La Java

(1920s Paris)



Introduction

Described as a lively evolution of the Mazurka [LL22], La Java is a style of waltzing that evolved in the bals musette of France in the early 20th century [AB22, LL22].

It attained a combination of fame [LL22] and notoriety [AB22] in Parisian society in 1919, after which some sources claimed that it quickly faded out of fashion [LM21, AB22]. However, based on the fact that it was still included in many dance manuals later in the decade, often with additional details added, it's possible that these authors simply wished it would have faded out of fashion because they took issue with its origins and characteristic close embrace. (One source that heralded its supposed demise went so far as to that there was "no reason to regret its disappearance" [AB22].) Further evidence that reports of its death were exaggerated is the fact that it's still danced in France today.


The Dance


The Style

Among those who appreciated the dance, it was said to have a mix of "charm and liveliness" [LL22].

The style of the dance was described as being "very rhythmic" [MN20a, MN20b, MN21], and it was said to be danced with "activated" movement [LL22]. A variety of ways for actively marking the rhythm will be explored below.

Some authors described the steps as being danced on the balls of the feet [MN20b, MN21, AP24a, AP26a], which makes the quick steps easier to dance.

One source cautions against exaggerated movements, but says that when you are experienced in the dance, you can add a "discrete swaying of the shoulders" [AP24a].

One hallmark of the dance was its relatively close embrace (or rather, embraces), a few of which can be seen in this compilation of period video clips by Walter Nelson:



Holds seen in the video include:

Not included in the video is the infamous bal musette "butt hold," where the dancers place their hands on each other's derrières.

Depending on the hold, couples can be seen looking over each other's shoulders, gazing into each other's eyes, or, in one case, the Follow is resting her head on the Lead's shoulder/chest.

In addition to different ways of holding one's partner, there are also a range of different ways of accenting the music, including: The first option and the last option are the most commonly seen, both in the 1920s and today, but all four are possible, and consistent with descriptions in the historical sources.

As Walter Nelson writes on his page about the video, all of these style points can essentially be boiled down to: "hold your partner close and dance your dance in the style that suits you."

One last note about these clips before we get to the step descriptions: while we see some couples travel around the room along LOD, others travel in their own smaller circles, or even dance mostly on the spot. Like the style, the idea of LOD is flexible in La Java.


The Steps

In the brief descriptions of the steps below, the Lead's footwork is described, and the Follow dances opposite unless explicitly noted.

As was the fashion in Paris in the 1920s, the Lead starts with the right foot and the Follow starts with the left foot.

The names for the figures in the original sources are in bold; my nicknames for them are in italics.

Select variations are illustrated by photographs of each step as danced by Mme. Lefort and M. Georges Lefort in 1924 [LD24].

The Music

Java music was described as having "Mazurka rhythm with a lively cadence" [LM21, AB22, PP24a, AP26a]. The tempo range was described as being between 152 bpm [MN22] and 184 bpm [LM21, AB22], which is consistent with the tempos you'll hear today.

A variety of songs for dancing La Java today (in order of tempo from slowest to fastest) can be found in the Spotify playlist below:


Sources


© 2021 Nick Enge


If you or your community is interested in learning La Java, .


For more, see our two books on dancing:
Waltzing: A Manual for Dancing and Living (2013) by Richard Powers and Nick Enge,
and Cross-Step Waltz: A Dancer's Guide (2019) by Richard Powers and Nick & Melissa Enge.


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