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

Émeline Rivière & Duo Hervé (FRA)

Émeline Rivière & Duo Hervé

Émeline Rivière & Duo Hervé (FRA)

Émeline Rivière & Duo Hervé (FRA)Émeline Rivière is a dancer and dance instructor from Berry, the historic province of l'Ancien Régime smack dab in the middle of France. Her interests lie in sharing the indisputable pleasures of dance and keeping the local dance tradition alive and well, specifically the bourrée, through a nuanced variety of styles and rhythms. Assisting her in producing this fun are two very fine tradition-based musicians from the area, the Duo Hervé, on bagpipe and hurdy-gurdy.