How do french people dance

What are the different French dance styles?

Looking at all the kinds of dance styles that have spread throughout France and beyond over the centuries, you’d be forgiven for thinking the country has danced its way through its history. There are many musical genres and choreographies at play. Some reflect long-lasting traditions, and others break away from them. But all contribute to the varied cultural landscape and social daily life in France. And with that being said, let’s now look at some of the most famous and emblematic French dances.

  • 2 iconic French dances
  • 3 names to remember among the plethora of French folkloric dances
  • 3 popular dances over the last century in France

Learn languages at your pace

Choose your plan

2 iconic French dances

While most traditional French dances may not be particularly well-known outside the country, two of them have managed to cross borders and gained worldwide fame and immediately bring an idea of a certain French lifestyle.

1. The French Cancan

It’s difficult to think of a dance style more emblematic and more closely associated to a venue and a specific time of history. The French cancan stole the show at the end of the 20th century, when such renowned French painters as Henri de Toulouse Lautrec painted posters for the Moulin Rouge and its most famous dancers.

2. The

valse musette

Of course, the valse musette is nowhere near as famous as the French cancan. Yet, you only need to know it is danced to the sound of the accordion to understand just how iconic a French dance it is. Born in the 1880s around the time of the Belle Époque, you might still see it danced nowadays in village halls on the 14th of July, for Bastille Day: It is just as traditional as watching the military parade on the Champs-Élysées or listening to such anthems as “La Marseillaise” and “Le chant des partisans”. 

3 names to remember among the plethora of French folkloric dances 

It is simply impossible to list all the folkloric dances that may exist throughout France in one blog. Thankfully, some are more famous than others, so we narrowed it down to three well-known ones.

1. The


This open-chain community dance has been danced in France for centuries, most notably in the south-east region of Provence. In fact, rumor has it the farandole is the oldest traditional dance in the country. It is also probably one of the easiest, which is why even children enjoy dancing a simplified version of it in the school playground.

2. The

bourrée auvergnate

As you may guess from the name of this French dance, the bourrée auvergnate is originally from the central region of Auvergne. Still danced on special occasions nowadays, it first appeared and gained popularity in the 16th century, to the point of spreading to other countries in Western Europe, including Great Britain.

3. The


While maybe a little less famous than the first two folkloric dances on our list, the maraîchine is still worth mentioning. Traditionally performed in a line or a circle, this type of dance comes from two regions in the north-west of France, namely Poitou and Bretagne (or Britanny in English). In fact, the latter is well-known for its many dances of celtic inspiration.

3 popular dances over the last century in France 

History and traditions are all very well, but what about more modern trends? In the last century, newer dance styles have appeared at balls and parties across France. 

1. The


Another dance commonly seen in the local dance balls across France, the java is characterized by its quick, small steps. The dance became popular in the 1920s and 1930s among working-class people, who preferred it over the waltz, which they judged too bourgeois.

2. The


Yes, technically, the Madison is an American dance and not a French one. However, it quickly spread in France and became highly popular in the 1960s. The decade has come to symbolize a time of change in the country. A new generation keen to break away from certain traditions was quickly emerging, as reflected in the new music and dance styles of the time.  Eventually, this led to the events of May 1968.



All the way from the French West Indies, more specifically the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, as well as Haiti, Dominica and Saint Lucia, the zouk relies on a savvy blend of Caribbean, African and North African musical styles. If you wonder what the zouk dance is, you first need to know the word “zouk” refers to nightlong dance parties in the local Creole language. So it’s hardly any surprise it is characterized by its fast tempo and its sensual moves.

Time to get on the French dance floor

These eight dances may only be a small sample, but they do show the variety of styles on the French dance scene, from folkloric traditions to moves from faraway lands. You’re bound to find one to your taste, whether you fancy taking part to a bal musette for Bastille Day or get dancing all night long.

Learn languages at your pace

Choose your plan

Anne-Lise is a translator and copywriter working for various industries, such as hospitality and travel, as well as health and well-being. Settled down in London since the end of her university years, she cannot get enough of the exceptional cultural life in the English capital city, starting with theater, be it to see a new West End show or to roll up her sleeves with her amateur drama group. She is also interested in photography, as her Instagram profile shows. She indulges her passion for languages in a translation blog she writes with other linguist friends. Go to her Linkedin page to know more about her background and her professional experience.

France | History, Map, Flag, Population, Cities, Capital, & Facts

flag of France

Audio File: Anthem of France (see article)

See all media

Head Of Government:
Prime minister: Élisabeth Borne
(2022 est. ) 65,823,000
Currency Exchange Rate:
1 USD equals 0.944 euro
Head Of State:
President: Emmanuel Macron

See all facts & stats →

Dec. 18, 2022, 1:18 PM ET - Argentina won the 2022 World Cup in a shootout against France following a high-scoring match. The win for Lionel Messi's team comes as he makes history as the first person to compete in 26 World Cup matches.


Read a brief summary of this topic

France, officially French Republic, French France or République Française, country of northwestern Europe. Historically and culturally among the most important nations in the Western world, France has also played a highly significant role in international affairs, with former colonies in every corner of the globe. Bounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, the Alps and the Pyrenees, France has long provided a geographic, economic, and linguistic bridge joining northern and southern Europe. It is Europe’s most important agricultural producer and one of the world’s leading industrial powers.

France is among the globe’s oldest nations, the product of an alliance of duchies and principalities under a single ruler in the Middle Ages. Today, as in that era, central authority is vested in the state, even though a measure of autonomy has been granted to the country’s régions in recent decades. The French people look to the state as the primary guardian of liberty, and the state in turn provides a generous program of amenities for its citizens, from free education to health care and pension plans. Even so, this centralist tendency is often at odds with another long-standing theme of the French nation: the insistence on the supremacy of the individual. On this matter historian Jules Michelet remarked, “England is an empire, Germany is a nation, a race, France is a person.” Statesman Charles de Gaulle, too, famously complained, “Only peril can bring the French together. One can’t impose unity out of the blue on a country that has 265 kinds of cheese.”

This tendency toward individualism joins with a pluralist outlook and a great interest in the larger world. Even though its imperialist stage was driven by the impulse to civilize that world according to French standards (la mission civilisatrice), the French still note approvingly the words of writer Gustave Flaubert:

I am no more modern than I am ancient, no more French than Chinese; and the idea of la patrie, the fatherland—that is, the obligation to live on a bit of earth coloured red or blue on a map, and to detest the other bits coloured green or black—has always seemed to me narrow, restricted, and ferociously stupid.

At once universal and particular, French culture has spread far and greatly influenced the development of art and science, particularly anthropology, philosophy, and sociology.

France has also been influential in government and civil affairs, giving the world important democratic ideals in the age of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution and inspiring the growth of reformist and even revolutionary movements for generations. The present Fifth Republic has, however, enjoyed notable stability since its promulgation on September 28, 1958, marked by a tremendous growth in private initiative and the rise of centrist politics. Although France has engaged in long-running disputes with other European powers (and, from time to time, with the United States, its longtime ally), it emerged as a leading member in the European Union (EU) and its predecessors. From 1966 to 1995 France did not participate in the integrated military structure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), retaining full control over its own air, ground, and naval forces; beginning in 1995, however, France was represented on the NATO Military Committee, and in 2009 French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that the country would rejoin the organization’s military command. As one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—together with the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, and China—France has the right to veto decisions put to the council.

The capital and by far the most important city of France is Paris, one of the world’s preeminent cultural and commercial centres. A majestic city known as the ville lumière, or “city of light,” Paris has often been remade, most famously in the mid-19th century under the command of Georges-Eugène, Baron Haussman, who was committed to Napoleon III’s vision of a modern city free of the choleric swamps and congested alleys of old, with broad avenues and a regular plan. Paris is now a sprawling metropolis, one of Europe’s largest conurbations, but its historic heart can still be traversed in an evening’s walk. Confident that their city stood at the very centre of the world, Parisians were once given to referring to their country as having two parts, Paris and le désert, the wasteland beyond it. Metropolitan Paris has now extended far beyond its ancient suburbs into the countryside, however, and nearly every French town and village now numbers a retiree or two driven from the city by the high cost of living, so that, in a sense, Paris has come to embrace the desert and the desert Paris.

Among France’s other major cities are Lyon, located along an ancient Rhône valley trade route linking the North Sea and the Mediterranean; Marseille, a multiethnic port on the Mediterranean founded as an entrepôt for Greek and Carthaginian traders in the 6th century bce; Nantes, an industrial centre and deepwater harbour along the Atlantic coast; and Bordeaux, located in southwestern France along the Garonne River.

French dances - folk, old dance styles

French dance as a form of dance art has greatly influenced world culture. These are characteristic folk numbers - with jumps and claps. And a strict palace style - it was in the walls of French castles that ballet and the fashion for ballroom dancing were born. And performance within the walls of restaurants - France also became the birthplace of the cancan.

Dance regions

France is a country with many regions. Almost each of them has its own dance story. If we compare folk dances from different regions, it is sometimes even difficult to believe that they all appeared within the same state. nine0003

  • Noble couple styles were born in central France: waltz, mazurka, burre;
  • The region of Brittany is characterized by round dance types: rondo, gavotte, en dro;
  • Basque Country is distinguished by a bolder, “wild” performance. Souths and fandangos appeared here;
  • the Alpine regions are associated with the dance art of England;
  • German country dances and zwifachers penetrated Alsace, bordering Germany.

History of French dance

Folk performance

Speaking about the history of the dance art of any country, the origins should be sought in folk dance. Citizens and villagers of the French state performed branly (translated from French branlie - “swaying”). At street festivals, people danced round dances with swaying, complex bouncing, in which the dancers expressed their joy about the holiday.

Old French dance Antoine Watteau “Country dance”

Later, palace etiquette began to appear, and wild village movements did not fit in with court culture. In the 15th century, treatises appeared in which the movements were systematized. Jumps were replaced by modest steps, the music became slower. Court and rustic styles were radically different.

A century later, festive dance processions, which were accompanied by fireworks, came into fashion. Court dance masters also began to pay more attention to technique, manner of performance, and style. The dancer was obliged to follow the posture, bows and curtsies were included in the ceremonial - symbols of nobility. From here the foundations of ballet were born. nine0003

Later, sliding steps and jumps penetrated the palace style.

King Louis XIV (1638-1715) founded the Royal Academy of Dance, which gave impetus to the emergence and development of new dance techniques. By the beginning of the 18th century, balls had become popular in France.

Democratic folk dance

By the 19th century, the fashion for natural movements returned. Fast mazurka, cotillon, polonaise, quadrille are gaining popularity.

An explosive can-can is born in the operetta, destroying all stereotypes. This vulgar form he acquired on the scenes of cafes and restaurants. nine0003

At the beginning of the 20th century, as in most European countries, Art Nouveau appeared in France, which abandoned ballet traditions. The purpose of the new wave is to let the dancer show his personality.

Modern French dance

Hype, as an alternative to r'n'b, originated from the culture of immigrants from North Africa, Morocco and other countries.

Now dance performances and conceptual productions without systematic movements are popular in France. They give freedom to self-expression, reveal the dancer and give the audience new spectacular performances. nine0003

French Dance Dictionary:


An old French folk dance that appeared in the 13th century and was popular in the 15th-16th centuries. It was performed in a round dance and was often accompanied by songs. Movements are fast.


Folk dance of the 15th-16th centuries, which is not assigned to a specific region. It quickly migrated to salon and palace rooms, but was forgotten by the end of the 18th century. In classical ballet, there is a term “burre”, which refers to small steps. nine0003


Modern style introduced in 2007. It is based on classical movements that are performed at a fast pace - from 140 beats per minute.


Noble fast Renaissance dance. The performance is characterized by elements of support, when the partner turns the partner in the air.


Originally a folk chain dance originating in the Brittany region. In the 17th century, it was modified and included in the list of court numbers in a number of European countries. nine0003


Folk live couple dance, a kind of country dance. Appeared in the XVIII century, and also quickly found a place in the salon lists. Known as a number for two and four couples.


Descendant of the quadrille, which appeared in the 20-30s of the XIX century. Known for wide leg swings and splits. Kankan was born in France, but did not receive approval at home. It has become more widespread in other European countries.


The final dance number of the ball. Includes waltz, polka and mazurka movements. The cavalier conductor, leading the cotillion, loudly called the figures dancing and gave signals to the orchestra.


A graceful dance that was born in Brittany as a folk dance. Since the 17th century it has become a ballroom. Characterized by movements on the toes.


A variation of the minuet, at a faster pace. Normandy is considered the birthplace of paspier. in the folk version, it is accompanied by playing the bagpipes or choral singing. nine0003


Peasant number from Provence, included in the ball rooms in the 17th century. Cheerful and cheerful with peppy movements.


Folk dance performed with wooden clogs. Due to heavy shoes, the movements are slow, but rhythmic. The music is supported by characteristic sabot strikes.


Quick and at the same time smooth Burgundy number. It was especially popular in the XV-XVI centuries. nine0003


Round dance of Provence. To the sounds of the flute and tambourine, the dancers form various figures - spirals, circles.


One of the most complex modern styles, a kind of tectonics. Broken movements, wide arms swing, jumps are characteristic. It is performed to fast music - at a pace of 150 beats per minute.

French dance: folk and ancient

Dance is an important part of the national culture. Its roots lie in ancient times. Since ancient times, people have splashed out their strongest emotions in dance: love, hate, happiness and sorrow. One of the greats said: "Movement is life." Therefore, dance can tell a lot about the traditions and history of the nation in which it originated, as well as about the mentality of people. nine0003

Rural and urban art

French dance in the old days was exclusively folk. It was performed wherever people gathered. For example, in the field during the harvest, when the sun was hot, and the peasants took a break to catch their breath and have lunch. In the evening, in the tavern after a hard day's work, drunken French splashed out their accumulated energy with the help of dance. At the fairs, semi-professional artists (similar to Russian buffoons) "turned on" the townspeople with cheerful music and dances. nine0003

Dances of the peoples of the world, their origin and significance

Dances of the peoples of the world are a reflection of the beliefs, culture, history and spirituality of people. In some...

An ancient French folk dance that originated among peasants is called branle. This is a round dance well known to us. Almost all European nations have circular dances. It is connected with the ancient cult of the sun. Branl was accompanied by singing. This is a fun and fast dance. Branl was very popular in France during the 13th and 15th centuries. Regional varieties of such a dance are known. nine0003

The branle is based on a step to the side with a footstep. Sometimes this dance was performed with jumps. Such a bran was called cheerful. In the 16th century, this ancient dance began to be performed at the courts. Very beautiful branle with a candlestick. The leader, holding a large chandelier in his hands, exchanges it with the lady, who herself becomes the leader. At the heart of such branle is courtship. The dance includes signs of respect - curtsies and bows.

Classical dance, beautiful and refined

Classical dance is based on a very subtle and careful study of all movements, positions of all...

Mosaic of movements

French dance called bourre originated in the province of Auvergne. The famous gavotte was also born there. These dances were transformed into court dances, and then entered the arsenal of classical ballet. In modern choreography, the term "burre" refers to steps of a special type.

Farandole - Provencal dance. It is based on movements that have the shape of a circle, in particular rotation. In the Middle Ages, the farandole was performed in a round dance.

The ancient French dance Rigaudon originated in Provence. The peasants of this province have long been energetic and cheerful, so there are many active movements in rigodone, such as jumping on one leg, spinning. In the 17th century, this dance was performed at the courts of aristocrats. Later rigaudon becomes the property of instrumental music. Lully, Rameau and Handel included it in their suites. At 19and in the 20th century Rigaudon became the object of attention of composers who stylized the music of the past.

Merry dances

The old French dance, the passepee, originated in the north of the country. The likely region of its origin is Normandy. This dance is very ancient. In the old days, it was performed to the accompaniment of bagpipes, so paspier music usually contains repetitive elements. And the famous minuet from the peasant dance of the province of Poitou has become a symbol of gallantry and grace in the era of the Sun King. nine0003

The French dance called the saboteur was performed in special shoes. These were wooden shoes with slightly turned up toes. Clogs - that was the name of the shoes. It was usually hollowed out from a single piece of wood. Sabotier is a relatively slow dance. Clumsy shoes interfered with fast movements. The saboteur is characterized by stomping and hitting the floor with hard shoes.

Polish folk dances: Krakowiak, Mazurka, Polonaise....

Poland has been famous all over the world for its folk dances for many years. Polish folk dances...

Democratic art

In the 19th century, French dance received new stimuli for development. After the revolution, urban entertainment was significantly democratized. There are also new dances. Cotillion has been known since the beginning of the century. Translated from French, this word means "skirt", as well as "circular construction of pairs." Cotillion - a kind of mix of all the dances known at that time. It could include waltz, ecossaise, mazurka figures. The movements were chosen by the leading performers and signaled to the musicians. nine0003

The quadrille is danced by couples in which the partners are opposite each other. This is a fast and fun French dance.

Learn more