by Pete & Mary
Samba is now one
favorite dances to do. I must admit it definitely wasn't when we
first learned it, but the more we worked at it, the better it felt,
and when it started to really feel good, of course it then became one
of our favorites! I believe this is true for everyone. The more you
know about a rhythm, and the more you understand it, the more you
like it, and that is the reason we are writing this article. We would
like everyone to think of samba as one of their favorite rhythms, and
then maybe, just maybe, we would get more choreographers to write
sambas, more teachers to teach them, and more dancers to dance them.
In order to understand this rhythm a little more, we would like to
tell you a little bit about what the samba is and where it
The samba is an
animated dance with a strong and characteristic rhythm. It originated
in Africa and was taken to Bahia in the north of Brazil by the slaves
sent to work on the sugar plantations. The dance gradually lost its
ritualistic nature and eventually became the Brazilian national
Carnival Time in
Janeiro first put the samba on the Western map. The Bahians and
others from the sugar plantations and villages traveled to Rio for
the annual festivities. Gradually the subtle beat and interpretative
nuances of the samba began to take over in the street dancing, the
and the ballrooms, until eventually it became the musical and dancing
soul of Brazil. Originally, the dance had very characteristic hand
movements, derived from its ritualistic function, when small
containers of aromatic herbs were held in each hand and moved in
front of the nose to "drug" the dancer with the exciting
fragrance. There was much solo work and, before it became a ballroom
dance, it contained steps incorporated from the Indian "Maxixe"
(pronounced as "Mah-chee-chay").
The great American
dancers, Irene and Vernon Castle, used the samba in their
professional routines, and so it began to spread. But it was probably
Carmen Miranda, the best known Brazilian of them all, who, with her
tremendous vitality and showmanship, gave the samba its established
place as one of the most exciting and catchy rhythms in the world. In
Brazil, the "Samba Schools" grow and flourish, and the
country has now developed its own balletic art, which has the samba
rhythm and basic movements as a marked contribution.
The samba is a
sensitive and smooth dance. It is characterized by the tiny, light
footwork, the rise and fall of the body -- always turning and at the
same time swaying back and forth at an almost impossible pendular
angle. When watching samba being done correctly, you will notice a
slight bounce. This is also a characteristic that gives the dance a
great deal of animation. This easy springing motion comes from the
ball of the foot, the flexible ankle, and the easy relaxed knees. In
samba, the hold is the same hold we use in rumba. Also, the upper
body is held firmly poised, never sagging, and seeming to sway
forward and back about an axis which centers in the diaphragm. The
arm position, when not in contact with the partner, is held out from
the body, a little above waist level, bent at the elbow, parallel to
the floor, palms down.
For the dancer who
being exposed to samba for the very first time, all this must sound
impossible, but remember, learning waltz for the first time, or
rumba, or foxtrot, etc., etc. wasn't a piece of cake either. As the
old saying goes, "Rome was not built in one day!"
There are two
bounce in the samba: the Basic Bounce and the Alternative Basic
Bounce. Here, we are only going to be explaining the Alternative
Basic Bounce. Although samba music is written with two beats per
measure (2/4 time), in the writing of cue sheets we count our figures
as four beats per measure (4/4 time), and this is how we will
consider the music below. To get you started into learning this
rhythm, let's use a familiar figure: the Whisk.
Bounce means 3 steps to 2 beats of music, counted 1a2. The 1 gets 3/4
of a beat, the "a" gets 1/4 beat, and the 2 gets a whole
beat. The knees are flexed when weight is taken on the stepping foot
(on the 1), straightened on the second step (on the "a"),
and flexed on the third step (on the 2). The knees will again
straighten between the third step and the fourth step. Now you can
begin to practice the samba Whisk:
-- R foot to the side, count 1
-- L foot behind R foot, toe to heel, count "a"
-- Replace weight onto R foot, count 2
-- L foot to the side, count 3
-- R foot behind L foot, toe to heel, count "a"
-- Replace weight onto L foot, count 4
on R foot, dance man's steps 4, 5, 6
on L foot, dance man's steps 1, 2, 3
Using the above
footwork, think of each Whisk as ball-flat/ball, ball-flat. Start
practicing the Right Whisk by pushing off the supporting foot -- L
for Man and R for Lady -- and at the same time take a slight breath
and say AH. Now step side onto the ball of the R foot (Lady L) and
lower onto the whole foot (ball-flat). While you are lowered, push
off the R foot (L) while taking a slight breath and saying AH, onto
the ball of the L foot, placed behind, partial weight, and quickly
replace complete weight onto the ball of the R foot, lowering onto
the whole foot. This will feel like an up-down-up-down action. Repeat
this sequence on the opposite feet for the Left Whisk.
This will surely
confusing for a while, but with a little practice and patience, you
will soon begin to feel the bounce that is so important in samba. But
most of all, remember the two magic words that will help. For those
of you who have grandchildren -- NO, they are not Please and Thank
You; they are Patience and Repetition !!!
an article published in the ROUNDALAB Journal, Spring 2000. Reprinted in the Dixie Round
Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, January 2014.
If you would like to read other articles on dance
position, technique, styling, and specific dance rhythms, you may visit
the article TOC.
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Past DRDC Educational Articles archived here.
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