Dance of the Year: The bourrée

Although the bourrée is one of France’s most characteristic dance forms, its origins are shrouded in mystery. Does it stem from ancient Greek or even Gallic war dances? Or was it a corruption of “bou rei io”, the words shouted whenever a king was enthroned? But the most popular theory is that the bourrée emerged from a folk dance. Louis de Cahusac noted in 1751 in the famous Encyclopédie edited by D’Alembert and Diderot: “There is a dance known as Bourrée. It is cheerful & is believed to come from Auvergne, a province where it is indeed still performed. It consists of three compound steps with two movements. It begins with a quarter-bar anacrusis. … The bourrée is danced in two-four time and consists of two parts, each comprising four bars or a multiple of four.”


The dance came into fashion around 1660 at the court of Louis XIV. Soon perceived as insufficiently elegant, it was mainly kept alive by the rural populace. In the late-19th century, the bourrée was brought to the capital by jobseekers from the provinces. Hundreds of forms developed over the years. These days, the bourrée is danced at Balfolks and constantly energized and revitalized by young musicians. The dances are traditionally accompanied by the cabrette (a type of bagpipe), violin, accordion (chromatic or diatonic), hurdy-gurdy and also singing. Recently, however, other instruments such as the harmonica and the clarinet have also breathed new life into bourrée music.


Featuring Café-Charbons, Cie Bernard Coclet, Eméline Rivière

Café Charbons (FRA)

Café Charbons

Café Charbons (FRA)

Café Charbons (FRA)Established in 1863, the Café Charbon in the Oberkampf district of Paris became a haunt of choice for incomers from Auvergne, Limousin and elsewhere, for workers coming to the capital to make their fortunes. In the 1980s three musicians sought out that bygone dance munificence – homing in on bourrée. The Café Charbons (plural) rewrote history and their influence shaped the Francophone folk dance revival. They regrouped in 2016 after nearly 30 years. And maintenant (‘now’, ‘jetzt’) voilà! this dance sensation ‘nouvelle’ est arrivé!