A Starter's Guide to Balfolk: Do You Know Your Bourrée From Your An Dro? Part 1
Updated: Jul 23
I heard someone describe balfolk as like a ceilidh but with a bit of Strictly mixed in. It’s true that you will find one or two familiar sounding ballroom dances at a bal (the French word for ball). Another similarity is that dancers are free from gender-defined roles, although we were dancing like this way before Strictly paired John Whaite with Johannes Radebe. Unlike a ceilidh, there is no caller at a bal to tell you what to do during the dance. So how does a balfolk beginner get started?
Some balfolk events kick off with an introductory workshop for newbies. But if not, the dances are easy to learn and there are endless opportunities for improvisation. The balfolk community is really friendly and inclusive. You will always find more experienced dancers who are happy to show you the steps. Whether you go on your own or with friends, you will always get a warm welcome.
If you want to gen up just a little before you go to your first bal, this simple starter’s guide will point you to a few videos of the dances you may encounter, along with some gorgeous music to get you into the groove.
In part 1 here, we introduce you to couple dances - Schottische, Polka, Bourrée, Waltz and Mazurka
Want to get stuck in? There are balfolk groups all around the UK where you can learn and practice the dances. I've included a few links to balfolk sites and active groups in the South of England at the end of this guide.
Folk Inspiration organises an annual bal and workshops in the Guildford area. Our next bal is in May 2024. Join our email list to find out when tickets go on sale.
Introduction to balfolk couple dances
Schottische, also sometimes spelt scottish
A joyful flowing dance, sometimes done with a bit of a bounce for that extra Tigger factor.
Here's a quick tutorial video
And a fabulous tune from Topette!! to practice to.
A high-octane romp, this is your chance to cover a lot of ground on the dance floor.
There are lots of polka variations but I loved this demo improvisation from two excellent dancers from Belgium
Bourrées à deux temps (two-time) and à trois temps (three-time)
You won’t need your ballet shoes for this fun and energetic dance that originated in South Central France. Bourrées can be danced as a couple, in a line, a circle, in sets of 4 or more - there are lots of variations
This is a demonstration of a style of bourrée danced in two lines which you will see at most bals in the UK (the traditional costumes aren’t 'de rigueur'. I just found this video showed the steps the clearest)
Demonstration of a freestyle bourrée (Love this!!)
Tutorial on bourrées from Morvan, a regional variation which is really fun to do. The video is in French but hope you get the gist.
More fabulous tunes to dance to from Topette!! - it's one from Morvan too.
A balfolk waltz is usually a bit quicker in tempo but more relaxed and informal in style than the ballroom dance. Imagine you are in an Pierre-Auguste Renoir painting.
Waltzing to a lovely tune from Sawney White Bird
A beautiful set of waltzes from Blowzabella. How can you not dance to this?
My favourite dance because the most beautiful tunes all seem to be mazurkas!!
This is a really good tutorial for explaining how to groove to a mazurka (a bit of a teaser)
This mazurka improvisation demonstration is just gorgeous!
Dave Shepherd's beautiful mazurka with Anna Pack on diatonic button accordion
Find more information
Find out about Balfolk events in the UK
Search for balfolk on Facebook to find your local group.
See the listing on Balfolk.org
Balfolk communities in the South of England
Also worth a visit, virtuBal is an international balfolk community on Facebook sharing lovely music and dance videos and news of virtual events.
There are lots of variations and improvisations that are possible with the dances. Dance styles and steps can vary from country to country and region to region. If the music moves you, there is every opportunity to freestyle it too!
Not sure which dance to do? The musicians will usually announce the type of dance at the start of each set of tunes.
There are lots of wonderful musicians playing for balfolk events all across Europe. I’ve mainly featured bands with a UK base including my favourite balfolk band Topette!! Most of the videos I've chosen were recordings from bals and balfolk festivals in the UK and Europe because I wanted to give you a sense of the atmosphere at a bal. Follow the featured bands’ links below to find out where they are touring and to buy their music.
Bands featured in this guide