Discovering French traditional social dance in Pittsburgh

Dancing to bourree

On Saturday, Abby and I went for the first time to the latest meeting of a local French traditional social dance workshop and dance here in Pittsburgh.

It was a lot of fun!


Despite the recently fallen snow at the time (now all but melted!), around twelve of us eventually showed up, and the male-female ratio happened to be very good. For most of us, it was our first time trying out French dancing, but some of us just happened to have had prior some experience with other dancing, such as ballroom and swing and Cajun. The workshop was very friendly to beginners.

Dances we learned

We spent an hour or so learning various dances, taught by Gregory Dyke and Lisa Tamres.

We warmed up by learning a simple circle dance to a waltz rhythm, and Gregory made it more challenging by having us sing along in French (which not all of us knew, but that was OK; I know some French but half the time I just hummed rather than try to sing French while doing dance steps).

Then we went to the partnered waltz, which we did at various tempos, but all pretty fast. There was discussion of toning down the long gliding and lifting actions that some of us reflexively use from having experience with the slow waltz from ballroom dancing, because there is not enough time to use those actions for every step. (I immediately remembered being constantly reminded not to perform these actions when I was dancing Viennese waltz in my ballroom dance days. The tempo range for French waltz seems basically the same.)

Then we learned the Schottische, in a variant that had a triple step, followed by a triple step, and then four single steps.

Then we changed things up to a variant of the bourrée, in double time, in which there are two lines formed, and the partners facing each other alternate dancing toward each other and past each other, leaving room for personal expression as they do so.

We returned to the mazurka, which was very tricky for many of us because of the asymmetric step pattern: 1-2-hold, 1-2-3, followed by the same starting with the other foot. I still don’t completely have the hang of it, but I could feel how it could be pretty exciting because of the holding and building momentum for the second half of the pattern, on which I like to turn.

Finally, we learned a really fun circle dance, the Circassian Circle.

Social dancing

After the workshop instruction, the pianist, Ellen Gozian, had arrived, and the social dance began to live music performed by her and also by Gregory on his wooden flute.

About another hour of dancing followed, till it was time for Ellen to leave. Abby and I decided to leave shortly afterwards, but social dancing was going to continue with recorded music.

I had a lot of fun exploring new dances, and would like to attend future workshops and social dances. It’s great that so many different dance and music groups exist here in Pittsburgh!

I am grateful to Gregory and Lisa for the instruction, Ellen for the piano playing, and every person who was on the dance floor. I think I can safely claim that everyone was smiling and laughing and having a great time at this event!


If you’re in the Pittsburgh area and interested in French traditional social dance, check out the Facebook group for announcements.

(Update of 2012-02-20)

Abby and I have continued enjoying French dancing over the year.

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