The history of Brazilian dance is as diverse as the world of dance is today, and their legacy will continue to inspire dancers in generations to come. Even some of the most devoted dance enthusiasts do not realize how much of today's popular social dance comes from Latin American influence, including Brazil.
Origins of Brazil's Iconic Dances
Many social dances rehearsed and performed today, in both dance clubs and competitive dance events, find their origins in Latin America. The Lambada and Samba, for example, both come from Brazil. From the start, many dances from Brazil featured a man and a woman; however many of them were rooted in inspiration stemming from life experiences in general, rather than just simple romance. While these Latin dances were brought to Western and European culture in the 20th century where they received the most notoriety, they were around in Brazil long before they were discovered by the rest of the world.
From Forbidden to Respectable
All of Brazil's dances have come out of a combination of European, African, and Indigenous cultures. Slaves were imported into Brazil by the Portuguese during the 16th century, and they brought dances with them. They were considered to be a sin by settlers due to the involvement of belly buttons and other body parts that were not used, and not considered appropriate, in European dances. Some of the slaves' dances became so popular that King Maneul I actually had to go through the trouble of passing a law that would forbid it. The best comparison to this now-rare dance would be the more modern Charleston.
Eventually, these slave dances evolved to include more Latin-influenced steps, which caused it to be more recognized by the upper classes. It was continually modified to resemble formal ballroom dance more closely, and was then credited as a "graceful Brazilian dance" in the late 1800s.
The Maxixe, Samba, and Lambada
In the 1800s, the Maxixe was invented, which was later described as a Brazilian tango. This led to the eventual development of the samba and lambada. The steps are simple, resembling a traditional two-step with more of a Latin flair. People still dance this today when they are celebrating Brazil's culture and heritage.
The Maxixe went on to be introduced in the United States at the turn of the century, and exists in modern day ballroom dancing in a step by the same name, consisting of a chassé and pointed foot. Another form of the Samba, which lives on to be Brazil's strongest dance contribution, is the Carioca, which came to popularity in the United Kingdom during the mid 1930s. It was made even more popular by American dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as they danced it in their first movie together.
Brazilian Dance and Fitness
Most recently, Latin American dance has taken forms of fitness and found popularity in programs such as Zumba. For a workout program with authentically Brazilian dance steps, Hip Brazil is available on DVD. Celebrating Brazilian history and culture while getting in shape at the same time has been appealing to many people, and it has been named a top DVD by reputable publications like Fitness Magazine.
Experience These Dances for Yourself
If you would like to learn more about Brazil's history, consider planning a visit to the beautiful Latin American nation. If you can't afford to put time and money toward such a trip, see if there are any Brazilian cultural festivals or celebrations near you. Here you can often see demonstrations of Brazilian dance, both past and present, which provide insight into the history of Brazilian dance.