Why did they begin the beguine? This West Indian dance, probably best known from Cole Porter’s 1935 song “Begin the Beguine,” is a combination of Latin folk dancing and French ballroom dance, similar to the rumba, fairly slow in tempo and featuring a sensuous roll of the hips. It originated in the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique.
Some of the folks who are paid to study word origins say it is derived from the French colloquial word béguin, which can mean “flirtation,” “infatuation,” or a “boyfriend or girlfriend.” Its original meaning was a a “child’s bonnet” and before that, i.e. the 14th century, a “nun’s headdress.” Others say, “bosh!” (or some similar word to that effect), the origin of beguine is in Creole Beke or Begue, which means “white person,” and Beguine is its female form.
There is another kind of Beguine, the name of a member of a medieval spiritual order for laywomen, founded in 1180 in Liège in the Low Countries. They are believed by some to have taken their name from Lambert le Bègue, a priest who was instrumental in their establishment. He was also sometimes known as “Lambert the Stammerer,” undoubtedly because of some speech impediment.
Others, however, say the name stems from St. Begga, a 7th-century Frankish nun, or possibly from the Saxon word beggen, meaning “pray.” These Beguines were not known to engage in hip-swinging Latin dances, so the two kinds of beguine are probably not related.
A male order founded in imitation of them in the 1220s was known as the Beghards. They were itinerant mendicants who gave rise to the word beggar.
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has never learned to dance the beguine. But after a few Chardonnays, he can execute a mean box step
There once was an old college dean
Who just loved to dance the beguine.
But when he did dips
And rotated his hips
The students all called it obscene.