From a foot on the other one
The role of the traditional dances
The popular dances have a role of social cohesion.
They imply the participation of a big part of the rustic population.
Today, they often lost these functions which they assumed in the traditional societies: under the influence of contemporary choreographies (in a folkloric tendency) practised within dancers’ traditional circles, they evolved towards spectacle dances, in which does not participate any more the population of the spectators.
But these traditional groups saved this dances from the neglect.
This is the price to be paid to preserve the traditions...
The community dances often escape this observation, among which farandoles for the County of Nice.
The community dances
They are all the open-chain or closed-chain dances, linear or circular form, for which the number of participants is not pre-defined: round dance, branle, farandole, gavotte, sardana, ...
Among the general characteristics, one finds outside practice, and the alternation of the sex of the dancers throughout the chain.
Several variants of community dances are or were practised in the County:
Community dance in open chain, the farandole pulls credibly its origin from medieval branle, as its distant cousins the breton gavottes and the irish jigs, or, closer to us, the transalpine tarantellae.
The popular farandole is danced in the County of Nice on a very free step.
The dancers hold one another by their hands, and mark every musical beat by skippings: strong beats on a foot, alternately left then right, the other one being raised; weak beat on joined feet.
It is led by the abbat-mage, which holds in his free hand the ribboned halberd.
In the village of Belvédère, on the occasion of the Saint-Blaise patronal festival, it is the most recently married couple that leads farandole in the streets.
It is curious to notice how the farandole travelled, geographically and linguistically, towards Brittany, brought over there by the soldiers of the Empire wars (in the XVIII-th century), where it became war an daol, literally “on the table”!
It’s the same for the monferrina from Piedmont, which, having followed identical roads, meets in Center-Brittany under the name of “montfarine dance” or “flour dance”!
Polig Montjarret collected some of these airs, still alive in the middle of the XX-th century, in his Tonioù Breiz Izel (Tunes from Low-Brittany) collection.
According to Joseph Giordan, president of the Acadèmia nissarda, this dance would have been imported by P. de Brandis, a judge in the Parliament of the city of Aix.
The mourisca, or moresca (moorish)
A dance with a less mobile, comic character and heavier than farandole, made of tramplings, of leva-gamba (“rise-leg”).
This dance, which symbolizes confrontation between the Christians and the Moors, was practised during the carnival.
When the pilgrims went to Utelle’s sanctuary, the young people of the village demanded them a symbolic droit de passage (passage fee).
This tradition of the baricada was accompanied with a mourisca.
The passa cariera (pass-street dance)
Passa cariera (“pass-street”), the ethymology of which leads us to the baroque passacaille (via spanish passa calle), are street entertainments, the musical character of which is not codified.
Sometimes slow to accompany the walking of the leading citizens in streets, sometimes more animated to accompany bounds of the youth.
For its article farandole, the Georges Castellana’s dictionary quote “three sorts of farandoles: the brandi, the descaussa, and the mouresca”.
The dances with figures, or “characters dances”
The “characters” were, in the theater dance, well definite figures which were dancing in accordance with their role.
The contredanse (from English “country dance”), or quadrille, which usually complies to four or eight persons, was practised in the County:
Calant de Vilafranca,
Souta d’un caroubié,
Faioun la countradansa
Em’un sergian fourié(...)
On which tunes was there danced the contredanse? With which steps? The monferrina and the périgourdine, whose A stacada d’Breï still keeps the memory, were very likely two of its figures.
The monferrina could take its name from and be native to Piedmont (mount Ferrat), then spread itself in the Latin part of the Alps (Savoy, Lake Geneva’ Basin, Valais, Tessin and Grisons, north of Italy), and up to Center Brittany.
The quadrille, or square dance
An other dance with figures, the square dance (quadrille): “The simple or double quadrille was danced anywhere; but the quadrille ‘at the command’ was particuliar to the County.” (A Blanchi, quoted by Georges Castellana in Dictionnaire français-niçois, French-Nissart Dictionnary.)
Some other characters dances
Festive dances: the round dances of May.
Dances of profession (work of the fishermen, the washerwomen, ...)
Following “dances” are not strictly dances with figures.
The cepoun (the tree stump, or chopping block)
The cepoun (the tree stump, or chopping block): game-dance extremely virile, which is practised on the place of Utelle’s village for centuries, always on August 16th for Saint-Roch patronal festival, and whose origin seems unknown.
This original fight takes place according to an unchanged rite passed on for the XV-th century, and lasts exactly one hour, during which the knocks are not saved to the aggressors.
It is a question, for the unmarried boys of the village, of stealing to the married men the cepoun, big wooden block (cut trunk) about 80 kg, and to roll it up to the square of the church.
While young people jump on the cepoun and receive in their passage strikings from the married men, being arranged in hedge on each side of the block, fife and drum repeat a particular air: the cepoun tune.
When a battle undertakes between young people which try to seize the cepoun and their opponents, fife and drum interrupt this tune, the fife playing muddled trills and the drum beating continuous rolls till the end of the battle.
Several times within hour, the participants rest for a few minutes and resume the fight on the statement of a characteristic formula of the fife.
During the duration of the cepoun, one observes a farandole around the ritual circle.
Some people say that the cepoun symbolized originally the freedom, because Utelle never submitted itself in the dominion of a Lord, as well as the villages of Peille and Lucéram with whom existed an alliance treaty.
At that time, the young people of the village were the official guards of the cepoun, and they made around it farandoles to show their affection in the independence.
The sense of the game-dance changed towards 1430 or 1450 (uncertain dates), after Peille and Lucéram were attacked and after these villages appealed to Utelle by virtue of the signed pact.
The young people from Utelle refused to fight beside the inhabitants of both allied villages.
Only left, good will, bad will, the married men.
The fights went on for a long time so that the women of the warriors in campaign miss...
And young people also... It was too much!
Not only the single boys had dishonored themselves by shying away from the fights, but furthermore they had taken advantage of the absence of the men.
The cepoun, up to there the symbol of freedom, became that of the honor of the village and the virtue of its women, and changed hands, passing to the nurse of the married men.
(According to Ciamada Nissarda and Emmanuelle Olivier.)
A stacada d’Breï (The Attached of Breil)
A stacada d’Breï (The Attached of Breil): historic reconstitution which takes place the summer, every four years, in Breil-sur-Roya’s village.
A tradition several times centenary which redraws the revolt of Breil inhabitants against the abuses of the leading citizens, in particular that of the droit de cuissage (the right for the lord to place a naked leg into the bride’s bed)...
The popular close couple dances
From different origins in the time and in the space, the dances in couple were practised from the XIX-th century in the european middle-class lounges.
For the County of Nice, the example comes from festivities of Victor-Emmanuel’s Court, king of Savoy.
Very fast, these inside dances (contrary to the outside community dances) were adopted by the whole population.
The “lounge-dances” are primarily turned-dances, with symetrical steps:
the mazurka is a Polish popular dance, known from the XVI-th century in Mazurie’s province, which arrived in France under the Second Empire.
the polka appeared towards 1830 in Bohemia, stemming from the former scottish.
From Prague, it gained Vienna (1839), then Paris (1840).
the scottish danced in the XIX-th century does not look like any more the traditional dance of the Scotland that it was originally.
As many dances of the XIX-th century, it combines steps from two or several dances (waltz, polka, mazurka) and admits a lot of fancy.
It knew a latest fashion in France, in the middle of the XIX-th century, as well as at the beginning of the XX-th century.
one distinguishes slow waltz (or english waltz), the most ancient, viennese waltz, rather fast, in slid steps, musette waltz, even faster and quite modern.
The previous history of this dance is controversial: according to G. Desrat, it was born in Provence in the XII-th century with the volta, then it went up to Paris and did for the XVI-th century the delights of the Valois’ Court.
Returned in Germany, the provençal volta became Walzer there.
Curt Sachs thinks on the contrary that the waltz results from popular dances of Southern Germany
(Tanzlieder from XVI-th and XVII-th centuries: three beats allemande).
It is Josef Lanner, and not Strauss, who gave to the classic steps (Deutschen and Ländler) the rhythm and the acceleration of cadence where from arises the waltz.
© 2001-2017 Jean-Gabriel Maurandi.