Dances with Style! – Gigue

What is Stylized Dance?

Sometimes music makes us want to tap our toes and move our feet – especially if that music is a dance! In classical music, the word dance can mean the steps that dancers make while dancing, but it can also mean music written to go along with dance steps.  

Classical music is full of dances that people used in history for actual dancing. Those kinds of dances are called social dance.  But that’s not the only kind of dance in classical music! Composers throughout history loved the sound and feel of dance so much that they also wrote stylized dances, which are musical pieces based on the idea of dance, but which weren’t meant for people to literally dance along.  

You can think of it this way:

Social dance is dance for moving, and stylized dance is dance for listening!

Or try this:

Social dance is dance for your body, and stylized dance is dance for your ears! 

Here’s another way to think of it:

In stylized dance, a composer puts their own unique style into a musical dance!

Let’s explore some stylized dances from history. First, we’ll look at the social dance version of each dance: its basic rhythm and emotion, and how people danced to it. Then we’ll look at stylized versions of each dance, and see what unique style each composer put into each dance! 

We’re going to use some special musical terms to talk about the nuts and bolts of dance music. To take a deep dive into the words we use to talk about music, check out ICAN’s series, The Shape of Music! 

As we explore these dances, remember one important thing: whether it’s a social dance or a stylized dance, if you feel like dancing along, then dance! 


The gigue (ZHēɡ) is another dance that was very popular in the ballrooms of the eighteenth century, but it’s even older than that! In the British Isles, it’s called a jig, and people have been dancing it since the fifteenth century. The dance was called by its French name, “gigue,” when it became popular in European court balls. 

The gigue is a fast, lively dance in 6/8 or 9/8 time: that means that the beats travel in two or three quick groups of threes. There’s more than one way to dance it. Here is an example of traditional Irish jig steps. 

And here’s an example of how a gigue looked in the court balls of the eighteenth century. This version of the dance is called gigue à deux: “gigue for two”! 

In the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries (the section of music history we call the Baroque Period), one of the most popular ways to write stylized dance was the dance suite. A dance suite is a collection of stylized dances for instruments. For example, if you played the harpsichord in the eighteenth century, and loved the sound and feel of dance, you might like to learn a dance suite to play for yourself at home, or for your friends. It was something fun to do when you weren’t at a ball – kind of like listening to a CD when you’re not at a concert. 

Here’s a gigue from a dance suite by the French composer Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729). She was one of the best harpsichordists of her time. She made this gigue sparkly and exciting! 

Here’s another gigue from a dance suite, this time by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). This gigue is written for just one solo violin. It boils down the idea of a gigue to something very intimate and graceful. 

Learn More

To learn more about stylized dances and composers who wrote them, check out the links throughout this article! 

You can also read more about the terms in this article by looking them up in Britannica Kids, or check out Music and How It Works from DK! Older kids can check out definitions in books like The Oxford Dictionary of Music or The Harvard Dictionary of Music. You can look for these books at your local library!