Monday, 15 November 2010

Boogie down...Breton style by Adela Meadows

Back in June of '09, during my previous stint as a guest blogger, I wrote about the music of Brittany and noted that where's there's music...there's dancing.
Around here, if it's's time for our Breton dance class. For many years, we've enjoyed dancing at the festivals held during the day...fest deiz...and in the evening...fest noz...but we finally decided it was time to get serious and hone our terpsichorean skills. We're into our second year of the course. There are as many traditional Breton dances as there are traditional Breton costumes and, like the costumes, each town has its own specific version of each dance. The rond de Landéda is quite different from the rond de Saint Vincent and the way they dance the pachpi in Vannes is totally different from the way they dance it in Quimper. Our patient-as-a-saint instructor is from the Ile de Groix in the Morbihan region, but we have been learning variations from as far away as the commune of Guérande.

Some of the dances are for specific situations. The hanter dro, for example, is danced with everyone in a tight line...unan, daou, tri,, two, three, four in Breton...our feet moving in concert. Left, right, left...right. Left, right, left...right. Arms tightly linked, we take identical, small, and deliberate steps. The steps of the hanter dro are purposeful, for it is a dance with a serves to resurface the terre battue...the dirt floor surface of the typical Breton country home. World-wide, terre battue...literally "beaten earth" purported to be the most commonly-found floor surface. Depending upon the amount of clay in the soil, there are different methods of preparing and maintaining the surface. If there is only a small amount of clay, the dirt is simply moistened and straw, hay or, in some cases, manure, is spread on top. Average levels of clay call for a good soaking...the resulting mud is then spread out, smoothed and allowed to slowly air dry. If the clay content of the soil is it is in Brittany...then the surface is compacted by foulement or walking on the surface. With floor re-surfacing being a seasonal requirement, the Bretons chose to make an event out of it and the regular foulement of a neighbor's floor is a celebration...with music, food, and hour after hour of dancing the hanter dro.

There are specific dances for announcing a wedding engagement, for celebrating the sale of a pig, for saying farewell to a seaman bound for a six-month-long journey in search of cod, etc., etc. Many of the dances involve linking pinkie fingers to make a chain and the arm movements of each dance are quite specific...and equally as intricate as the foot movements. After a while, you build up a tolerance, but for the first few outings at a fest noz, it's not unusual for one's pinkie to feel a bit sore!

Here are some images of Breton dances...both real-life and interpreted in Quimper faïence...

A happy dancing couple is the central motif on this HB Quimper cake plate

The joyful dance scene shown above is from a Porquier-Beau aiguière

Robert Micheau-Vernez created several pieces inspired by the dances of Brittany...

...this one features a couple from Plougastel performing the ribbon dance, his dancers are quite young...

...not as young as this dancing enthusiast at a fest deiz in Gourin...

...but probably about the age of the dancers from Rosporden featured in this turn-of-the-twentieth century photo postcard

Théophile Deyrolle created this scene; originally an oil painting, it was later used as a Quimper motif by both the Henriot factory as in the charger shown above...

...and the HB factory as seen on this large platter.

Colorfully-dressed dancers from the town of Châteaulin on a Porquier-Beau Scenes Bretonnes plate

Detail view of a grand vase in the window of the Musée de la Faïence in Quimper

A decorative plate personally painted by Camile Moreau during the short period of 1891 to 1895 when he worked for Jules Henriot.

After Moreau left, the same scene continued to be used at the Henriot demonstrated by this elaborate dolphin footed vase

Another interpretation of the scene originally created by Moreau...

...this time on a piece that was commissioned by the forces that occupied Brittany during World War II

It looks sort of like a Breton version of the tango on this Henriot Louis XV form pitcher

And the following images prove that Breton dancing is not limited we are in Paris...


  1. Adela, glad to see you back. I had fun "dancing" my way through this wonderfully interesting and festive post.
    Happy Dancing! ~ Sarah

  2. Welcome back Adela, your dancing post had my feet tapping all the way through.
    Thanks for perservering!

  3. Adela, What a fascinating post! You and Marc are really learning much more about the Breton culture. I loved your description of the dirt/clay floors and the way it is maintained. How very interesting..and to have a special dance to let friends and neighbors help in packing it down. Wonderful! Thanks, and hugs..

  4. Loved the blog on dancing Adela. As you know Paul Fouillen also had some terrific dance scenes, never enough room to post all.

    All best,