If you haven’t been to South America or don’t know much about dance history, you might be scratching your head wondering what exactly is this ‘Tango of Brazil’ and how it got its name?

While some people’s idea of samba is what they see on shows like “Dancing With the Stars”, and think of it as a sexy, high energy party dance performed with minimal clothing, others think of it as an individual dance related to Carnaval in Brazil; ultimately it can be a combination of both of these elements and so much more. One thing that many people don’t realize is that there are various styles of samba, this particular style – samba de gafieira, is danced primarily with a partner, and has the sultriness of salsa, the sharpness of tango and the elegance and sophistication of ballroom.

Originating in Rio de Janiero’s working class dance halls in the 1930’s, the term “gafieira” gained recognition by the 1940’s and referred to the popular dance halls and night clubs where people went to dance, hence the name samba de gafieira. Sometimes referred to as “dança de salao”, meaning “salon or ballroom dance”, which includes lambada, forró, and even tango. Although not at all the same today, samba de gafieira shares some similarities with international Ballroom Samba and originated from maxixe, which was derived from a combination of Afro-Brazilian and European dances like the lundu and polka in the 1800’s. However following the 1980’s boom of dance schools throughout Rio, samba de gafieira eventually evolved away from its original maxixe roots with heavy influence from other dances like Argentine tango. Using graceful, elegant, refined movements such as the saida, leg replacements and more, it also came to incorporat high flying acrobatic stunts. While International ballroom samba sometimes uses samba music and some Brazilian samba steps, it has evolved into something essentially foreign to native samba dancers.

However, in part due to it’s influence from so many other dance styles, and its evolution with the changing times, music and culture, modern day samba de gafieira draws from a wide vocabulary of movement. Incorporating the sharp leg adornments of Argentine tango, with the speed and flare of salsa, with the sultriness of samba and beyond, samba de gafieira is like a smorgasbord of dance, with as much variety as any other combined. This has huge appeal for dancers who especially enjoy this style for its exuberance and immense room for creativity. Although typically an elegant partner dance, it is quite common to include shines and add steps of samba no pé, (danced without a partner). It is helpful to foster a solid connection with ones partner because of the speed and level of difficulty with which many movements are performed. This also makes samba de gafieira an ideal compliment to Zouk Lambada and other dance styles in terms of strengthening lead and follow technique as well as fitness, timing and musicality – not usually covered as detailed in other styles.

There is a samba de gafieira agenda (detailed guide of movements), which summarizes form and technique, with rules not as rigid or specific as some other competitive ballroom styles. Danced to a variety of music including bossa nova, pagode, samba rock and chorinho, as well as non-Brazilian genres, it is “considered” to be a popular, modern dance. Combing this with the cheeky playfulness of samba music with emphasis on musicality, makes it a delight to dance!

Although at the present time there aren’t many places locally to indulge in this exciting dance, there is a very special workshop on Saturday, May 9th right here at ATOMIC Ballroom, with special guest instructor Iury, from Brazil. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to try something new and exciting while enhancing your style and technique in other dances.