Samba Dance Steps

Robin Raven
Professional Samba Dancers

Originating in 19th century Brazil, the samba is found all over the world in a staggering number of different styles. While most famous in places like Rio de Janeiro, one might just as easily see these steps performed in a street parade in Finland or a dinner club in Chicago. Part of its appeal is the simplicity of learning the basic steps of the samba, making it easy to spice it up later with the intricacies of choreography.

Establish Your Samba Rhythm

Regardless of the style, the rhythm of the samba is the secret to its appeal. While the music is in 2/4 time, there are three steps in each measure. More simply put, every two beats has three steps. It goes long quick, short quick, and then slow.

The Two Basic Samba Dance Steps

To dance the samba you only need two actual steps, and they are mirrors of each other. Actually, the word "step" is a little misleading, as most expert dancers will point out that it's more of a weight shift (or, to use a choreographic term, a "ball change") from foot to foot. Traditionally, men will start with a Forward Basic, which the woman mirrors with a Backward Basic. Each will then reverse direction for the next two measures and repeat, going back and forth.

Download this printable illustration to help you learn these basic samba steps. Simply click on the thumbnail below to open the Adobe document and print it.

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Now, use the printable to practice the following samba steps. Both partners face each other to start.

Forward Basic (Leader)

  1. On the first beat of the music, slide the left foot forward very slightly and put the body's full weight on it.
  2. Sliding the right foot forward, let the body shift subtly onto the ball of the left foot. The right heel shouldn't touch the floor.
  3. After the left leg lifts as the weight shifts, place it back on the floor, flat and ready to go into the complementary back basic.

Back Basic (Follower)

  1. On the first beat of the music, slide the right foot back very slightly and put the body's full weight on it.
  2. Sliding the left foot back, let the weight shift subtly onto the ball of the left foot. This move is also subtle, with the left heel never even making it to the floor.
  3. After the right leg rises because of the ball change, let it come back fully to the floor, with the full weight coming back.

Turn the Samba Square

If you want to go further with learning the samba, try the samba square. Like the rhythm of the basic samba steps, it goes long quick, short quick, and then slow. The leader starts the samba square forward and does the second half backward. The follower starts the samba square backward and does the second half forward.

Once again, both partners should be facing each other.

Forward Samba Square (Leader)

  1. Bend the left knee as you step forward with your left foot.
  2. Straighten your right knee as you step to the right with the right foot.
  3. Bend both knees as you bring the left foot to the right foot.
  4. Straighten your knees.

Backward Samba Square (Follower)

  1. Bend the right knee as you step backward with your right foot.
  2. Straighten your left knee as you step to the left with your left foot.
  3. Bend both knees as you bring your right foot to the left foot.
  4. Straighten both knees.

Three steps to each basic move leads to what may at first be confusion in counting since the music is in 2/4 time. Some teachers use a "quick-quick-slow" method to teach, but this can be perplexing as the last step is not so much a "slow" movement as a preparatory placement for the upcoming shift in weight and direction. For that reason, many people will instead use "and" set between beats of measure, counted "one and two, three and four, five and six, seven and eight."

Samba Side Step

Both partners face each other for the start of the side step.

Samba Side Step (Leader)

  1. Bend the left knee as you step to the left with the left foot.
  2. Bring the right foot behind and across the left foot, then straighten.
  3. Bend the left knee as you step in place with your left foot. Keep the right foot in place in back.
  4. Straighten.
  5. Bend the right knee as you step to the right with the right foot.
  6. Bring the left foot behind and across the right foot, then straighten.
  7. Bend the right knee as you step in place with your right foot. Keep the left foot in its place.
  8. Straighten.

Samba Side Step (Follower)

  1. Bend the right knee as you step to the right with your right foot.
  2. Bring the left foot behind and across the right foot, then straighten.
  3. Bend the right knee as you step in place with the right foot. Leave your left foot in place in back.
  4. Straighten.
  5. Bend the left knee as you step to the left with the left foot.
  6. Bring the right foot behind and across the left foot, then straighten.
  7. Bend the left knee as you step in place with your left foot. Keep the right foot in place in back.
  8. Straighten.

The Samba Grand Finish

Dancers finish the samba in a dramatic way. The proper way to finish the samba is to extend your hands out to the side and throw your head back. This distinct grand finale to the passionate movements adds just the right finishing touch to the dance.

Tips for Doing the Samba

Keep in mind that the samba is both a stationery and a progressive dance. Those who have bad knees should choose another dance because the samba requires a lot of knee movement. You'll need to frequently flex your knees and feel the natural, joyful bounce of the dance. In samba, the movements should never be exaggerated. They should be practiced until they appear free and effortlessly joyful.

Practice the Samba

Keep practicing these steps to perfect them. If it is something you enjoy, try it at a dance studio. After all, the best way to convey the real feeling of the dance is to listen to the music and, preferably, taking a class from a teacher. Let the music move you as you enjoy all this dance as to offer.

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Samba Dance Steps