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Your Favourite Dance-Form and Sample of Such?

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My favourite dance form now is the polonaise (or polacca), it used to be the waltz but ever since Chopin and Wieniawski... ;P

My favourite polonaise is probably the Chopin Grande Polonaise Brillante in E-Flat Major for piano and orchestra, used to be the Wieniawski Polonaise Brillante in D for violin and piano.

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Rhythmically, I love a real Vienna Waltz and quite a few Latin dances (some of which can, depending on the exact interpretation of either, be actually interestingly similar to a Vienna Waltz). I also love baroque opéra-ballets, suites, and many more (even though the average baroque instrumental suite was of course never actually danced - most of the dances had fallen out of fashion as dances by the 17th century and were only carried along instrumentally). The preference isn't strictly tied to particular forms though, more to the execution.

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  • 1 month later...

I tend to form my preferences for certain dances based not only on the music so artfully written for them, but the dancing itself. I got interested in the subject when doing research for a set of 22 late-18th and early-19th Century dances I wrote in 2005, and it became a passion of mine. The more I learn about dances and how they are interpreted in instrumental music, the more I realise that I will have to re-write about two-thirds of the set - but that's a project for another day.

Though many instrumental dances (such as in Baroque suites or for solo keyboard) are "stylised," meaning they're intended to be more a free interpretation of a form rather than actually for dancing, historic dance forms are often as much a feast for the eye as for the ear.

Among my favourites in the classical world are the Polonaise (a recent obsession), the Minuet, the Gavotte, the Ländler, and the Mazurka. In Latin dance, I'm particularly fond of the Maxixe.

Examples? You want examples??? :D

OK, you got 'em.

Seriously, I doubt most of you have ever seen these dances before. I hope you'll take a few minutes and check these videos out. They're a pleasure to see, and not a little informative. Understanding the purposes of forms and their historical context is never a waste.

* The Polonaise: a ballroom version danced to Chopin's "Military" Polonaise in A, Op. 40 (1838). I gather that in Eastern Europe, the Polonaise (as it was adapted for the ballroom) served a similar function as the March did in the West - an opportunity for the dancers to promenade around and show off their evening finery at its best, usually at the beginning of a ball. It is essentially a line dance, like the Contredanse or the Reel.

* The Minuet: elegantly and authentically danced to Minuet I and II from Handel's "Water Music" Suite in G (1717). This is the best performance of the Baroque Minuet I've ever seen - truly a feast for the eye and ear alike. The costumes and dancing style are flawless - even the orchestra is in costume, playing period instruments. This is a chance to virtually step back in history for a few minutes...it's that good. The steps seem simple, but they actually require great skill and agility to perform as beautifully as this. I know...I've tried. ;)

At court balls, it was the prerogative of the presiding monarch or nobleman, if he was not dancing himself, to select a certain couple to perform the second half of the dance alone, giving them the coveted opportunity to show off their skill - and so it is in this example.

The Baroque Minuet is an elaborate, stylised pantomime of seduction. Notice how the solo couple never touch at first, dancing around each other...then hold hands at a chaste distance for a moment...and at the end they hold both hands and the coupling is complete. Actually very sexy indeed, tastefully concealed under layers of gorgeous artifice - an extension of the sentiment of Medieval courtly love; always idealised, reserved, and never quite consummated.

As a bonus, a Gigue follows the Minuet here, first danced by a solo lady, then by the ensemble.

* The Gavotte: a nice performance by two ladies in costume, from a performace of Lully's opera Atys (1676). The steps of the Gavotte are considerably more elaborate than the Minuet, and there were many variations on the form. French Baroque operas almost always included ballets - collections of dances inserted purely for the amusement of the audience, more often than not having nothing to do with the storyline. King Louis XIV (for whom Lully was court composer) was reputedly a marvelous dancer, and is known to have danced in opera ballets himself.

Incidentally, Louis XIV considered Lully one of his only true friends, which is why he was willing to overlook Lully's bad behaviour most of the time. How lonely to live so long, with such a grave responsibility from earliest childhood, and have so few people you can trust. I sometimes consider such things when hearing music from Louis' court. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.

* The Ländler: danced fairly nicely by an American wedding party, based on a ballroom version featured in the film The Sound of Music (1965), to the delightful and perfectly realised Ländler from Richard Rogers' score. [the copyright of the film is strictly enforced, hence no decent clip from the film is available on YouTube.]

The Ländler is an Austrian folk dance that takes many forms from region to region in Austria and Italian Tyrolia. In the 18th Century it became popular for ballroom use in Vienna; Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert wrote wonderful Ländler. The rhythm of the dance is similar to a slow Waltz; indeed, toward the end of the 1700s it developed first into the Deutschertanz, or German Dance (of which there are also great examples by Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven), and in the early 19th Century into the Waltz (Schubert was among the first to write dozens of marvelous piano Waltzes, many of which he improvised at parties and later wrote down from memory, as with much of his other dance music for piano).

The pantomime hand-movements and intertwining of arms in various figures are characteristic of the Ländler and are particularly charming.

Richard Rogers really did his homework when he wrote the score to The Sound of Music; his setting of the Ländler captures the Austrian folk-music style while softening it with gentrified elegance.

EDIT: I was able to find a clip of the Ländler from the film "The Sound of Music" (1966)

The ballroom Ländler, danced by Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer

So you can see the folk origins of the dance, here is a version of the Ländler as traditionally danced in the Tyrolian commune of Ahrntal, on the Italian border with Austria. [please be patient with the playing...remember, these are folk musicians]

* The Mazurka: a brief clip of a ballroom version, ca. 1840, to Saint-Saëns' Mazurka Op. 21 (1895).

Of Polish folk origin, the Mazurka was popularised as a ballroom dance in the early 19th Century and continued in popularity throughout the century in a number of variations. There are many versions of the original folk dance as well, adapted in many countries, from France to Sweden. It is often characterised by a dotted rhythm on the first beat of the measure, encouraging the skipping, hopping character of the dance.

With the Polonaise, the Mazurka is considered one of the national dances of Poland; even the Polish National Anthem is a Mazurka (Dabrowski Mazurek).

And a folk-version in Polish national costumes as presented on Bulgarian television. [do yourself a favour and skip the obnoxious announcer...the dancing begins around 1:05 into the clip]

Polish Mazurka

* The Maxixe: danced in exhibition to music by Chiquinha Gonzaga (1847–1935).

The Maxixe was a Brazilian dance popular ca. 1890-1915. Composers like Hector Villa-Lobos and Ernesto Nazareth wrote in the form, often calling it Tango Brasileiro. Around the turn of the 20th Century it was exported to Europe and America where it became equally popular. In America the dance was often performed to Ragtime music in several variations. With the advent of the Great War, it fell into obscurity. It is believed to have eventually developed into what is now the Samba.

In this clip, the dancers begin dancing the Maxixe, then switch to the Samba halfway through, so you can see the difference.

I may post my own impression of the Maxixe for piano here sometime.

Hope you enjoyed some of these clips and found them informative! As you can see, this is something I'm crazy about. I can't listen to some of these dances without seeing the dancing in my head.

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Oh John...you heard my Maxixe? I changed my mind and took it off. Well, anyway...

No, that's not me playing (I wish!). That's a Finale rendering with Steinway samples, believe it or not.

The ragtime mood is consistent with the period the dance was popular. As I noted, in America, the Maxixe was often danced to ragtime. It's also consistent with period Brazilian examples by Ernesto Nazareth, whom I was emulating. It's a very fun-loving and lighthearted dance!

OK, I guess I'll post that piece separately, with a link to the score as well. Since you twisted my arm! :D

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My favorite is probably the polonaise, after we played Liszt's transcription of von Weber's "Grand Polonaise Brillante ou l'Hilarité" (I'm pretty sure that's the exact title). The piece was originally written for solo piano, but Liszt adapted it for full orchestra. It's an amazing piece. :D

Original piece for solo piano, von Weber:



Transcribed for Orchestra by Liszt: (The only available score on IMSLP was a reduced score for two pianos)


If anyone cares. They're quite long, however.

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Well, that was interesting! I was expecting to prefer Weber's original, but Liszt did a nice job of arranging it, even in a manner Weber himself might have approved of. Nice vehicle for a virtuoso pianist. I'm not sure how I feel about the long introduction, though.

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