Samba lessons from Brazil

I was recently in a traditional Samba club called Democraticos in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.  I was in Rio to do cultural intelligence training for the United Nations and one night, post-conference, a bunch of us gathered in Lappa, a district of Rio.

Think people.  Lots and lots and lots of people.  People filling the streets, drinking in tiny establishments, such that tables spilled onto the sidewalks.  It was mayhem and it was invigorating.

Our group gathered in a club that looked like we’d stepped back into the 1930’s.  The dim lighting barely illuminated all the sumptuous architectural details.  The large stage was only outsized by the huge dance floor.  When we arrived, at 10:00 pm or so, the 10 piece band (yes 10!) was setting up.

Good, icy cold beer made the wait worth it,  as did the one couple who took to the dance floor with a flourish.  As the band tuned up they twirled about to canned tunes.

Some two hours later (yes, at midnight) the band started playing.  There is something that gets to your very cellular level about a 10 piece band playing traditional Samba music, especially those soul rattling big drums.  Oh! Oh! Oh!

There’s also something about traditional Samba that is hard.  Hard to dance to.  Hard to dance to as a couple.  No faking it here.  You gotta know what you’re doing.

The one couple who had claimed the dance floor to start with kept it up and barely a soul joined them.  When we left, despite being there with local Brazilians (who presumably learn to swivel their hips in the womb), only one other couple was dancing.

What was up with that?  What is it about the intimacy of dancing directly with another?  Of learning how to lead and how to follow?  Of following your partner’s subtle cues that direct you to turn this way, or dip that way?

Has the global emphasis on the individual affected even our ability to dance?

Samba lessons from Brazil.  Have we lost the ability to connect with one another on a more intimate level?  Are we afraid to make mistakes in public and look foolish?  Or is it okay sometimes to sit back and be an appreciative spectator?  What do you think?

Check out the individual, Carnival type Samba at the beginning of the clip and then watch for the more traditional, couple style Samba.


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