South America Living

Traveling for Dance in Brazil – Learn Capoeira, Samba or Zouk!

In Brazil dance schools can be found in every city from Recife, Maceio and Salvador de Bahia in the Northeast to Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Porto Alegre in the South.  For the traveler, diving into Brazil’s dance culture is a great way to get to know the country and its people.

Roda de Capoeira in Porto Alegre, Brazil

Salvador de Bahia and “Capoeira”

Capoeira is probably Brazil’s most famous movement form, followed closely by samba.  Africans brought to Brazil for slave labor developed Capoeira.  Part martial art and part dance, the movement form requires intense physical training.  Those who dedicate themselves to it develop an increased awareness of their own physical space and the space of whoever is ‘gaming’ (i.e. playing) with them.  

Capoeiristas spend as much time on their hands as they do their feet, and there is an acrobatic quality to the movement that makes it spectacular to watch.  It was originally deemed illegal to perform Capoeira in Brazil but Mestre Bimba, one of the most famous Capoeira dance instructors, convinced authorities to lift the ban in the early 1930s.  He opened the first Capoeira school in Brazil, and the rest is history with schools now located around the world. 

There are two styles of the dance: Capoeira Regional (developed by Mestre Bimba) and Capoeira Angoloa (developed by Mestre Pastinha).  Over the years, Capoeira philosophy has splintered somewhat yet there is one city that everyone agrees is the center of the Capoeira scene – Salvador de Bahia

There are a number of programs in the city tailored made for tourists but if you have a basic grasp of Portuguese you also have the option to join in a ‘roda’ and ask the locals where they train.

A roda is a group of capoeiristas circled around two competitors gaming in the middle. Musical instruments may be present but regardless all the spectators sing traditional songs and clap their hands while the challenge is underway; fun for the participants and fun to watch as well.

Tips for Traveling to Salvador de Bahia

The city offers everything from hostels to upscale hotels.  The difference between those who have and those who do not have in Salvador de Bahia is very pronounced and thievery is common.  Do not wear expensive jewelry or carry a handbag, stay vigilant of your surroundings and if possible travel with a partner or in a group.

Rio de Janeiro and “Samba”

Samba is Brazil’s other popular dance export.  Samba carnival is the form most people associate with Samba. It developed in the slums of Rio de Janeiro when elements of Candomble and Samba from Bahia were mixed together resulting in the creation of a new dance. 

In the 1920s, Samba schools began to form that practiced the dance form as a part of religious ceremonies.  These Samba schools, which are not schools in the traditional sense of the word, have grown to include thousands of participants. It is these schools that perform in the parades that have made Rio de Janeiro famous the world over. 

For the traveler interested in learning Samba, there are two routes to take.  Join one of the many tourist classes in town or brave a late night trip to rehearsal at one of the schools and try not to be intimidated by the sounds, mass of bodies, and incredible talent on display.  If you choose the former, a simple google search will give you multiple options, if you choose the latter, you will need to ask the locals. 

Tips for Traveling to Rio de Janeiro

Many Samba schools rehearse far outside of town, so be sure to bring a friend, dress down, and don’t carry anything of value.  Your first few times at the school will be intensely intimidating, but it is worth it.  Be sure to take a cab back and try not to travel home alone. 

Hostels and hotels are generally more expensive here than in Salvador, as the tourist industry is more developed in Rio.  It is possible to take a long distance bus between Salvador and Rio, but the 26-28 hour trip can be pretty grueling.  Plan to take a few days and bus hop, stopping at various beach towns along the way down the coast. 

You can also travel be boat and there are last minute cruises available, yet are usually quite pricey.  There are direct flights between the two cities with tickets costing anywhere from $80-$300 USD, depending on the time of year you are traveling.

For more information and where to stay, eat and play in Rio read: Travel Guide to Rio de Janerio, Brazil

São Paulo and “Zouk”

Zouk, also known as lamba-zouk, zouk-love, and zouk-flow, is the latest dance form to come out of Brazil.  Like its forefather, Lambada, Zouk is a partner dance that involves almost full-body contact. 

Unlike other partner dances which are led with one particular part of the body (usually the arms) Zouk is led from multiple parts of the body. This gives the movement a part dance / part improvisation feel that has made it popular with a wide-range of people. 

It burst onto the scene less than ten years ago yet there are already schools in the UK, U.S., Australia, Amsterdam and all over South America.  São Paulo is home to some of the world’s most popular Zouk teachers with classes primarily attended by teenagers, college students and young professionals. The energy of the classes is quite different from that found in Capoeira or Samba schools as there are no religious underpinnings to Zouk. 

Cultural Note: The music used for Brazilian zouk is the same music used for Caribbean zouk though the steps danced are quite different. When dancing Zouk outside of Brazil, always be sure to ask which form of Zouk is going to be danced at the club you are attending or you run the risk of offending the other dancers on the floor.

The Congresso Mundial de Zouk takes place in São Paulo in November each year, and it is the place to see the best Zouk dancers in the world. 

Tips for Traveling to São Paulo

Rio and São Paulo are just a stones throw from each other; only six hours by bus that will cost around $50 USD. You can take a 40 minute flight for $50-$200 USD.  Prices in São Paulo are similar to those in Rio and like Rio, keep your belongings close and anything flashy tucked away.

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