What’s a Bourrée?

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The bourrée, a fast-paced French dance, originated in the Biscay region of Spain in the 17th century. It influenced classical composers like Bach and Handel, and even found its place in rock and roll. The modern bourrée involves quick footwork and requires years of practice to master. It is popular in the UK and inspires new compositions in various genres.

While the bourrée is a truly French dance, it has its roots in the Biscay region of Spain during the 17th century. Featuring a fast pace in double tempo, the bourrée quickly became an important part of French dance, with French dancers leading the charge in other countries during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Along the way, the bourrée became part of several genres. Here are some examples of the evolution of this dance, including the state of dance today.

Early on, the bourrée found an ear with instrumental composers who are now regarded as classical geniuses. For example, Johann Sebastian Bach has created a number of movements and suites that are ideal for the bourree. A notable example is Bach’s Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, a piece that is still played often today. At the same time that Bach was composing keyboard suites with a bourrée influence, George Frideric Handel composed several bourrée sonatas which remain some of the leading examples of chamber compositions of the era. The trend continued into the late 19th century, with Frederic Chopin composing bourrée pieces specifically for the piano.

The bourrée continued to influence musical and dance genres well into the 20th century. Unlike many forms of dance and music associated with classical steps, the bourrée has managed to find its place in the world of rock and roll. In 20, rock band Jethro Tull included a bourrée piece on the Stand Up album. The tradition continued on a series of rock albums over the following decades, often as a section of compositions encompassing a number of different musical styles.

The basic moves of the modern bourree revolve around fast double time tempo and quick footwork. Similar to some of the basic movements employed in ballet, the bourree includes bending both knees and extending one leg, making a forward stop followed by another forward movement and then stepping back, returning to the series of bent knees. Performing the bourrée is not for the faint of heart. Requiring a rapid as well as steady pace, people can spend years practicing the bourrée before becoming proficient in the required fluency and precision.

While the bourrée never caught on in the US or elsewhere in North America, it built a strong reputation in the UK, where it is sometimes the inspiration for new compositions in classical, rock and roll, and even hip hop .

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