Although the Samba dance—an upbeat Brazilian style of dance with numerous variations—has been said to have African origins that date back several centuries, it wasn’t until the early part of the 20th Century that the dance was informally adopted by the people of Brazil and took hold as one of the most popular dance movements in the country’s history. Characterized by rapid steps on the quarter beat and an exuberant, flirtatious swaying of the hips, the Samba dance quickly became a staple of the Brazilian culture, and for over a century now, through professional demonstrations and amateur contests, performances of the Samba have become the featured showcase at events ranging from pre-Lenten celebrations to the world-famous annual Carnival in Rio.
There are several different variations of the Samba, including the
Baion, Marcha and the very fashionable Carioca Samba, a ballroom version
of the dance named after a small river in Rio de Janeiro. And while
each of these variants is characterized by different tempos and
distinctively timed movements, all are set to rhythmic, toe-tapping and
traditional Brazilian music, with native instruments such as the
tamborim, cabaca and chocalho providing the intoxicating beat. Unlike
some dance movements that come and go with the years, this dance style
has retained its popularity in Brazil, a fact that is perhaps best
evidenced by the enormous dance classes that take place every year
during Carnival—classes which consistently draw thousands upon thousands
of elaborately-costumed dancers.
Although the Samba’s “roots” are definitely Brazilian, its “leaves” of popularity have spread to other parts of the world as well, including the United States. The dance was first introduced to Americans in the 1930s, specifically 1933 with the debut of Flying Down To Rio. It was in this motion picture that the ultra-talented and iconic American dancer Fred Astaire, along with his gorgeous co-star Dolores Del Rio, wowed movie audiences with a sultry version of the Carioca Samba that left Americans clamoring for more. What followed were stunning performances by Carmen Miranda in the movie That Night in Rio, culminating with a month-long demonstration of the dance and its history at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. Today this dance is taught and performed in dance studios throughout the country and around the world, although according to experts, outside of Brazil the dance is only “moderately popular,” largely due it’s level of difficulty and the expertise required.