French Bourree

by Marilyn Wathen

France has a rich and varied dance tradition comprised of "borrowed" dances and distinctly regional dances whose origins are not clearly known. Most of us who play French music or who have heard it played are familiar with some of the basic dance forms: waltz, polka, mazurka, marche, scottish, rondeau and the bourree. This article would like to look more closely at the bourree as found in the center of France, in Berry and Auvergne. It is surprising how much diversity can be found in the bourree. This diversity is in the steps, formations, patterns, arm movements, styling and even rhythm. The most important differences have to do with regional differences, i.e. a bourree from Berry is decidedly different from a bourree from Auvergne. The writer Georges Sand, who lived in Berry for some time, wrote about the music and dance of Berry as it was known in the 1800's. She felt that the character of the Berrichone people could be found in their bourrees. She wrote: "...Aucun people ne danse avec plus de gravite et de passion en meme temps..." (from "Le Meunier d'Angibault"). And it is exactly this combination of gravity and passion that she speaks of which makes the bourree berrichonne so different from the bourree auvergnate. It is difficult to ascribe adjectives or qualities to music and dance, but if the bourree berrichonne is somewhat subdued yet very intense at the same time, the music of the bourree auvergnate is light-hearted, "happy" and playful-sounding music that makes one feel like singing along with it. The sound of the music is very different also in terms of instrumentation. Traditionally the bourrees from Berry would be played with cornemuse and hurdy-gurdy, with the "buzz" of the hurdy-gurdy strongly defining the rhythm; the bourrees from Auvergne are traditionally played with cabrette and accordeon with the cabrette player also wearing bells around his ankle and strongly tapping out the counts 1 and 3 of the measure. The most obvious differences between the bourrees of Berry and Auvergne can be found in the styling as well as the footwork. In the bourree berrichonne the arms are held at the side, the steps are fairly flat and very smooth, achieving almost a gliding quality with a strong accent on count 1 of measures 2 and 4. In Auvergne, the arms are usually held up and slightly forward, "framing" in a sense, the dancer's face. The arms are moved in this position slightly side to side. The women sometimes hold their arms in front and slightly below their face (about shoulder height), arms bent, and do a kind of "rolling" motion with their forearms. The footwork is smooth and gliding with no strong accent on count 1 or 3. Men may do stamps at the end of the 4th measure. The diversity of both types of bourrees is found in the formations, patterns and forms of the dance itself. The bourrees from Berry take the following forms: droite (2 lines, contra style), caree (in quadrettes) and ronde (circle). In Auvergne you would usually find the quadrette formation. The important difference between the two bourrees is not so much the formations, but certainly the direction the bourree takes. For instance in Berry, the basic avant-deux bourree step is done towards one's partner and away from one's partner. The basic bourree step in Auvergne moves in a lateral direction. A diagram of this will show it more clearly. (X-man, O-woman) Auvergne (quadrette) Berry (quadrette) (droite formation) As for rhythms, it is very common to see bourrees from Berry done in both 2/4 and 3/4 (or 3/8), depending on the particular bourree. The same bourree step is done to both rhythms. The effect is that in 2/4, the step is livelier, faster, more energetic and has a strong accent on count 1 of measures 2 and 4. Most bourrees from Auvergne are commonly done in 3 time. In parts of Auvergne, Rouergue and Haut-Languedoc, there exist dance tunes in 2/4, called by some "bourrees" and by other "montagnards". Many of the bourrees in both Berry and Auvergne are "composed" dances; that is, certain steps and formations would be done to certain tunes. This is not to say that there is no room for improvisation in the bourree form. It is most readily found in the "generic" bourrees of the two regions: In Berry, the Bourree Droite and in Auvergne, the Borreia Simpla. Here dancers are free to do any number of bourree figures at whim with a few "ground rules" dictated by the fact that the dance is from Berry or Auvergne. In Berry, one can usually count on the established pattern of 4 avant-deuxes bourree steps for melody 1 of the tune; then any number of possible figures could be done for melody 2 of the tune (i.e. croisement, pastourelle, etc.). Within the avant-deux structure of melody 1, dancers are free to do individual turns in place, "chasing" avant-deux, hair-pin turns, right-shoulder/left-shoulder avant-deux, etc. In the Borreia Simpla of Auvergne, couples would most likely do the lateral bourree steps for melody 1 of the tune; for melody 2 they would have their choice of several options: waltzing with their partner, doing individual turns clockwise and counterclockwise, woman turning while the man "chases" her, or doing a chaine anglaise if dancing in a quadrette. I would like to end this article with a description of a simple bourree from Berry called Bourree Droite de Reuilly. (Reuilly is a town in Berry near Issoudon.) BOURREE DROITE DE REUILLY Formation: in couples, 2 lines contra-style, men facing women Rhythm: 3/4

PART A - 16 meas. Avance et Recule

meas 1 - 4 Men and women join hands and do basic avant-deux bourree step (avant-recul), men advancing on first meas. and women starting back on first meas. both leading with the left foot.

meas 5 - 16 Repeat meas 1 - 4 three more times. The floor pattern of Part A makes a slight ellipse pattern, men advancing forward and to the right to start the step.

PART B - 16 meas. Pastourelle

meas 1 - 4 Without letting go of right hands, the man turns the woman counterclockwise under his right arm as both advance forward and change places. The woman turns on meas 1 - 2 and dances meas 3 - 4 in place. Man must advance and turn woman under on meas 1 - 2 and he makes a half turn clockwise on meas 3 - 4 to end facing his partner.

meas 5 - 8 Repeat meas 1 - 4 from new starting position.

meas 9 - 16 Repeat meas 1 - 8 above. Dance begins over from Part A.


Lark In The Morning
PO Box 1176, Mendocino, CA 95460 USA
(707) 964-5569

  • Lark Main Menu: Lark In The Morning Home Page
  • Articles on Instrument Maintenance, Instrument Tunings, Interviews, M&E, Music Humor, Dance.
  • Musique Shoppe Mendocino: Lark's Mendocino Retail Store to be opened soon.
  • Email Lark In The Morning