The samba dance history is a rich cultural one. Begun in Brazil in the 19th century, samba dances are done to samba music, and like there are many types of samba music, there are many types of samba dances.
Origins of the Samba
While samba has become a popular ballroom dance as well, samba is originally a Latin dance. The original samba is very different from the ballroom style dance which has been named samba. Of course, the ballroom style dance has close connections to the original samba; however, a local from Rio de Janeiro who sees a ballroom competition with the sound off will probably not recognize a samba as what they would call a samba.
Samba music is most often in 2/4 time; however, there are three steps so it often feels like one is dancing in 3/4 time instead of 2/4 time. The rhythm is fast and full of energy, so the music encourages people to really get up and dance. Whether one gets up to do a solo samba or to dance a samba with a partner, the music will move you to the dance floor or into the street, such as during a Carnival celebration.
Major Types of Sambas
'Samba no pé' is the name given to the traditional samba dance that is done solo. These particular samba dance steps are very simple and undertaken spontaneously when the music moves someone to dance. As noted above, the rhythm is 2/4 with three steps in every measure. Sometimes professional dancers who dance this solo samba will increase the number of steps to four instead of three, but the traditional samba done solo calls for three steps. This dance can be seen often in Carnival parades and other Carnival celebrations. On YouTube you can see a Samba no pé demonstration.
'Samba Axé' is another solo samba dance that is a more recent addition to the samba dance history. This dance started in 1992 and is not defined by a certain step (as the 'samba no pé' is defined), but rather by the musical rhythm. Any dance done on the Axé beat is a 'samba axé'. The rhythm can be fast or slow; this Samba Axé clip starts out slow and the rhythm increases to a faster tempo.
Partner samba is one of the popular types of Latin dances in ballroom competitions. Before samba became a ballroom dance style, there were original partner samba dances, the most common of which is the 'Samba de Gafieira'.This samba is thought by many to be a cross between a waltz and a tango. Because it is a more spontaneous dance than the tango, the posture of the dancers is more relaxed, but this samba does have some common elements with tango. Originally, the dance was a simple partner dance, but as the samba has evolved over time, more and more tricks, turns, and other acrobatic feats have been added into this type of samba. As with the solo samba, this partner dance has a quick beat, which means that the footwork is fast. Check out a video of the Samba de Gafieira to get a taste of the partner dance.
In ballroom competitions all around the world, there are dancers dancing the 'samba'. This ballroom version of the samba is different from all of the sambas previously mentioned. The samba in ballroom dancing did not originate in Brazil; of course, the music is samba music, but if you watch this impressive video: Samba Competition, you will see that while the dancing is excellent, the style is more ballroom than traditional.
Entertaining to Dance or Watch
Latin dances bring fast rhythms, fancy costumes and fun steps to traditional ballroom dances, which is perhaps why so many latin dances have become part of traditional ballroom competitions. There's no doubt about the fact that the samba is high energy and fun not only to dance, but also to watch!