


The music should match the feel of the dance, with the main beat every 2 bars (at the start of the mazurka step).

Variations and Improvisation

Variations include throwing in lots of mazurka steps in a row: try 3 mazurkas followed by a waltz. The crazy Scandinavians have lots of fun variations including extra turns, open holds, foot slapping and more. I prefer dancing the mazurka fairly ‘straight’ and responding to the music by turning more slowly, more quickly, more jerkily or more smoothly.


The universal European folk dance. The French dance a lighter, more graceful polka than their neighbours across the channel.

Form of the Dance

As the English polka, but with far less running around and far more spinning. Getting the hold right is essential to spinning gracefully: your shoulders should be parallel to those of your partner and you should have a good firm hold (without gripping hard).


The step can be counted 1, 2, 3, and 1, 2, 3, and …
All steps should be as close as possible to your partner to enable you to spin as much as possible.


Similar to the English polka but lighter and airier, it is written in 4/4 or 2/4 and is faster than the scottische.

Variations and Improvisation

The leader in the waltz has unlimited options in terms of speeding up, slowing down, dancing on the spot for a while, spinning backwards, etc. The follower also gets to have a say in this and can take the lead for a time.

French Waltz

Also known as the Viennese waltz, the French waltz involves lots of turning and absolutely no ‘forwards, side, together’.

Form of the Dance

The waltz timing (1,2,3,1,2,3) is the same as the British Ballroom waltz but the feeling is entirely different. The aim of the dance is to spin until the world goes away and there is only you, your partner and the music left in the world. Again, a firm but comfortable ballroom hold is vital to spinning and to being able to lead or be led by your partner.


All steps should be as close as possible to your partner to enable you to spin as much as possible. Bending your knees slightly to keep your centre of gravity low and leaning out slightly will help.


Flowing, floaty music or scarily fast Parisian café music. In any case the music should seem to fold over itself with each bar leading into the next. In 3/4 time.

Variations and Improvisation

As with the polka, The leader in the waltz has unlimited options in terms of speeding up, slowing down, dancing on the spot for a while, spinning backwards, etc. The follower also gets to have a say in this and can take the lead for a time.


Text and images copyright (2012) Graham Knapp/Les Panards Dansants. Please contact to arrange permission for copying and reproduction of any kind. Many thanks.

More info and comments are always very welcome: please contact

All text and images copyright and may not be reproduced without permission from Les Panards Dansants (c)

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s