Saturday, October 9, 2010
Dancing the Samba
Picture the color and vibrancy of the swaying dancers in shimmering costumes, cavorting in the exciting, noisy streets during the Rio de Janeiro annual Mardi Gras carnivale and you'll get a sense of the magnetism of the dance known as the Samba. This is Brazil's national dance and it symbolizes the liveliness and hot-blooded passions of this sensual and exotic South American culture.
The Excolas de Samba dance school in Rio trains aspiring Sambistas throughout the year in the art of dancing this rhythmic and highly infectious dance but if you can't make it over to South America to get lessons from the experts in the art then a quick course of Samba basics follows. Put on your dancing shoes, get your Latin style mojo all fired up and let's get ready to party!
So, how to dance the Samba? Its origins can be traced back to the African slaves who worked for Portuguese rulers on coffee and soya plantations. These were energetic and hard-working people and the high fevered movements of the dance reflect this. You need to have a feel for the lively rhythms of the dance and of Samba music in order to begin the sway and characteristic bounce action required - the overall effect is a sultry and exciting one.
First of all the beat of the dance. The Samba is danced to music of 2/4 time however there are three steps performed to every two beats. It is a syncopated rhythm and needs careful counting in order to master. If you begin counting in your head - '1 - a - 2, 2 - a - 2' you'll start to get a feel for the musical patterning and will be able to step in time accordingly. Dancing the Samba successfully requires an energetic and sensual touch from performers. You have to feel the vibe of the music and reflect the happy, exuberant mood with a rocking, swaying, pelvic tilting motion.
Although many will know the Samba as a ballroom dance that is regularly performed by well-dressed couples in dance competitions, the original and true Brazilian dance that is most popular is actually a solo routine that can be danced in groups, like at the annual Rio carnivale. The steps listed are for a ballroom Samba:
~ Start with feet shoulder width apart.
~ On first beat of music slide your right foot backwards in a small movement and rest your body weight on this foot.
~ Then push your left foot back and transfer the body weight in a subtle movement on to the ball of the foot.
~ Then you raise your right leg and rest back with the transferred body weight.
The routine should be performed rhythmically and with a subtle bouncing motion where the knees flex up and down - this is often known as the 'Samba bounce.' It is a good idea to watch footage of professional dancers performing the Samba to get a feel and clear visual of what the dance should like when done well.
Remember to have fun while you dance the Samba - with a relaxed, in-time connection to the music you should be able to capture the subtlety and wonder of this popular and magical dance.
For an excellent demonstration, here's a video that teaches the basic Samba steps: