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History of Brazilian Dance

Chandramita Bora
Brazil is a colorful country known for some really attractive dance forms, and some of them have gained immense popularity worldwide. This story takes you through the history of the traditional dances of Brazil.
Dance is a non-verbal way of communication, for expressing yourself, telling stories, and conveying messages, which in the course of time has developed into an art form. Nowadays, it has been incorporated into our daily lives as a fitness regime. It is fantastic way to stay fit and relieve stress.
It has been used as means of celebration for many centuries now. Nowhere else is this more evident than in the country of Brazil. This nation has a rich culture and is known for numerous dance forms that now are popular all over the world.
Brazil is a land of many popular dances that contain the elements of African, Portuguese, and European dance forms. The different kinds of dance moves reflect the amazing culture and history of this country. Samba, carimbo, capoeira, Furro or Forró and lundu are some of the famous dances of Brazil. Each has its own unique style and flavor.

Dances of Brazil


Samba is what immediately comes to mind at the very mention of Brazil. Some believe that samba was derived from the word 'semba', which signifies a navel bump in Kimbundo, the African-Bantu language, and symbolizes the invitation to dance from a man to a woman.
'Semba' is also an infinitive of 'kusamba', which means 'to pray', or to appeal for the favor of the Gods or ancestors by singing and dancing. So, the dance was an indispensable part of religious ceremonies.
Brazil was a Portuguese colony from the 1500s to 1822, and African slaves, mainly from Angola, were brought to Brazil by the Portuguese rulers. When the African slaves reached Brazil, they were converted into Christians, and were prevented from worshiping their traditional gods by the Portuguese government.
They continued to carry out religious practices in the guise of parties. But, soon, they came under the suspicion of the authority, as a result of which, such parties were often raided by the police. They tried to preserve the secret rhythms of samba by combining them with other musical forms, which over a period of time gave birth to a series of dances.
With the end of slavery in 1888, many schools for samba dance were established and were known as 'Escolas de Samba'. Initially, samba was regarded as an improper and obscene dance by the upper class Brazilians, and hence, was performed in secret societies.
In 1920, its popularity grew immensely, and in the course of time, it received international recognition as a musical genre and dance form. Samba has also evolved into different sub-genres like Partido alto, Pagode, Samba de breque, Samba-canção, Samba-enredo, samba de salón, Samba de Gafieira, etc.
Samba is usually performed by couples, reflecting each other's steps. The rhythm is 2/4 at a time, or two beats to a bar of music. There are three steps to every bar of music, or three steps to two beats.
The first step performed by the lady involves sliding of the right foot smoothly and placing the weight of the entire body on it. In the second step, the left foot is slid slowly and the body weight is shifted to it.
In the third step, the right foot which has been raised, is allowed to come back to the floor with the entire body weight placed on it. For men, the steps are similar but, they start with the left foot unlike women.


Capoeira is another important Afro-Brazilian dance, and is a blend of martial arts and dance. It is also thought to have originated in Brazil around the 16th century by the African slaves, mainly from Angola.
However, there are many controversies regarding the origin of this dance. Some historians are of the opinion that it directly evolved from the African fighting style, while others think that it is a Brazilian dance having both Brazilian and African influences.
Though there are considerable differences of opinion regarding the origin of the dance and its name, it is an undeniable fact that the dance steps have close similarity with martial arts, as plenty of fighting movements like kicks, sweeps, punches, and elbow strikes can be seen in this dance.

Carimbó and Lambada

Carimbó is the name of both the dance and the large drums that accompany it. In Tupi language, it means the drum. Carimbó is a folk dance of the Para state in Brazil, in which African, Portuguese, and European influence can be noticed.
It is a sensual dance, where the woman tries to cover the man with her skirt. Sometimes, the woman throws her handkerchief on the floor, which her male partner has to retrieve using his mouth. It is a beautiful and captivating dance!
With the influence of more modern rhythms, carimbó contributed to the development of another dance form 'Lambada'. In Portuguese, lambada means 'strong slap' or 'hit'. It may refer to the wave-like motion of a ship in Brazilian-Portuguese language.


Lundu, or Lundum is also a dance form brought by the African slaves, and it became very popular in Brazil during the 17th and early 18th centuries. The basic musical instruments involved are guitar, the piano, and drums.
This dance also involves the use of handkerchief and castanets, an instrument consisting of a pair of hollow pieces of wood, or bone, and is held between the thumb and the fingers.


Forró, derived from the word forrbodó, which means 'great party'. However, there is another theory that suggests that forró is the derivative of the English 'for all'. It is one of the most popular dances of Northeastern Brazil, and can be danced to the rhythm of different music genres.
The instruments used in this dance are the accordion, zabumba, and a metal triangle. A lot of variation can be observed in the dancing style of Forró in different regions of Brazil. It is danced with partners, and the participants move in proper synchronization, performing many complex steps.


Frevo is a musical style that originated in Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil. The word 'frevo' is, however, used for both 'frevo' music and 'frevo' dance. It is a very energetic dance form. 'Frevo' music has its origin in the music played by the bands from Brazilian Army regiments, which were based in the city of Recife.
By the end of the 19th century, the military bands began parading during the carnival.
They mainly used to play religious procession marches and martial music. Soon, fierce competition developed among the various military bands, which got reflected in their music, which became much faster and louder than before.
Eventually, when the bands met in the street, fights between their capoeiristas or capoeira fighters became a common sight. As a result, police started to chase and arrest the capoeira fighters.


Another popular dance form of Brazil is 'xaxado', which was originated in Sertão of Pernambuco state, Brazil, where it is a traditional dance form among the local population. It is commonly performed by the cangaceiros of that region, to celebrate their victory in battle.


The 'ciranda' dance form was also originated in the Pernambuco state, which is a type of community dance, that is mostly performed in the street corners, beaches, and bars; the places where the working class people generally meet.


Another Brazilian music and dance genre is 'coco'. 'Coco' music has African influence and was originated in the northern part of Brazil during the period of slavery. It seemed to have developed from the sound of coconut shells knocking together. Today, this dance is basically a kind of clapping or stomping dance in which the performers wear wooden clogs.
Nowadays, Brazilian dances have received immense popularity throughout the world. Most of these dances have become an indispensable part of Brazilian culture and tradition. The legacy will continue to inspire dancers in the future generations to come.