By Jay Forte, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – One of the most iconic characteristics of Rio de Janeiro and Brazil is the music and dance of samba, a music genre born in the Cidade Maravilhosa. Yet even for the most naturally blessed the dance is a wonder of rhythmic footwork and body movements, and for most some lessons will help.
Samba music has a wide spectrum subdivided into several categories, but when it comes to dancing, there are mostly only two types in Rio; Samba no Pé and Gafieira, with both having different steps for male and female counterparts. All of it is danced to a two/four beat with three steps to every bar, and a focus on the hips.
Samba no pé is the solo version of the dance and the main focus of the famous Escolas de Samba (Samba Schools) which compete during Carnival at the parades. Samba de Gafieira, on the other hand, are partner dances with intricate steps and elaborate moves that seem closer to the tango or other ballroom dances.
In terms of learning, many say Samba no Pé is initially the hardest, as the footwork requires repetition to become second nature, and the hip movement may feel alien for many foreigners. Yet once this barrier is overcome the rest usually follows easier.
The opposite can be said about learning Gafieira, where not as much hip movement is required and it is perhaps less daunting. Flirtatious and free like the Carioca spirit, Gafieira came out of Rio de Janeiro when the big malandros (cheats and ladies men) had their way in Lapa, and as such, the male must work hardest at the steps.
Helio Ricardo P. Borges of the Rio Samba Dancer school offers lessons as well as social outings for individuals, couples or groups. In terms of learning, he says, “I think the hardest part is the psychological, if the person already thinks the will not be able to dance and creates a block in their mind.”
Borges’ advice for anyone planning to take lessons and try to learn is to “look for a school that you feel good at, that is a place near your home and that the teacher will be fun.” Adding “Dance is very good for the social side, physical and psychological.”
As one of the most social options for taking samba classes in Rio de Janeiro, Rio Samba Dancer is focused on foreigners and offers classes from US$20 for a group to US$50 for a one-on-one private lesson. They also offer tours and social nights out in Lapa to put the new skills to the test.
Other options where speaking some Portuguese might be helpful are Casa de Dança – Carlinho de Jesus, which is located in Botafogo and offers dance classes of Samba no Pé, Samba de Gafieira as well as other traditional Brazilian dances like Forró and Zouk. Also DançaCCC in Praça Tiradentes, Centro, specializes in Samba Gafieira lesson and also offers ballroom dancing for R$135 per month.
For something a little different, there is Escola de Dança Silvia Pinheiro, a tradition dance school founded in Urca and now with a branch in Copacabana. It works as a club with a fee of R$140 per month and an enrollment fee of R$50, they offering a taster session for free.