Study Guide

The Dance

The Dance Summary

The speaker gets excited about a painting called "The Kermess" by Brueghel, and he tells us all about it. The rhythmic, swirling language of the poem paints a picture of a peasant festival, complete with beer, big-bellied dancers, and tons of raucous music. Celebrate good times, gang.

  • Lines 1-6

    Lines 1-2

    In Brueghel's great picture, The Kermess,
    the dancers go round, they go round and

    • The speaker kicks us off by letting us know that he's going to be talking about an awesome painting by Brueghel called "The Kermess."
    • FYI: Brueghel the Elder is considered to be the best Flemish painter of the sixteenth century. (FYI, part 2: "Flemish" refers to someone from Flanders, a country that no longer officially exists, but was basically in Dutch-speaking northern Belgium.)
    • And yet another FYI: a kermess is a Dutch folk celebration with lots of dancing, drinking, and all that good stuff. 
    • Okay, enough with the FYI's.
    • The speaker starts describing the painting by saying that it shows dancers dancing round and round. 
    • Notice how he repeats "go round" twice, giving the feeling of the circular motion of the dancers. 
    • The motion of the poem doesn't stop here either. 
    • The last line spills directly over into the next, making use of a poetic device called enjambment. For more on this poem's form, go check out "Form and Meter," but hurry back.

    Lines 3-4

    around, the squeal and the blare and the
    tweedle of bagpipes, a bugle and fiddles

    • As if all that stuff about the dancers going round wasn't enough in the line before, the speaker throws in another "around" at the top of line three for good measure. 
    • Of course, any dance is incomplete without some music, so the speaker starts telling us about jams that are playing at this kermess. 
    • Words like "squeal," "blare," and "tweedle" give us the feeling that the music is rowdy and maybe not so in tune.
    • These words actually mimic the feel of these grating sounds so well that we'll go ahead and label them as onomatopoeia. Check out "Sound Check" for more on this poem's sounds.
    • The point is that these musicians are way more concerned with having a blast than musical perfection. 
    • Next, the speaker gives us a mini-list of the instruments that the musicians are playing: "bagpipes, a bugle, and fiddles." (Put those instruments together and you have the makings of a pretty awesome Dutch folk band—just in case you were thinking about starting one in your garage.)
    • All in all, this talk of music adds a key element to the festive atmosphere that the poem and the painting it describes are trying to capture.

    Lines 5-6

    tipping their bellies (round as the thick-
    sided glasses whose wash they impound)

    • We're guessing these dancers have some pretty big bellies if they're going around "tipping" them everywhere. Hey, they may not be dancing back up for Beyonce anytime soon, but they're having a good time all the same.
    • The speaker compares the dancers' bellies to the thick glasses that they're drinking beer from. All this beer drinking might also explain the roundness of their bellies—just sayin'. 
    • Notice that the speaker brings back the word "round" here, but uses it in a different context from the opening lines.
    • The dancers go round, the glasses are round—things are "round" all around here. This word repetition seems to be mirroring the revolving dancers and possibly the looping beat and melody of the song being played.
    • We get more language music, too, with an internal rhyme of "round" and "impound." The beat is jumping here.
  • Lines 7-12

    Lines 7-8

    their hips and their bellies off balance
    to turn them. Kicking and rolling 

    • Apparently, the speaker wants to make sure that we have a clear picture of what these dancers' bellies look like, because he (and we just assume it's a he, since we have no other indications) tells us about them again. 
    • Here, he also mentions their hips and talks about how they're "off balance" as they turn.
    • All this body imagery paints a clear picture in our minds of free-wheelin' nature of this dance. 
    • Notice too how the syntax is freewheeling here, with "to turn them" coming awkwardly at the end of the actual sentence (though at the start of line 8). "Them" actually refers to the dancers (as in, "to turn themselves"), but the reference is all the way back in line 2. 
    • The twisting of the language really nicely fits with all the goofy twisting and shouting going on at the dance. These guys are far from trained dancers, but they're having a blast. When the speaker describes the dancers as "Kicking and rolling," we get an even more visceral image of just how wild and carefree this dance is.

    Lines 9-10

    about the Fair Grounds, swinging their butts, those
    shanks must be sound to bear up under such

    • We get a nod to the setting when the speaker tells us that we're at "the Fair Grounds." (More on the setting can be found over at… "Setting.")
    • Then before you know it, we're getting more imagery of the dancers' bodies, complete with the image of swinging booties. 
    • The speaker also notes that the dancer's shanks must be pretty darn sturdy ("sound") to deal with all this craziness. 
    • The use of the word "shank" is kind of interesting. In case you don't know, it means the part of the leg between the knee and the foot. Though most humans, of course, have shanks, the word is more commonly used to describe cuts of meat, like lamb shanks for example. 
    • So, the use of the word here might just be a sneaky way getting across the idea that these dancers' legs are thick and meaty. It might also bring to mind the wild, almost animalistic, atmosphere at the celebration.
    • Finally, we get more internal rhyme to weave the lines closer together: "butts" and "such."

    Lines: 11-12

    rollicking measures, prance as they dance
    in Brueghel's great picture, The Kermess.

    • The use of the word "measures" here reminds us the rhythmic nature of the poem and the dance it's describing.
    • However, the word "rollicking" reminds us of just how wild the whole thing is. 
    • The speaker throws in more internal rhyme—"prance as they dance"—which us gives a sense of finality before we head into the last line. 
    • Speaking of the last line: did you notice that it's the same as the first? What's up with that? Was WCW just being lazy? 
    • Nah, we figure he's bringing us full circle. The rhythms and language of the poem has been so swirling and circular-feeling, it makes sense that he'd bring us back around to where we started. (Check out "Form and Meter" for the full breakdown.) 
    • And with that final swirl... the dance has ended.