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.
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:
Waltz Position, perhaps a bit closer together than usual
... with Elbow Hold, holding each other's elbows/forearms on the "hands" side of the frame
... with Snuggle Hold, holding the "hands" side in close, between those shoulders/chests
... with Snuggle/Elbow Hold, with the Follow's right hand on the Lead's chest (or in one case, caressing his cheek) and his left hand holding her elbow/forearm
... with Neck Wrap, with the Follow's left hand behind the Lead's neck (this can be combined with the options above)
Barrel Hold, with both of the Follow's arms above both of the Lead's
Barrel Hug, a full-on hugging version of Barrel Hold
Symmetric Hold, with both of the left arms above the right arms
Symmetric Hug, a full-on hugging version of Symmetric Hold
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:
Waltzing smoothly, with little to no bounce
Bouncing slightly down into the first count of each bar (down-2-3, down-2-3)
Bouncing slightly down into the first and third counts of each bar (down-and-down, down-and-down)
Bouncing slightly down into all three counts of each bar (down-down-down, down-down-down)
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.
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].
La Berceuse ("The Lullaby") / L'Arrêt-Berceuse ("The Lullaby Stop") (Transition from Right Turn to Left Turn): Forward right (1), rotating slightly to the right, and slide left forward without weight (2, 3), then commence with the Follow-backing half of the Valse à Gauche (4, 5, 6) [AP22, AP23a, LD24, AP24a, AP24b, AP26c]. Another version of this step replaces the half Valse à Gauche with a half pivot to the left on (4, 5, 6) [MN20a, MN20b, MN21, AP24a].
La Berceuse en Arrière / La Berceuse du Pied Gauche (Transition from Left Turn to Right Turn): Forward left (4), rotating slightly to the left, and slide left forward without weight (5, 6), then commence with the Follow-backing half of the Valse à Gauche (1, 2, 3) [AP22, AP23a, AP24a, AP24b, AP26d]. Another version of this step replaces the half Valse à Droite with a half pivot to the right on (4, 5, 6) [MN20a, MN20b, MN21, AP24a].
La Berceuse en Arrière (counts 4, 5, 6)
Java Promenade / Pas Marchés / Pas Courus (Running Step): Back the dancer (Follow or Lead) whose back is facing along LOD along LOD, taking one step per beat [MN20a, MN20b, LM21, MN21, AB22, LL22, AP22, LD24, AP24a, BH26, AP26a]. One source notes that the Follow is most often the one who is backing, but not always [AP24a]. Another author notes that there is a slight sway to the right and left on the first and second bar, respectively [MN20a, MN20b, MN21], which makes this step a bit more interesting. Taking this idea one step farther, the promenade can also be done as an alternating Berceuese and Berceuse en Arrière, taking only one step per bar, touching on the second count and holding on the third [LD24, AP24a].
Java Glissée / Glissades de Côté / Pas de Côté (Side Steps): A series of quick side steps to the Lead's right side. This can be done in six counts (side, close, side, close, side, close), in which case you'll have the same foot free [MN20a, MN20b, LM21, MN21, LL22, AP23b, LD24], or three counts (side, close, side), in which case you'll have the opposite foot free [MN20b, MN21]. This can also be done to the left side, starting on (4) [LL22, AP23b, LD24]. Several sources specify that these side steps travel along LOD [AP23b, AP24a, BH26], while another clearly illustrates both side steps along LOD, and side steps toward the outside wall [LD24]. (The rest of the sources are ambiguous on the orientation.) One author noted that this step includes a "vulgar" movement of the bust from side to side, without elaborating on exactly what they meant by that [AB22].
Two counts of Java Glissée with Lead's right foot gliding along LOD:
Two counts of Java Glissée with Lead's right foot gliding toward the outside wall:
Grand Assemblés (Hesitation Step): A large step forward right (1), then close left to right (2, 3). Repeat on the other foot (4, 5, 6) [AP23b, AP26d]. This kind of feels like an inverted Berceuse: Berceuse is a short step followed by a longer touch open, and this is long step followed by a touch closed. Another version of this step has three weight changes: forward (1), close with weight (2), drop in place with weight (3) [AP24a]. One source has a version of this step in which the dancers rise up slightly on the third count [LM21].
Pas Fléchi (Flexing Step): Step forward right (1), close left to right (2), and take a larger step forward right, bending the knee so as to sink slightly lower (3). Then repeat it on the other foot (4, 5, 6) [LL22]. This can also be done without the sinking style [LL22, BH26]. Another version of this step is danced in the shape of a box: side, close, forward (sinking), side, close, back (sinking) [LL22].
Swaying: Seen in the video compilation above, there are a variety of ways you can relaxedly sway to the music. You can sway to the side, stepping to the right side on (1) and the left side on (4). This can turn leisurely in either direction on the spot. Or you can sway forward and back by either: (a) stepping forward right on (1) and back left on (4), or (b) stepping back right on (1) and forward left on (4). With the right foot forward, you can turn leisurely to the right on the spot, and with the left foot forward, you can turn leisurely to the left on the spot.
Adapting Other Steps: One source notes that figures from other dances can be adapted into the rhythm of La Java [LL22]. For example, a figure with three steps per half like the Habanera from the Schottisch Espagnole (rock forward, back, forward, then repeat that on the other foot) can easily be adapted into 3/4 time.
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:
MN20a — M. Neerman (dance), L. Riffaud (music). (1920). La Java with sheet music for Casque D'Or. Paris.
MN20b — M. Neerman (pub.). (1920, March). Revue de la Danse. Paris.
LM21 — L. Moutin. (1921). Theorie Simplifiee Des Danses Modernes. Paris.
MN21 — M. Neerman (pub.). (1921, June-August). Revue de la Danse. Paris.
AB22 — A. Baïssas. (1922). Aide-Mémoire du Danseur, Théorie de Diverses Danses Modernes. Poitiers, France.
LL22 — L. Lévitte. (c. 1922). Les 15 Danses Modernes Pour Devenir Un Parfait Danseur Mondain. Alger, Algeria.
MN22 — M. Neerman (pub.). (1922, March/April). Revue de la Danse. Paris.
AP22 — A. Peter's [André Peter's]. (1922, December 15). Dansons! No. 20. Paris.
AP23a — A. Peter's [André Peter's]. (1923, January 1). Dansons! No. 21. Paris.
AP23b — A. Peter's [André Peter's]. (1923, October 20). Dansons! No. 40. Paris.
LD24 — La Danse. (1924, January). La Danse. Paris.
AP24a — Prof. A. Peter's [André Peter's]. (c. 1924). Le Shimmy, La Java. Paris.
AP24b — Prof. A. Peters. (c. 1924). Les Leçons De Danse No. 26 - La Java. Paris.
BH26 — Bebby Holt. (c. 1926). Aprenda V. [Usted] Mismo A Bailar Danzas Modernas. Barcelona.