In this 5th blog of the series, our weekly blogs will focus on giving tips for teaching different genres of world-music or dance in the classroom. This week’s blog is written by our head of dance, Dr Rosaria Gracia who is one of the leading experts in the UK on Brazilian samba dance and has a wealth of experience teaching samba dance in the classroom.
Afro Brazilian and Samba stylistic qualities:
Wear comfortable clothes and trainers or barefoot.
Posture: stylised and upright for Samba; earthy for Afro-Brazilian
Use of torso: isolation and using of the core.
Use of individual body parts: limbs are an extension of the main body and the action comes from the centre of the body. Samba: big angles with the arms and straight posture of the upper body with strong isolation of the lower part. Afro-Brazilian: middle ground positioning with isolation of the upper body. Maracatu: strong hands as an extension of the arm. Fingers together. Isolation of the upper body more upright than Afro-Brazilian.
Rhythm: 4 and 6/8
Use of space straight lines; formations of 8; alternate lines position; circle formations and diagonals
Focus in the isolation between the different parts of the body; fluidity at the change of the movements so there is not staccato break when there is a transition in the sequences; seamless transition from one movement to the next and the same is applicable to the formations.
Dynamic range: ability to combine the sensuality and energy of the samba with the raw features of afro-Brazilian without mixing them. For both, ability to mix the fluidity of the dance with the precision in the movement.
Facial expression: relaxed and confident
Relationship between movement and accompaniment: Ability to interpret the “fire/air” quality of samba with the “fire/ earth” quality of afro-Brazilian. Music is essential, and the movement responds to rhythms, breaks and melody so that to create an integrated performance.
Samba-reggae is a music and dance style that arose in the context of the black pride movement that occurred in the city of Salvador de Bahia, around 1969, and it still carries connotations of ethnic identity and pride for Afro-Brazilians today. Bahia's population has a large proportion of dark-skinned Brazilians who are descendants of African slaves who were brought to Brazil by the Portuguese in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Samba reggae routines evolve around upbeat and energetic steps which draw from the stories and imagery of the Orixa (gods and goddesses from the African ancestors- they relate to the environment and tasks associated with an agricultural society). Some of the most represented figures are Exu (the trickster, who opens the paths), Oxum (goddess of beauty and fresh water), Iansa (goddess of winds and storms), Iemanja (mother of gods and the sea), Oxossi (hunter), Xango (god of thunder and lightning), Ogum (blacksmith and warrior).
The performance of Samba reggae evolves around the idea of the afro bloco, a group of drummers and dancers, which was aimed to recreate and strengthen the community feel through their music.
Important bands of the style are Ile Aiye, Olodum and Timbalada.
It is believed that Samba was brought to Rio de Janeiro by Bahians around 1900, where it was combined with harmonic and rhythmic elements from European influences (such as chorinho and military marches). By the 1930s, samba de roda had developed into the faster, more harmonically complex Rio-style samba that is now played in Rio Carnival. Through the middle of the 20th century this new Rio-style samba spread throughout Brazil.
There are three styles of samba: sapatinho (which is ‘small samba’ characterised by little steps on the ball of the foot danced by passistas (dancers) at high speed in high heels); samba no pe (‘samba on the foot’ danced by both male and female dancers and it differentiates from the above in the more prominent role of the heel in the rotation of the hip; and afrosamba (which is characterised by the protagonism of the whole foot (not the ball of the foot or the heel).
In Rio, there is a preference for sapatinho and samba no pe, as the afrosamba is more popular in the North of Brazil.
The performance of Samba is primarily done by Samba schools in which there is a band (bateria) and the entourage of dancers which constitutes different sections (alas). The first section will be the commissao de frente (section at the front), followed by (different order applies depending on the school and tradition) porta bandeira and maestre sala (the holder of the flag which introduces the school), ala Bahiana, ala passista, ala mirim (children), ala indio (representing the indigenous Indians), velha guarda (the elders of the school), rainha de bateria (queen of the band), madrinha de bateria (godmother of the band), bateria (band), guests from other schools).
Some representative schools are Mangueira, Imperio Serrano, Imperatriz Leopoldinense, Tijuca.
Start the session with a brief talk about the origin of the dances in the cultural exchange between African slaves and indigenous tribes and how that is exemplified through the dance.
Position the students in rows so everybody has space to move and see the leader. Lead a warm up working through the body (paying attention to the joints) followed by an aerobic (cardio section) which could be done in follow the leader style. Suggestion to use imagery to support the movements, i.e. imagining we are in a beach in Brazil to inspire relaxed stretches. Change rows so students do not get ‘territorial’ with a particular place in the rows. As a main activity, divide the dance section between samba reggae and samba, learning a short choreographic line. When learned, show the choreographies to each other finishing with a circle to invite people to dance in the middle, leading into the cool down.
Dr. Rosaria Gracia specialises in dance and movement informed by celebratory dances around the world, especially from Brazil, Cuba, Spain and India. She also devises and performs at site specific shows and has extensive experience in Arts and Health projects. She is a teacher, choreographer and performer with experience working with people of all ages (5 - 98) and abilities (professional dancers; higher, further and adult education; hospitals; residential homes; community groups; gyms and special needs). In addition to leading dance workshops with Inspire-works, Rosaria choreographed the dance for Inspire-works’ successful Guinness World Record attempts for the world’s largest samba band (2014) and largest drumming lesson (2016) at the Royal Albert Hall and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.