Samba is a lively, rhythmical dance of Brazilian origin in 4/4 time danced under the Samba music. However, there are three steps to every bar, making the Samba feel like a 4/4 timed dance. Its origins include the Maxixe.
The Samba music rhythm has been danced in Brazil since its inception in the late 19th century. There is actually a set of dances, rather than a single dance, that define the Samba dancing scene in Brazil; thus, no one dance can be claimed with certainty as the “original” Samba style.
Another major stream of the Samba dance besides the Brazilian Samba dancing styles is Ballroom Samba which differs significantly. This style is done with a partner in closed hold or open positions including but not limited to hand to hand hold, or side by side positions.
Samba no pé
Samba no pé is a solo dance that is most often danced impromptu when samba music is played. The basic movement involves a straight body and a bending of one knee at a time. The feet move very slightly – only a few inches at a time. The rhythm is 2/4, with 3 steps per measure. It can be thought of as a step-ball-change. It can be described calling it and-a-one, and-a-two, then back to one. The basic movement is the same to either side, where one foot moves to the outside lifting up just before the first beat (i.e. the right leg moves slightly to the right) and leg is kept as straight as a pole. The other foot moves slightly towards the front, and closer to the first foot. The second leg bends lightly at the knee so that the left side of the hip lowers and the right side appears to move higher. The weight is shifted to this inside foot briefly for the next “and-a”, then shifted back to the outside foot on the “two”, and the same series of actions is repeated towards the other side.
The dance simply follows the beat of the music and can go from average pace to very fast. Men dance with the whole foot on the ground while women, often wearing heels, dance just on the balls of the foot. Professionals may change the steps slightly, taking 4 steps per measure instead of 3, and often add various arm movements depending on the mood of the music.
There are also regional forms of the dance in Brazil where the essential steps are the same, but because of a change in the accent of the music people will dance similar movements to the slightly changed accents. For instance, in Bahia the girls tend to dance tilting their legs towards the outside instead of keeping their knees close to each other as in Rio de Janeiro.
Samba de Gafieira
Samba de Gafieira is a partner dance considerably different from the Ballroom Samba. It appeared in the 1940s and it gets its name from the gafieira, popular urban nightclubs of Rio de Janeiro at that time.
The dance derived from the Maxixe and followed the arrival of the Choro (another samba musical style). It left most of the Maxixe’s Polka elements behind but maintained the entwined leg movements of the Argentine tango, although adopting a more relaxed posture than the latter. Many see this form of Samba as a combination of Waltz and Tango. Several Brazilian dance studios use elements and techniques from these two dances to teach Samba de Gafieira steps and dance routines.
The steps are done on a short-short-long (quick-quick-slow) tempo and the basic step motion goes as follows:
- step – replace – forward (long)
- step – replace – backwards (long)
From its inception to nowadays the Samba de Gafieira has incorporated many acrobatic movements and has evolved to become today’s most complex dancing style of Samba in Brazil.
Samba Pagode is another Samba partner dance that resembles the Samba de Gafieira but has less acrobatic movements and tend to be more intimate. It became a dance style after the appearance of the Pagode and it started in the city of São Paulo.
Samba Axé is a solo dance that started in 1992 during the Brazilian Carnival season in Bahia when the Axé rhythm replaced the Lambada. For years it became the major type of dance for the North east of Brazil during the holiday months. The dance is completely choreographed and the movements tend to mimic the lyrics. It’s a very energetic kind of dance that mixes elements of Samba no pé and aerobics and because of the lyrics, which are made for entertainment, the dance generally has some sort of ludic element.
Several Axé music groups such as “É o Tchan” have as part of their marketing strategy to always release a choreography together with every one of their songs; therefore, Samba Axé is an ever-changing kind of dance with no commitment to maintaining any formal set of steps or routines (there’s actually no such a thing as a basic step in Samba Axé.)
Also originated from Bahia, it’s a mix of reggae beats with Samba drums. Very popular in songs by Daniela Mercury, who catapulted the rhythm to the world with songs like “Sol da Liberdade” “O Reggae E O Mar” and “Perola Negra”. Samba Reggae is the second most popular samba style in Bahia, with followers all over Brazil.
Samba de roda
Samba de roda (“Samba of roda“) is a traditional Afro-Brazilian dance performed originally as informal fun after a Candomblé ceremony, using the same percussion instruments used during the religious ceremony. The typical drum is the atabaque; drummers improvise variations and elaborations on common patterns, accompanied typically by singing and clapping as well as dancing.
The Samba de Roda is a celebratory event incorporating music, choreography and poetry.
The term ‘Samba’ encompassed many different rhythms, tunes, drumming and dances of various periods and areas of the Brazilian territory. It appeared in the state of Bahia, more specifically in the region of Recôncavo in Brazil, during the 17th century.
Because all drumming and dance was generalized by Portuguese colonizers as ‘samba’, it is difficult to attribute it to one distinct heritage. However, the most universally recognized cultural origin of Samba is Lundu, a rhythm that was brought to Brazil by the Bantu slaves from Africa. Lundu reveals, in a way, the amalgamation of black (slaves) and white (Portuguese) and indigenous cultures. When the African slaves where imported, it was named the “semba” and with the introduction of the Arabic Pandeiro (tambourine), brought into the Roda by the Portuguese, the ‘Samba’ was molded into the form of dance it is now.
In the indigenous language, “samba” means roda de dança, or a circle to dance since the indigenous peoples danced in celebration on many occasions, such as the celebration of popular Catholic festivals, Amerindian or Afro-Brazilian religious ceremonies, but was also practiced at random.
All participants, including beginners, are invited to join the dance and observe as well as imitate. Usually, only the women dance after each other and they are surrounded by others dancing in a circle and clapping their hands. The choreography is often spontaneous and is based on movements of the feet, legs and hips. One of the most typical moves is the umbigada which is clear Bantu influence, where the dancer invites her successor into the circle’s center.
The factor that frequently draws the attention of most people to the rhythm is the unusually-accented (syncopated) beat. The absent beat is the strongest characteristic of Samba prompting the listener to dance to fill the gap with her/his body movements. This syncopated rhythm is also an indication of Black resistance against cultural assimilation. The Samba of Roda in particular was considered an expression of freedom and identity of the underprivileged and became a means of liberation.
The Samba de Roda has significantly waned during the twentieth century due to economic decline and increased poverty in the region. The effects of mass media and competition from popular modern music have also devalued this tradition among the younger generation. Finally, the weakening of the Samba de Roda was heightened through the aging of practitioners and demise of those who made the musical instruments.