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So you think you know how to Samba?

Updated on July 23, 2012

An Introduction to the Samba

The samba is a popular advanced ballroom dance that originated in Africa as part of religious traditions. As slaves were brought into Brazil from Africa, the slaves were converted to Christianity. The dance was integrated into Brazilian culture in attempt to preserve those traditions and today the Samba is the national dance of Brazil. It has gained international popularity due to its inclusion in the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro where schools of dancers dressed in theme based and elaborate costumes dance to the samba.

Variations of the Samba

One of the most popular variations of the samba and the one that is sometimes used in ballroom dancing is the Carioca. Fred Astaire and Delores Del Rio introduced the Carioca to the United States by performing it in the 1930s movie Flying Down to Rio. In ballroom dancing the samba is very different from the Brazilian version and is known as the Brazilian Waltz. It is said that the Brazilian Waltz contains elements of Tango to it. Other variations of the Samba include the Marcha, Baion, and Batucado.


Steps, Rhythm and Movements

There are two forms of solo Samba dance that are popular today. One is called the Samba no pé and this dance is based on the step, not the rhythm. The music of the Samba is performed in a 2/4 rhythm, and there are three steps in each measure of 2/4 time. The dance requires fast foot work and the dance should have an energetic, flirtatious, and flamboyant conveyance to its movements when done properly. Another solo Samba dance is the Samba Axé and it is defined by its either fast or slow rhythm rather than by its step like the Samba no pé.


Samba Instruments

There are many different instruments that are used in a Samba band. A sort of “jingle stick” called a chocalho, a reco reco is played by scraping it and is sometimes made of wood or gourd. Stringed instruments like guitars and the four stringed cavaquinho are used.

Pandeiros are similar to tambourines but can be tuned and have cupped metal platinelas. There are also drums like the small round frame drum called a tamburin and the large bass drum known as a surdo. These are just a few of the many percussion and string instruments along with trumpets and brass that are used to compliment the Samba sound.


Schools of Dancers

The schools of dancers that participate each year in the Carnival of Rio de Janeiro have flamboyant, colorful, and elaborate costumes that are based on a theme each year. Other people participating in the Carnival will often choose their fantasy figures to dress as. In 1952 the Official Carnival Parade authorized mandatory requirement of costumes for the Parade.


Samba Costumes

Every year the Samba Schools are responsible for designing and making the costumes. School members then choose and purchase their costumes and there are a limited amount of costumes produced each year. Thousands of dancers participate in the schools of dancers at the parade each year. Costumes are often made of materials that allow for great freedom of movement due to the demands of the Samba. They are also often constructed of natural materials like feathers and shells.


The Carnival of Rio de Janeiro

The Samba schools that participate in the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro that is held before Lent every year can be actual schools or a group of people like friends or neighbors that wish to participate. The Samba found in Rio is the Batucado. The entire Carnival is based on music and dancing and one of the main purposes of the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is to help people to forget their troubles for a couple of days or hours.    

Samba Dancing Steps


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