Folk Bal Dances
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Here you find explanations and examples of the dances that feature in a folk bal (and a Boombal in particular). Don't expect to be able to learn them by just reading this information. Rather try to participate in a bal. This section is not yet complete, and in fact, never will be. Come back regularly. Many thanks to Thomas Boombal who took the majority of the pictures



Brittany folk dance fans should also check out this workshop report.


5-Step Waltz



Circassian Circle




For a small comparative study on the various dances and how they relate to the music, see the Dansroddel Goed begonnen is half gewonnen (in Dutch).

Mazurka. Dance in 3 times as the waltz, but stressed differently. Typically, there is a "mazurka-bar" and a "waltz-bar". The mazurka bar goes "L R R-hop" or "R L L-Hop", and the waltz-bar "L R L" or "R L R". Depending on the music, you dance one mazurka-bar and one waltz-bar consecutevily, each time on the other foot (making a "M-W-M-W" sequence), or two mazurka-bars followed by two waltz-bars (M-M-W-W sequence). Swing your partner counter-clockwise on a M-bar, and clockwise on a W-bar. Listen to this nice mazurka (mp3; 2,3 Mb) by Réménilhe. You can dance it either way, but the first part of the tune suggests the "M-M-W-W" sequence, while the second part the "M-W-M-W" sequence. It is merely a matter of feeling. An example of the basic "M-W-M-W" sequence is this Mazurka d'Embrault (RA) played by Fubu.
Here is a nice example of the Irish Donegal Mazurkas by Ben Lennon.
If you want to know how the mazurka is danced in the Elzas, look at this Mazurka Alsacienne (wmv; 5MB). On this video, you'll see that the "M-M-W-W" sequence is used followed by a series of waltz steps.
There are many nice variations. Check out for instance Bernard Coclet's mazurka variations. For a smooth style of mazurka dancing, see Koen Dhondt's mazurka recommendations.

In Ireland, there is a set dance from Co. Clare called The Mazurka Set, but there is no mazurka in it.

An dro. A good explanation of this Breton dance is given on the web site Tycoz. Important to stress: dance it gently; DO NOT move forward and backward, but smoothly always to the left using small steps for the first two beats (L R L pauze) and in place for the next two beats (R L R pauze). If you really can't resist moving back and forward, then at least try to dance the variation with very small diagonal steps as explained on Andrew Carnie's "recreation" page. After a while, you can try to apply the "1-3-4 pattern": for each upward or downward arm-movement on the main beat, you do three steps, and make 4 little up-down movements with your body.
Unexperienced dancers (and musicians !) easily mix up an dro's with laridés in 8 times or sometimes even gavottes. For a detailed explanation of the difference, see the (Dutch) column Andro of Gavotte ?. It is the peculiar way in which each even bar runs into the next odd bar that does the trick. Listen to Belle Héloise (mp3;1,6 Mb) by Talar. The sometimes jazzy arrangement is not easy to dance to if you don't allow the music to take over your thoughts. If however you are more interested in arrangements that ruin the dance, then listen to this Dance An Dro. Very original indeed, but it's not my piece of cake.
Some people find this dance rather boring. They might like then the An dro retourné danced to some tunes such as this Chinese-like interpretation of Changerais-tu ? (mp3; 1,1 Mb; French-Dutch lyrics) by Talitha MacKenzie, or this other interpretation (mp3; 1Mb) by the German folkband La Marmotte on their CD Chez Madeleine. Some time ago, I found also a Belgian version by Gaia in which they locate the sheep not in the property ("menage") but in the village ("village"). This version disappeared recently from the web. Many thanks to who's able to provide me a new link.

Click to view a ballet-style polka (mpeg, 4.5 Mb) Polka. Anything more simple than this ? True, they all are based on the steps "// L R / L L-Hop / R L / R R-hop // ..." ( /.../ is one beat, // ...// is one full bar of 4 beats). But, the real fun is trying to absorb the mood of the artist playing a polka and expressing that in your dancing. And you can also account for regional styles. Irish polkas are very lively, and you see them most often danced with crisp vertical movements. Flemish polkas are full of jumps, while in many regions of France, they are danced as smoothly as waltzes. Look how a polka in Sweden (wmv; 3Mb) is danced by the Gammaldansarnas Riksförbund which is pritty close to what I would call the standard way.
A peculiar Irish polka step is traditionally used in the Borlin Polka Set, but there is no reason not to apply it in other Irish polkas, at least if you like the step. It goes for the gents // jump-on-both-feet / half-cut-R / R L / R - // L R / L - / R L / R - //. A half-cut-R means hop-L while bringing the right foot halfway in front of the left lower leg, taking care not to kick the lady while doing so. On this video (mpg, 3.6MB), you can see how it goes.
With some Irish polkas, you can also apply the Clare polka battering steps used in some set dances which for the gents goes like this: "L-front-step R-back-toe / R-back-step L-front-heel / L-front-step R-front-brush-in / L-back-step R-front-brush-out // R-front-step L-front-step / L-front-down R-front-step / R-front-down L-front-tip L-front-heel L-front-tip / R-front-tip //. The 7th beat is the most difficult as you must make four very quick taps, balancing mainly on the tip and heel of the left foot. Ladies do the same but with the opposite foot, while both partners keep the polka position. The polka set West of Dingle (mp3, 4 Mb), played by Tim Edey, Laura Targett, and Lucy Randall is very well suited for this line. It depends on the music whether you "batter" each two, each four or each eight bars.
Compare this with the more relaxed French Polka du Père Plumet (mp3; 1,3 Mb) as played by the Californian groupe French Creek. The beats are the same, but less stressed. Irish Clare battering on this tune would be inappropriate if you ask me.
Of a complete different style in polka music is this Polka aus dem bayerisch-böhmischen Grenzgebiet (mp3; 0.6 Mb) played by Roland Pongratz. And, no surprise, this sometimes goes hand in hand with a totally different style of dancing as shown by this bunch of billenkletsers (wmv; 5 Mb). According to Hans-Jörg Brenner (@rbeitsgemeinschaft der Sing-, Tanz- und Spielkreise in Baden-Württemberg e.V.) the terms polka and scottish lead often to confusion, especially amongst German folk dancers.
Close to this style, though different indeed, are Swedish polkas (not to be confused with polskas that are explained here), an example being JätteBoels polka (wav) here played by Anders Larsson.
Visitors speaking Dutch are invited to read the Polka Dansroddel also.

5-Step Waltz. Aha ! This dance is not often played, although it is great fun to do. Few dancers seem to master it since indeed, the rhythm is a bit awkward. Well, there are different methods to get along with it (for a detailed description in Dutch, see drie + twee = vijf). The easiest one is to do a waltz sequence during the 3-beat bar, and just wait during the 2-beat bar. You then start again a waltz sequence with the other foot during the next 3-beat bar, and so forth. Then you can replace "doing nothing" on the 2-beat bar by taking weight on each foot. The // L R L / - - // pattern then becomes // L R L / R L //. Depending on the music, you can also replace the waltz sequence by a mazurka sequence, followed by a "change leg" movement as in the polska, but on 2 beats instead of 3. The sequence then becomes // L R R / L - // R L L / R - //... . This is demonstrated in this videoclip (mpeg; 4,5Mb) from the United States Library of Congress Ballroom dance collection. Yeah, yeah !
A more folky version is this French Valse à cinq temps, or this Cafehauswalzer (mp3; 0,5 Mb) by the German folk group Cassis.
Once you mastered the 5-step waltz, you might be ready to dance other strange combinations such as a Zwiefacher in 3/4+2/4 (or 4/4) of which this Unser oide Kath (mp3; 1 Mb) by Die Klaus-Taler (sheet music available), is the most famous (and easiest !) example, or this Wespen-nest Zwiefacher (mp3; 1,4 Mb) by the Kapelle Josef Pfeffer. Tell me how much time you needed to figure out the right combination of 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4 bars ! See our report on a Zwiefacher workshop in which we participated.

Jig/Gigue. A puzzling dance, at least from one historical point of view, its origine being attributed to England, Ireland and France depending on the source (See my blog for research started March 2004). Nevertheless, it is one of the most popular dances at a Boombal. Paraphrasing Wim Claeys: "Guys, pick a lady and join the dance. If she is ugly, don't care. After 8 bars, you'll get another one". And according to this dance description, he's right. When the musicians play Irish jigs, I like to dance it in the Irish Ceili style, replacing in the second part the "hops in and out" (pas de Basque) by an Irish jump 2 3, and the walking step when changing partners' sides by a side step initiated by a cut when leading the lady to my left side, and a jump over when leading her back. When the musicians play the Irish jig very well, I also replace the promenade steps by "advance and retire" steps using jump 2 3 or skip 2 3 whether or not a double jig or single jig is played. Then I'm just hoping the dance doesn't last more than 5 minutes, 'cause dancing like that is hard work and makes me hungry ! By the way, here is the nice Cape Breton jig Kitty of Oulart (mp3; 1 MB) from Kinnon Beaton.
Now interestingly, this dance seems also to be known as the All American Promenade, the choreography being ascribed to Jim Arkness (see also a discussion in Dutch about this topic). In Sweden it is also danced to marches instead of gigues as you can see on this video (wmv, 4.7 Mb). The dancing teacher Hugo Moule claims this dance to be the progressive version of Gay Gordon, a Scottish Ceilidh Dance.
The Irish Ceili jig that comes most close to this dance, is the Two hand Jig.

Scottish. Maybe this is the dance that is played most often during a Boombal. The basic dance pattern is // L R / L L-hop // R L / R R-hop // L L-hop / R R-hop // L L-hop / R R-hop //. On top of that pattern, many figures can be added. Here is a video in which the dancers turn around continuously (mpeg, 6Mb!), while here is a walking variation (wmv; 4.5 Mb). And if you want a wide variety of variations, then this Mon petit chou scottisch (wmv; 3.7 Mb) is something for you.
So you see it is danced on 4-beat-a-bar music as the An Dro and the Polka, but the rhythm is different. How ? Difficult to express ! I very much like Marc Lemonnier's description that the last 8 beats of every 16-beat line must invite dancers to turn-around. Hence a big responsability for the musicians to make that happen, for if they don't put emphasis on that aspect, dancers might start to do a polka (if played to fast) or An Dro (if played without insufficiently marked off-beats). Here is a nice melody played in a confusing way (wma; 0,1 KB). Doesn't this Italian scottish from Fagioli (mp3; 5 Mb) sound much better ? Also this Swedish Skäftingeschottis (ra) composed by Rolf Esberg invites to dance. Feel free to contradict me.
Of course, this description helps you only if you dance the scottish in waltz-hold position with turning around in the second part. There is a second version where partners are in sweetheart position and for the first part of the scottisch perform a promenade along the basic pattern, and for the second part // L-frontpoint - / L - // R-backpoint - / R - //.
For a few variations, you can consult the Wattrelos 31/01-01/02-2004 workshop page. For most of them, the music should not be played too fast. A good speed is maintained in this Noel Nouvelet (mp3; 1.5 Mb) by Luskan.

Swing-Your-Partner sequence of a Circassian circle danced during a Boombal
Circassian Circle. In Flanders, we call this dance De tovercirkel and it is danced to jigs. But in other places, it is also danced to reels.
Dance instructors seem to agree quite well about the standard way to dance a Circassian Circle which is performed in this video demonstration (wmv; 5MB). If you learn the figures on the basis of this video, please be aware that during a Boombal, it usually is played at a much faster speed. A good example is this life recording of the Cercle Circassien de Nozata (mp3; 0.9Mb) by Karma. Listen how enthusiastic the dancers are !
For written instructions, you can check out the following resources (with variations): There is a variation of the Irish Ceili dance Every man's chance of which the choreography comes very close to the Circassian circle. The first part, all advance and retire (A-R) twice, is the same, except of course that the Irish 1-2-3 step should be done instead of simply walking towards the centre and back. The same for the part where the ladies alone A-R to the centre, while the gents now continue to 1-2-3 on the spot. Then the gents advance. When they retire, the ladies move to the right along the circle using a reel side-step (known as the sevens). Since the gents retire straight backward, they'll find another lady than before on their right hand side. This is the major difference with the Circassian circle in which the gents walk "actively" to the next lady. Then there is a normal swing for the last 16 beats. There is no lead around as in the Circassian circle.

Kor Vanistendael dancing a bourrée.
Bourrée. Wim Claeys regularly calls the bourrée the most erotic dance of a Boombal since you are only allowed to look at your partner, not touch him or her. Well, that's certainly true for the standard way in which it is danced during a ball, but since I participated in a marvelous bourrée workshop with Michaëla Marginet and Christian D'Huyvetter (e-mail him), I felt the need to do some further research: first to understand what makes the bourrée dancing of Kor Vanistendael (picture) and some other dancers so attractive, and second, to get familiar with that style. So, here is what I would like to share with you. But first listen to the two bourrées in 3/4 Cantalise & Mignonette (mp3), played by the legendary cabrettaire Antoine Bouscatel, as well as to a short part of Pachbour (mp3; 0.5 MB), a bourrée chantée in 4/4 by Groupe Sans Gain.
The basic bourrée step is easy: for a bourrée in 3/4, you get // L / R / L // R / L / R //; while one in 2/4 goes // L R / L - // R L / R - //. But then how to make these steps is the real issue since there are so many variations, the details of which you can find in the book Bourrée, Bourrée, Bourrée. Here is a small video with a bourrée du Limousin (mpg, 5 Mb). On-line resources with dance instructions don't seem to be available. If you are interested in the history of the dance, I suggest you to read La bourrée en Auvergne or La bourrée Berrichonne.

To compensate for the lack of on-line resources, here are some further reading materials: If you went through all this, and practised enough, maybe, just maybe, you might then be able to dance a bourrée à la Aimé Pouzet (wmv; 1Mb) from Borée. If you don't succeed, then you might try this.

The walking part of a polska
Polska. The polska is the best known folk dance from Sweden, and exists in many variations. It is danced to tunes in triple time. In its most basic form, it is danced in couples all lined up in a circle, and consists of two parts: a walking part and a turning part.
The walking part starts usually, but not always, for both partners with the outside foot. In open position, they step forward with outside foot on beat 1, pause on beat 2 (the inside leg may already start to swing forward), and step forward with the inside foot on beat 3. The movement is smooth and flowing and resembles an ordinary, natural walking step with the heel making contact first.
The turning part is different for gents and ladies.
  • On count 1, the gent steps left, making ¼ turn clockwise. The step is at an angle, across in front of the partner. On count 2, he sets the right foot close to the left one and bends the knees slightly, pivoting another ¼ turn clockwise. He should now face the center of the circle. On count 3, he pushes off the left foot while stepping forward on the right one (toe between lady's feet), ½ turn with a gentle bounce. Each polska turn should begin facing in the same direction. In other words, each measure makes a complete turn. To remember the sequence, the gent can memorise the cue phrase: left, both, right.
  • The lady starts facing almost the line of the dance (LOD), placing the right foot parallel to the left on count 1. On count 2, she steps with right ahead between the gent's feet while turning ¼ to the right with a light bending of the knees. On count 3, while turning ½ right, she takes a long step forward around the gent with the left foot. While turn is in motion, she places the right foot parallel to the left. So this position becomes a continuation and completion of each rotation, such that the lady is always (nearly) facing LOD. Her cue phrase is both, right, left.

  • It is the gent who desides how long to walk or turn. A polska that follow this description closely is the Gammalpolska (Old polska).

    As said, there are many variations. One of them is the hambo, which has many variations too. Gordon Ekvall Tracie wrote in 1954 about the polska, hambo and hambo-polska from a historical perspective, work that has been republished in the August 2000 issue of Spelmansnoter.

    Here is the nice Boda Mattes Polska (mp3) played on the Nyckelharpa, and the Polska från Lönsboda D-dur (mp3) on fiddle, by members of the Swedish folk music society Spel och dans stugan.