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Gavotte Overview & Composition | What is a Gavotte?

Instructor: Daniela English

Dani is a PhD student, and has taught college English & tutored in multiple subjects for over three years. They have an MA in English Composition & Pedagogy and a BA in Women's Studies, Religious Studies, & Sociology, both from the University of Massachusetts Boston. They also have received awards for their academic research and teaching. Habla español & Gaeilge acu.

Explore the Gavotte dance. Discover the characteristics and history of this Renaissance and Baroque French dance that involves raising feet instead of sliding them. Updated: 11/28/2022

Gavotte Definition: What Is a Gavotte?

The gavotte is a dance and musical form popularized in the time of the French Renaissance and the Baroque era (approx. 1600-1750) of Western art music. The dance was more lively than many were used to for court dances: dancers crossed their feet twice per step pattern and raised their feet in a small hop with each step, rather than sliding them or simply stepping. Often, dancers also improvised a kiss at the end, which likely made the dance a bit more popular. The exchange of roses later replaced the exchange of kisses.

Illustration showing a Gavotte dance (1899)

Three couples dancing (illustration)

The gavotte was traditionally (in the courts) performed at a moderate tempo and most often in 2/2 or 4/4 time. It also, in this time period of its court popularity, often began on a half-measure. This is similar in metric structure (i.e., a structure of the beats and bars on each measure) to the bourée, which is another form of music and dance popular in France during the Baroque era and especially in the court of King Louis XIV. However, unlike the bourée, the gavotte could be performed with a range of moods: joyful, sad, happy and graceful, or slow and tender; its adaptability made it a favorite for many dancers and composers alike.

Origins of Gavotte Dance

The gavotte was originally a spirited dance of the peasant class, supposed to have its beginnings in the Dauphiné region of France, specifically from the Gavot people. In addition, there is another theory that the term gavot was applied to a range of folk dances in France, too. Alternatively, there are theories it is related to the French word gavache (meaning ''coward'' or ''wicked person'') or from Old Occitan (related to the Catalan language, also in the Romance family of languages) and means ''glutton'' or ''boorish''.

Regardless, the dance somehow moved into the courts of King Louis XIV and became popular as part of a suite of dances performed at court. As entertainment, an orchestra would provide the music for a set of specific dances called a suite. The gavotte is specifically made to be part of a suite of branles, or dances for couples and groups. It tended to follow the sarabande (a triple meter dance) in a branle suite. It was considered fairly simple to learn, making it a good choice regardless of the audience, as beginner dancers may have picked it up with ease.

It should be noted that the adoption of the gavotte into the court is notable in terms of a historical trend of this time period. The French elite was increasingly adopting many elements of the life of the peasantry as part of a romanticized idealization of this way of life, which highlighted their lack of understanding of the true hardships faced by the peasantry. It was only about one hundred years after this dance's popularity in the courts that the French Revolution began as the peasantry became increasingly dissatisfied with their lives and the way they were treated by the French royalty and elites.

Gavotte Composition History: When Was Gavotte Composed?

Despite its peasant origins as a dance, the gavotte gained popularity in the court of King Louis XIV of France. As a result, many composers produced works suitable for the dance. French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully, who worked in the court of King Louis XIV from 1653 until his death, composed many works for dances in general, including for the gavotte. Jean-Philippe Rameau, who succeeded Lully's role as the most influential composer of French operatic works, also produced many works in the gavotte form. The famous composer Johann Sebastian Bach also included gavottes in his works.

The basic rhythm of a gavotte composition.

Series of evenly spaced notes for gavotte composition.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is "gavotte" a French word?

Yes, gavotte is a French word. Specifically, it likely is from a French dialect where this word can mean a native of the Alps or, literally, a glutton.

What is a gavotte dance?

The gavotte dance was originally from French peasantry but was adopted and modified within the courts of King Louis XIV. It was often part of a suite of dances for couples and groups.

What are the characteristics of a gavotte?

The gavotte dance is characterized by the fact that it is a courtly dance for couples and groups of people and includes small hops. Musically, it is often a moderate-tempo work in 2/2 or 4/4 time with a homophonic texture.

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