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Folk Dances of Europe

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For my own edification, I started putting together a list of European folk/social dances and links to video samples. So if anyone finds this of interest, please feel free to add samples (or if you can recommend better sample videos for any of these items, definitely let me know). I was looking mainly at dances that are referred to in various ballets. Note that many of these dances are also linked to a particular form of music sharing the same name. The quotes all come from Wikipedia unless otherwise noted. I'll have to deal with the Southern Mediterranean another time, but here's the first group -

Branle (Bransle)
"16th-century French dance style which moves mainly from side to side, and is performed by couples in either a line or a circle." "According to Arbeau, every ball began with the same four branles: the double branle, the single branle, the gay branle, and the Burgundian branle."

Branle Gay

Branle de Champagne

"a form of Renaissance dance and music popular all over Europe in the 16th century"



Anello (fifteenth-century Italian)


"Originally, a dance considered disreputable in 16th-century Spain, and, later, a slow, stately dance that was popular in France. Possibly of Mexican origin or perhaps evolved from a Spanish dance with Arab influence that was modified in the New World, it was apparently danced by a double line of couples to castanets and lively music." --Encyclopedia Britannica

"In music, the sarabande is a dance in triple metre. The second and third beats of each measure are often tied, giving the dance a distinctive rhythm of alternating quarter notes and eighth notes. The quarter notes are said to correspond with the dragging steps in the dance."

"The gavotte originated as a French folk dance, taking its name from the Gavot people of the Pays de Gap region of Dauphiné, where the dance originated. It is notated in 4/4 or 2/2 time and is of moderate tempo. The distinctive rhythmic feature of the 18th-century French court gavotte is that phrases begin in the middle of the bar; that is, in either 4/4 or 2/2 time, the phrases begin on the third quarter note (crotchet) of the bar, creating a half-measure (half-bar) upbeat."


The bourrée is a dance of French origin common in Auvergne and Biscay in Spain in the 17th century. It is danced in quick double time, somewhat resembling the gavotte.


"A minuet, also spelled menuet, is a social dance of French origin for two people, usually in 3/4 time. The word was adapted from Italian minuetto and French menuet, and may have been from French menu meaning slender, small, referring to the very small steps, or from the early 17th-century popular group dances called branle à mener or amener."


"…a type of musical composition popular in the baroque era when it was much used as a vehicle for variation on a repeated short harmonic progression, often involving a fairly short repetitive bass-line (ground bass) which offered a compositional outline for variation, decoration, figuration and melodic invention. In this it closely resembles the Passacaglia."

"The chacona was a sexily swirling dance that appeared in South America at the end of the sixteenth century and quickly spread to Europe, becoming popular both in the elite courts and in the general population." -- Alex Ross

This fine article contains sound samples (thank you!):

The dance:

"fashionable late 18th- and 19th-century dance for four couples in square formation. Imported by English aristocrats in 1815 from elite Parisian ballrooms, it consisted of four, or sometimes five, contredanses; like the contredanse, the quadrille depended more on the cooperative execution of intertwining figures, or floor patterns, than on intricate stepwork." -- Encyclopedia Brtannica

"Quadrille is a historic dance performed by four couples in a rectangular formation, and a precursor to traditional square dancing"



"The cotillion is a type of patterned social dance that originated in France in the 18th century. It was originally made up of four couples in a square formation, the forerunner of the quadrille; in the United States the square dance, where the "figures" are called aloud by the caller, is a form of rural contredanse that also descended from the urban cotillion. Its name, from French cotillon, "petticoat", reflected the flash of petticoats as the changing partners turned."


"The term tarantella groups together a number of different folk dances characterized by a fast upbeat tempo, usually in 6/8 time (sometimes 18/8 or 4/4), accompanied by tambourines. It is among the most recognized forms of traditional southern Italian music."



"The mazurka (in Polish, mazurek) is a Polish folk dance in triple meter, usually at a lively tempo, and with accent on the second or third beat."



"Hungarian folk dance. The Csárdás is characterized by a variation in tempo: it starts out slowly (lassú) and ends in a very fast tempo (friss, literally "fresh")."



"Troika is a Russian folk dance, where a man dances with two women. The Russian word troika means three-horse team/gear. In the Russian dance the dancers imitate the prancing of horses pulling a sled or a carriage."


Viennese waltz
"What is now called the Viennese waltz is the original form of the waltz. It was the first ballroom dance performed in the closed hold or "waltz" position."



"A dance of Polish origin. The polonaise had a rhythm quite close to that of the Swedish semiquaver or sixteenth-note polska, and the two dances have a common origin.
Polonaise is a widespread dance in carnival parties. Polonaise is always a first dance at a studniówka ("hundred-days"), the Polish equivalent of the senior prom that occurs approximately 100 days before exams."


Polonaise from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin

"The polka is a Central European dance and also a genre of dance music familiar throughout Europe and the Americas. It originated in the middle of the 19th century in Bohemia."


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Thank you for this, pherank. It's a keeper smile.png All the dances in one place!!!

You are welcome, Alexandra. We definitely need the Spanish folk dances added in. There are just so many dances and variations on dances, so I tried to stick to the ones that have some kind of reference in ballets. I highly recommend watching the Sarabande video - great stuff, and it's easy to see a relationship to ballet's positions and steps.

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