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Guide to the Music of Brittany© Table of ContentsBack to TopPrint

Dances of Brittany

Traditional dances of Brittany vary by geographical region, each having a different dance or a different variety of a more widely spread dance. Although limited to just western Brittany, the best introduction to the complexity of defining and mapping different dances in Brittany is Jean-Michel Guilcher's classic "La Tradition populaire de la danse en Basse-Bretagne" (1963; 1994).

In general, three different types of dances can be found in Brittany. First are the oldest dances which are often performed in a three-part suite. These are most commonly danced in lines or circles, and include dances such as the Gavotte, An Dro, Hanter Dro, Laridé or ridée, or Dañs Plinn. In some areas of Brittany subvarieties of these dances have been developed (Gavotte d'Aven, Gavotte Pourlet, etc.). The second category of dance is made up of more recent figure dances influenced by British dances of the 17th century or French contredances of the 18th century. Included here are the Jabadao, Pach-pi, and Bals. In the third category one finds couple dances introduced to Brittany in the 19th and 20th centuries such as the Polka, Mazurka, and Scottisches. Although of more recent introduction, these dances have been adapted by Bretons to become a unique part of the dance tradition.

Understanding variation in dance and musical styles depends on a knowledge of the division of Brittany into "Pays" (French for "country") or "Broioù" (singular, "Bro", in Breton). Bretons' sense of cultural identity is most strongly linked with these areas which are marked by differences in music, dance, costume, architecture, and subtelties of language, in addition to distinctive economies. Since the borders of differences in one cultural feature may not coincide exactly with another, the borders of Pays are extremely difficult to define but they can be generally shown on a map. While songs are generally given a title which matches the first line of the text, dance tunes are named by type, often including a reference to pays without any other title.

Other geographical areas which generally match cultural identities within Brittany are the "Diocèses". These larger areas were established by the 9th century as basic religious areas. The four diocèses of western Brittany: Leon, Treger, Kernev and Gwened correspond to the four major dialects of the Breton language. The border between the western half of Brittany, or Lower Brittany (Breizh Izel in Breton; Basse-Bretagne in French) and the eastern half, Upper Brittany (Breizh Uhel; Haute-Bretagne), has been defined by the presence of the Breton language. While the presence of Breton has declined from one generation to the next (with approximately 250-300,000 people speaking it today in western Brittany), the line between predominantly French or Breton speaking halves has remained relatively stable for centuries. The departments of Brittany (Finistère, Morbihan, Côtes d'Armor, Ille-et-Vilaine and Loire-Atlantique) are government-defined administrative regions which often cut across cultural borders.


"La Tradition populaire de danse en Basse-Bretagne" Jean-Michel Guilcher - 1963 - Paris: Mouton - Reprinted and distributed by Coop Breizh, 1994 - 704 pages.

"Á la découverte de la danse bretonne" Ar Men and Jean-Michel Guilcher - Ar Men 67 (mai 1995):14-27.

"Musiques traditionnelles de Bretagne: 2 - Etude du répertoire à danser" Yves Defrance - Skol Vreizh No. 39 - Editions Skol Vreizh, 1998 - 84 pages.

"La Danse bretonne" Alain Pierre and Daniel Cario - Coop Breizh 2001 - 144 pp.

"Aux origines du Fest-Noz" Fañch Postic - Ar Men 93 (avril 1998): 12-23.

See also publications by Dastum and its Website (section called "panorama").


Dances are included on the hundreds of recordings cited in the various sections of this guide. The following are more specifically focused on dance and include instructions to learn dances.

"Apprenez les danses bretonnes" produced from 2000 to the present and ongoing.
Vol. 1: Leon & Treger; Coop Breizh CD 922
Vol. 2: Terroir Bas-Vannetais; Coop Breizh CD 923
Vol. 3: Terroir Nantais; Coop Breizh CD 924
Vol. 4: Vannetais gallo; Coop Breizh CD 932
Vol. 5: Rennais; Coop Breizh CD 933
Vol. 6: Penthièvre; Coop Breizh
Vol. 7: Mene et Loudéc; Coop Breizh CD 942
Vol. 8: Dinan; Coop Breizh CD 963

Cercle Celtique Brug ar Menez
Mozaïk - Danse et musique de Bretagne DVD & CD - Label Prod./Coop Breizh - 2005 - Performance by one of Brittany's fine dance groups ("cercle celtique")