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What is the Bourrée?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2016
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While the bourrée is a truly French dance, it has its roots in the Biscay region of Spain during the 17th century. Characterized by a fast double-time beat, the bourrée quickly became an important part of French dancing, with the French dancers leading the charge into other countries during the latter 17th and early 18th centuries. Along the way, the bourrée became a part of several different genres. Here are some examples of the evolution of this dance, including the status of the dance today.

Early on, the bourrée found an ear with instrumental composers that are considered to be classical geniuses today. For instance, Johann Sebastian Bach created a number of movements and suites that were ideal for the bourrée. One notable example is Bach’s Notebook For Anna Magdalena Bach, a piece that still is played often today. Around the same time as Bach was composing keyboard suites with a bourrée influence, George Frideric Handel composed several bourrée sonatas that remain some of the premier examples of chamber compositions of the era. The trend continued into the latter 19th century, with Frederic Chopin composing bourrée pieces specifically for the piano.

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The bourrée continued to influence musical and dance genres all the way into the 20th century. Unlike many forms of dance and music that are associated with classical moves, the bourrée managed to find a place in the world of rock and roll. In 1969, the rock band Jethro Tull included a bourrée piece on the album Stand Up. The tradition continued on a number of rock albums throughout the next several decades, often as a section of compositions that encompassed a number of different musical styles.

The basic moves of the modern day bourrée revolve around the quick double time tempo and rapid movement of the feet. Similar to some of the basic moves employed in ballet, the bourrée includes the bending of both knees and the extending one leg, taking a stop forward followed by another forward movement and then back one step, returning to the set of bent knees. Performing the bourrée is not for the faint of heart. Requiring a rapid step as well as a steady one, persons may devote years of practicing the bourrée before becoming competent in the fluidity and precision that is required.

While the bourrée has never really caught on in the United States or other countries in North America, it has built a strong reputation in the United Kingdom, where it is sometimes the inspiration for new compositions in classical, rock and roll, and even hip hop.

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