Jota (Chap. 23)

I have now managed to attach a time depth to another dance type I’ve been tracking, the most famous version of which is the Spanish jota.  Its essence is as follows.

Facing a fellow dancer (usually but not always of the opposite sex), one dances a simple 2-measure sequence alternately in each direction (side to side, or in some cases forward and back) for some time.  Then, with a traveling-step, one moves around the partner, either circling all the way back to one’s starting place or just swapping places.  Then the dance resumes from the beginning.

I’ve traced this dance in varying forms across southwestern Europe, resembling dialects of a single language: among the Basques (jota in 3/4 and porrusaldu in 2/4), into the Ballearic Islands, and up into southern France, where I suddenly realized I was watching it in the Dordogne.  The bourrée (which occurs in both 4/4 and 3/4/ time) has a quite different style from the jota, of course—pounding into the ground rather than leaping to the skies—but the form is the same, at least in the Dordogne.  Portuguese Malhao (in 2/4) seems to come from the jota also, although one twirls in place rather than around the facing “partner”.

Recently I saw another slight variant in 2/4, Lipa Ma Maryca, which turned out to come from the isolated Alpine valley of Resia (northeastern edge of Italy), populated by Slovenes.  That means it has to have spread initially with the Romans, presumably with the expansion of the Roman Empire, because, after the empire was shattered by waves of barbarians, the dance could only have been perpetuated by local inhabitants, who were now too isolated to learn it from people any distance away.  This conclusion also makes sense linguistically, because jota comes from Latin saltare meaning “jump” and by extension “dance”.  (Late Latin came to use ballare for “dance” in general, which also suggests that this dance type spread well before the last phases of theRoman Empire.)  It would be useful to know what the Slovenes call this dance type, and whether it has survived somehow inRomania.

Bolivian Chilili (4/4) is another dance of this sort, presumably spread to theNew World by Hispanic people and adapted to local tastes.