CRANG Robert,

Dance department, Faculty of Letters and Arts, University of Nice . FRANCE




Comunication to « Dance and Ancient Greece ». 5th International Conference on Dance Research. Athens, I.O.F.A., 1991 


   I have done this modest work to answer positively to the request of Alkis RAFTIS, président of the  International Dance Council CID-UNESCO, and I hope , by the way , to give some materials to people interested in the Greek heritage in French folk dances or in the French desire of it...

   I only bring texts and video films. It is the beginning of a more expanded work for researchers. For want of better, I will only give you some personal comments.

   I present dances , danced in France and supposed to have (though some of them are contradicted) relation to Ancient Greece , in alphabetic order.

   For each dance , I give , at first , some explanations and secondly , I follow the alphabetic order of the authors who have written about this dance and I translate quotations of their text in English.

I finish by some personal comments and for those who read music I join, in annex, scores of music and steps (Conté notation) of some quoted dances.




-1.-"BOUFFONS" (The dance of "les Bouffons"[1] or "les Mattachins"[2])

     The dance of "les Bouffons" was, during the sixteenth century, a long dance, of several military movements on one simple step of dance -dactyl rhythm- danced with sword and shield in hands, in front of spectators (for example in a castle).

Nowadays it is still danced by dancers specialised in ancient dances[3] .


         1.1.-CONTE gave a score of this dance and wrote :"The DANCE

OF MATASSINS would be an ancient greek pyrrhique"[4]


         1.2.-THOINOT ARBEAU described this dance in a book published , in form of dialogue, in fifteen hundred and eighty eight, and wrote about its origin :

   -"Arbeau{teacher}. The Saliens, twelve dancers institued by the King Numa to celebrate the god Mars (...) danced on music and made military movements : first, the one after the others - secondly, together.

   -Capriol{scholar}. Was not it, the armed dance called Pyrrhique that Minerve danced with joy when the Titans lost the war ?

   -Arbeau{teacher} the legend says that the Curetes invented this Pyrrhique in order to amuse the little kid Jupiter with their gestures and their swords striking the shields. From these two kinds of dances, people composed one that we call les Bouffons ou Mattachins ..."[5] 




     The first mention of FARANDOLE I know, comes from a regulation in seventeen and fifteen which ruled the French masked balls. It is mentioned by PEYTEL and reported by CLAMON[6] .

To be brief, there are two kinds of dances called FARANDOLES :

         The first kind groups popular Farandoles.

                  They are danced by every body till the twentieth century, particularly at the beginning and at the end of balls in many countries of France. Often they are danced in the street to bring people to the ball.

   Their common point is that the dancers figure a chain, like a snake, and each dancer holds his neighbours by his hands, sometimes helped with a handkerchief.

   The common figures are : the snake, the snail, the snake which slides its head under its tail, the little arch ...

   The common movements are: to walk, to run, to hop. That is to say : no traditional step , no ruled steps.

   All the dances which have these caracteristics are kinds of FARANDOLES like for examples ,Ca ira [7] and la Carmagnole , danced in the streets during the French Revolution.


     Two popular FARANDOLES merit a special mention :

           The BASK FARANDOLE which present three different steps on three parts of a music in 2 /4 .

           The FARANDOLE OF PROVENCE AND LANGUEDOC which is most often danced on musics in 6/8 and which present swings of arms attributed to Ancient Greece.


         The second kind groups academic Farandoles

                They appear around 1876 and four factors contributed to their appearance :

   -the revival of culture and langue d' oc, particularly in Provence[8],

   -the acces of the dance of Provence and Languedoc to the stage during the manifestations and later to the theatre (for instance in Paris),

   -the organisation of FARANDOLE's societies ,

   -the competitions of FARANDOLES.

They are danced in front of people from the XIX th century till nowadays[9].

Their steps are inspired by those (academic)   of French military tradition of dance . Each village or group has its proper prefered steps[10] . The dance can also have an "improvised " part.


   The following authors mention an Ancient Greek origin for the Provencal FARANDOLE.

         2.1.-BARIL's opinion

           "the FARANDOLE, national dance of people of Provence, is a dance of fertility.(...) This kind of dance has been known since the Ancient Greece : dance of Cranes or geranos.(...) They give generaly to the name FARANDOLE the etymology of phalang, phalanx, and doulos, slaves ; the dancers are supposed to be chained up one to the others."[11]

         2.2.-BENOIT's opinion :

           "The FARANDOLE wich is caracteristic of the country around Arles (town of Provence) is connected with the most ancient dances, the chain dance whose archetyp is found in the danse of the cranes and in the game of Troy , kind of funeral dance with which Enee honours the memory of Anchise (...) Is not it a positive conclusion?

Through tranformations, the perennation of the dance is kept. The traditional chain is not broken .They can speak of a regionalism of a dance, because this dance has been adapted to the race's mind, which gave it a second life."[12] 

         2.3.-DECITRE's opinion :

           "The FARANDOLES are specific to mediterranean seaside and caracterised by the chain : rings, snaky forms, and so on which figure the snake(...)The young men of ancient Delos , making a chain ,imited while dancing the curves of the secret labyrinth which was perhaps like a snake (A.I.D.magazine ) Then they would be a dance of fecondity.(...) In the opinion of Provencal masters of dance they would be : Slaves 's chains with movements of arms to cheer themselves to walk. The land of the FARANDOLE is Provence. The word in langue d' oc is FARANDOULO exact transcription of greek words : PHALANX   and DOULOS ".[13]

         2.4.-MOURGUES's opinion :

           "At the evocation of the snake, the Farandole adds the imitation of birds's flight. The dancers go on, following a snake-line, holding each others by hands. Their arms down, they do three swings (from the back to the front) cut by a brief elevation, all that , imitating the well known ancient dance "la geranos"dance wich is an imitation of the cranes's flight, announcing the spring."[14]



     The name of this dance (the Greek step) is the only point linked to Greece.

In fact , it is not a really specific dance[15] but different groups of steps[16] whose origin are tied to the French military tradition of dance .


-4.-VOLTE (LA)

       This dance has always been written as a Provencal caracteristic danse.The waltz is considered to be produce in its filiation by many French authors (who are contradicted by German authors who write that waltz comes from a German lander) Yet I have found an author who writes the possibility for the VOLTE to be produced by Greece !

         Fréderic MISTRAL[17] ,one of the most wellknown author of the langue d'oc revival, in his work, le Trésor du félibrige,   at the article VOUTA {Provencal name of VOLTE} quotes a quatrain of the XVIth century which let suppose that the dance, originaly in Cyprus was fixed very early in Provence.



                     SOME OF THESE DANCES



     5.1.-CLAMON's opinion :

         "To the moving curves , like movements of snakes, zigzag, with simple swings of the circle dances of the peasants, the modern dancers of FARANDOLE in Provence and Languedoc (...) have added these "classic" steps of the XVIIth and XVIIIth century"[18]

     5.2.-LANCELOT's opinion :

         "Waiting for a more thorough study on the origin of the FARANDOLE, we can ,at present, admit that the FARANDOLE comes from a branle[19] (with naturaly, mutations) .

The loss of the steps has probably been done , either with the appearance of the word (the FARANDOLE would never had traditional steps) , or later (the FARANDOLE losing its organisation of steps during the XVIIIth century)

The difficulties we met while we only could find documents till the beginning of the XVIIIth century, make us suspicious about the opinions of many authors on the origine phocéenne [20] or the Cretic origin of the FARANDOLE .

The comparison with pictures of dances on Greek's vases, or what we know of Thesee, of the Labyrinth and of the Ariane's thread, their repeats ,sometimes textualy from an author to another , show us -instead of a right approach- a lack of arguments"[21]


   "In this few texts (Mentioned by Lancelot, above in her dissertation), the popular FARANDOLE-GAME clearly relegated out of the ball from the begining of the XIXth century and having no organisation of steps, has been able to be part of the repertory of common dances of the XVIIIth century ;

but if we take into account this text of 1760 [22] , where the FARANDOLE is drawn through a ball as a kill-joy, we can think it has been , at first appearance, perhaps a dance , but also a way of expression whose first interest was not choreique "[23](that is to say properly dance) .

Lancelot writes that two signs allowed us to think (but not certainly) that the Farandole was , at the beginning of the XVIIIth century, a dance with organised movements :

- the calling "branle" or "branle à mener" instead of "Farandoule"[24]

- a musical manuscript notations of "Farandoule" of 1733.


 -6.-VOLTE (LA)

       6.1.-CONTE :

           "VOLTE (...) Popular dance of the Middle Ages whose Provencal origin is not controversed." 

       6.2.-DERAT :

           "VOLTE. Name of a dance of middle ages , dance wich turns . It produced our waltz."[25] 

     6.3.-MOURGUES :

           "the most admit opinion is that the VOLTE has its roots in Provence"[26] 

     6.4.-THOINOT ARBEAU :

           "The VOLTE is a kind of GAILLARD familiar to people of Provence..."[27]

       6.5.-SACHS :

           "Among the roman courts, the VOLTE has a special position."[28]

           "Provence is the native land of the VOLTE"[29]



                      PERSONALLY PRESENT :

   7.-First comments : about farandole


7.1.-Historic comments .

   The observation of the historic order of the texts , bring us to remark many kinds of opinions :

   7.1.1.-Till 1807, the ancient Greek roots of the FARANDOLE are not quite sure:

       For COMPAN (1787) [30] this dance is close to the Candie 's dance described by Homer and of the dance of the cranes.

       MILLIN (1807) "the FARANDOLE looks like to be Greek"[31]

   7.1.2.- From 1819 to 1964 , the FARANDOLE comes undoubtely from Ancient Greece :

     With DIOULOUFET (1819) [32] the FARANDOLE is really the memory of the danse of Candie.

     With VIOLET ALFORT (1932) , imported to Marseille by the "Phocéens" the FARANDOLE has "very little changed during two or three thousand years"[33]

       We already quoted above several authors who do not doubt of these Ancient Greek roots :

                           - MOURGUES (1956) , BENOIT (1960) , DECITRE (1960) BARIL (1964).


   7.1.3.-After 1936 and the development of research on the history of ethnic dance with the German Curt SACHS the FARANDOLE is a dance of fertility classified in "chain dance with small arch"(...)

"the dances with bridge and small arch have a symbol of life always renewed"[34]

   7.1.4 .- Many authors have described the numerous academic steps of FARANDOLE of Provence without serious question on their origin: 

     GIRAUDET[35] (1890) , BENOIT (1949) who writes : "Dance of Ancient greek tradition, it (the FARANDOLE) appropriates to itself the steps of the classic ballet"[36] , BAUMEL (1958) who says :" ...the dancers of FARANDOLE make sissonne steps ..."[37], MOURGUES (1960)

   7.1.5.- Two authors have classified popular farandole as a dance which can come from ancien "Branle " and classic farandole or academic farandole or farandole of master of dance which come from military dance and have not pointed out the common Ancient Greek origin .Clamont (1936) , Lancelot (1973)


7.2.Obervations and question as dance notator : about direction of moving of figure.  

   I have read nothing in the works of authors that I present here, on a sign[38] wich yet strikes a dance notator's eyes: the sense or the direction of the movement of the curved chain of dancers.

Yet this sense is not nothing or pure chance, particularly for our purpose.

   I have personally, notated on scores , in Musical Conté Notation, some Greek folk Dances -about 25- since the 1970's. They, practically, all use curve figures which turn against sun's motion or its apparent motion. 

   I have transcripted so, 24 different French "Branles" described by Thoinot Arbeau in Orchésographie (1588). All of them use curves figures which turn as the sun's motion.

   All the Farandoles of Provence, I have notated on scores or registered in video film, use curves figures which turn , like the French "Branles", in the sun's motion.


   My question is :in what sense or direction of motion do the Ancient Greek danses and particuly those quoted from COMPAN 1787 to MOURGUES I960 turn ?


Second comment

   In my opinion, some assertions need to be verified , their materials and theirs authors have not the right weight for our purpose.

   For example ,the Ancient Greek origin of the VOLTE is from me : a poetic fiction of a quatrain mentioned without luck by the great MISTRAL.


   In the other hand I appreciate particularly :

       -the work and the LANCELOT's method and materials (not only writings but also films and enquiries on living dancers)[39] for the historical period between the XVth century up to day.(she is not an anthopologist)

       -the culture and the "ethnographic" attitude (before hand) of the humanist of the XVIth century THOINOT ARBEAU .


Third comment

The dance "LE PAS GREC" which is a suite of academic steps ,taught by French Maitre de Danse, had no relation to Ancient Greek Dances.It is ,for me, a gentle touch of recognition of these popular teachers[40]in dance to Greek dance culture.


Fourth comment:importance of Ancient Greek culture in France


These numerous texts are proving to us that these French writers about practice of dances in France from Renaissancse till now,are so proud to accept the Greek origin of some French folk dances that they do not care to really research if it is right or not.

I think that these numerous references to Ancient Greek Dances ,verified or not, are testimonies of the French attachment to Greek Culture and of a deep wishe to be connected with Greek roots. [41]




[1] "Les Bouffons " means "buffoons" in French.

[2] "Mattachins" or "Matachins"or "Matassins" means nothing in French but "matar" wich means "to kill" in Italien, would have given "matachins". This is an idea of BRAGAGLIA ,Anton ,in his book ,Danze Populares Italiane . He writes also that in the Bandierata , Italien folk dance,the dancer who holds and throw the flag is followed by two dancers "Matachins" , two servants ans one "Buffoon". "Mat" (wich means "mad" in Italien ) would also have given "Matachins".

[3] I saw the ancient dance ballet "Ris et danceries" presenting les Bouffons during the International Festival of Dance in Montpellier (France) in the 1980's.

[4] CONTE, Pierre, Danses Anciennes de Cour et de Théâtre en France, Paris, Dessain et t Tolra, 1974, p 118.

[5] Thoinot Arbeau, Orchésographie , Langres (France), 1588,   (French National Library in Paris) , feuillets 97 et 98. 

[6] CLANON, J ,N,Regards sur les Farandoles,in Folklore de France mars-avril 1964.

[7] See scores of it in annex.

[8] This revival started around 1854 with the langue d' oc writer Frédéric MISTRAL.

[9] I assisted , personnaly , to a regional festival with competition of Farandoles in AIX en Provence the 29 of june 1986 (12 groups from 5 French countries of Provence and Languedoc) and recorded it on a video-film .

[10] Glissades, coupés, tombés, brisés, ailes de pigeon (special folk kind of entrechats), pas russe, pas de bourrée, and so on...

[11] BARIL,Jacques,Dictionnaire de danse,Paris, Seuil, 1964, p 24.

[12] BENOIT, Fernand, "Preface " of the book of MOURGUES, Marcelle ,La danse Provencale,Cannes, Robaudy, 1956, p 8.

[13]DECITRE, Monique, Dansez la France,   Paris Dumas, 1960, p 112

[14] MOURGUES, Marcelle ,La danse Provencale,Cannes, Robaudy, 1956, p 21.


[15] In the contrary of the presentation of MOURGUES, work quoted, p 138

[16] LANCELOT,work quoted, p 250, has mentionned some dancing masters who have described those steps on manuscripts.

[17] MISTRAL, Frédéric,Le Trésor du félibrige, Paris,1878, p 1143 (mentioned also by PORTE-MARROU, Luciana in Danses occitanes en Provence, Paris, 1970, p 173.

[18]CLAMON, J, N,"Les airs et instruments de musiqueprovençaux "   in Tablettes d' Avignon et de Provence. Avignon ,1936

[19]THOINOT ARBEAU has described, in 1588,more than twenty different "branles" wich figure a chain .

[20] The Phocéens are , in french , a people of Ancient Greece.

[21]LANCELOT, Francine,Les sociétés de farandoles en Provence et Languedoc, Paris , EPHE, 1973 (University disertation, polycopied . In Paris Interuniversity library CUJAS) , p25

[22] 5 may 1760, letter of the parson of Sagries against the youth of Saint Maximin "they came,fifteen with a drum to search dispute (...) they began to thraw a farandoule through the ball of the youth of Sagries(...) without doubts in order to disturb them." Mentioned by Lancelot, p 19

[23] LANCELOT, work quoted, p 23.

[24]ACHARD in his Vocabulaire français provençal , in 1785 , translates "branle à mener" (French) by "farandoule" (Provencal language)

[25] DESRAT, G,Dictionnaire de la danse, , 1895 , article Volte.

[26]MOURGUES,work quoted, p 119.

[27] Thoinot Arbeau, Orchésographie , Langres (France), 1588,   (French National Library in Paris) , feuillet 64.

[28]SACHS, Curt,Histoire de la danse, Paris, Gallimard 1938, p 174.(Traduit du texte Allemand daté de 1936)

[29]SACHS, work quoted, p 175.

[30] COMPAN,Dictionnaire de danse, Paris,1787.

[31] Millin,A,Voyage dans le midi de la France ,Tome III, Paris, 1807.

[32]DIOULOUFET,Memoire sur la Danse Candiote, Farandoule des provençaux , Aix 1819.

[33]VIOLET ALFORD,,,,,Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society ,vol I n°1, London, 1932, p18

[34] SACHS, work quoted, pp 92-93.

[35] GIRAUDET, Traité de la danse  , Paris , 1890. cf article concerné.

[36] BENOIT, Fernand, La Provence et le Comtat Venaisin , Paris, 1949. p337.

[37]BAUMEL ,Jean, Les Danses Populaires , les Farandoles, les Rondes, les Jeux Chorégraphiques et les Ballet du Languedoc Méditerranéen, Paris, 1958, p 66.

[38] a clue

[39] LANCELOT has been directed in her these by a great French researcher on folk dances : Jean Michel GUILCHER vho taught in Sorbonne.

[40] We see the same with classic dance teacher : so the book of EMMANUEL,Maurice, la dance grecque antique, Paris, 1896, seems often excessive (to be gentle) searching at all price to identifie pictures of dances on vases of Ancient Greek with technic of classic ballet ! (for example pp 74 - 77, § 104 , 105 107, 108 , and so on...)