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A branle (also bransle, pronounced brawl) is a 16th century French dance style which moves mainly from side to side, and is performed in either a line or a circle. The only source for the dance steps to branles is Orchesography by Thoinot Arbeau. Arbeau strongly implies that the branle was a dance mainly performed by commoners.

The Branles as Musical Forms

Accoring to Arbeau, every ball began with the same four branles. The Double Branle, the Single Branle, the Gay Branle and the Burgundian Branle. Both the Double Branle and the Burgundian Branle have a simple form involving two phrases of two bars each. This form was not sufficiently different to the pavan to be of interest to composers and so pieces with these names rarely occur in purely instrumental books of the time.

The Single Branle, however, consists of a phrase of two bars, followed by a phrase of one bar and appears in numerous places. Likewise the Gay Branle consists of two phrases of two bars each, but in 3/4 time, and so was also widely used.

Regional Branles

Arbeau gives choreographies for a number of Branles that are associated with specific regions, the Breton Branle, Burgundian Branle, Haut Barrois Branle, Montarde Branle and Scottish Branle. Although it seems unlikely that the Scottish Branle was actually developed in Scotland, the others seem to have a genuine connection to the region, particularly the Breton Branle.

Early 17th century sources include a number of musical pieces called Branle de Village. It is clear from the Robert Ballard lute music however that the Branle de Village was not associated with one specific dance as the structure differs significantly between pieces.

Branle Choreographies