Day 09: How To Dance Samba – Women

photo: Adriana Salazar

Brazil's Carnaval kicks off on February 24th, and nowadays, there’s an unending list of online resources for learning to dance Samba, from YouTube to Google to But when Alma Guillermoprieto wrote the book ‘Samba’ in 1990, the resources we take for granted today were in short supply. Her story goes on for some length, so we’ve excerpted parts of it, being careful to capture all of the magic and playfulness of the original text.

It’s sure to bring a smile, and we’d like to thank Alma, and her publisher Vintage Departures for bringing such a wonderful book into the world. You can order a copy here.

How to Dance Samba: Women

1. Start before a mirror, with no music. You may prefer to practice with a pair of very high heels. Though samba is a dance that started out barefoot, and can still be danced that way, high heels will throw your spinal column out of whack and give your pelvis the appearance of greater flexibility. Platform shoes with relatively wide heels provide the best combination of stability and shock absorption.

2. Stand with feet parallel, close together. Step and hop in place on your right foot as you brush your left foot quickly across. Step in quick succession onto your left, then your right foot. Although your hips will swivel to the right as far as possible for this sequence, your head and shoulders should remain strictly forward. Otherwise you'll start looking like you're doing the hora. Practice this sequence right and left until you can do it without counting.

3. Test yourself: Are your lips moving? Are your shoulders scrunched? No? Are you able to manage one complete left-right sequence per second? Good! Now that you've mastered the basic samba step, you're ready to add music. Choose Zeca Pagodinho, Jovelina the Black Pearl, Neguinho of the Hummingbird or any other sambista you like and start practicing. The key thing at this stage is speed: when you are up to two complete sequences per second you are well on your way to samba. Aim for four.

4. A samba secret: Add hips. They're probably moving already, but if you are trying to hit required minimum speed they may be a little out of control. You want to move them, but purposefully. When you step on your right foot your hips switch left-right. When you step on your left they switch again, right-left. Two hip beats per foot beat, or about twelve beats per second, if you can manage.

5. Stop hopping! Keep your shoulders down! Face front! The magic of samba lies in the illusion that somebody is moving like crazy from the waist down while an entirely different person is observing the proceedings from the waist up. Keep your torso detached from your hips and facing where you're looking, and practice with a book on your head until you can stay level at full speed.

In her book ‘Samba’, author Alma Guillermoprieto writes: “The magic of Samba lies in the illusion that somebody is moving like crazy from the waist down while an entirely different person is observing the proceedings from the waist up.” She's posted even more Samba secrets - including tips on what to wear!

Here's one more: Let your arms move easily, bent waist-high, and a bit slower than your feet or your hips. The final touch comes when all of this comes together in a perfect flow or symmetry and Samba: Let your inner alegria make you smile!

The 12 Days of Samba:

Day 01: An Introduction to The 12 Days of Samba and The Malandro Project
Day 02: Was Joao Gilberto a Malandro?
Day 03: Previewing Miguel de Leon's Annual Christmas Concert In Chicago
Day 04: Winter reading: 'Samba' by Alma Guillermoprieto
Day 05: Famous Malandros In Pop Culture
Day 06: A Cachaça Holiday Cocktail
Day 07: Seven Samba Stocking Stuffers
Day 08: Personal Notes: Samba Snapshots From The Malandro Project
Day 09: How To Dance Samba - Women's Version
Day 10: How To Dance Samba - Men's Version
Day 11: 100 Years of Samba and The Malandro Project
Day 12: The Malandro and 'The Lights of Christmas'

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The Malandro Project was recorded in Rio de Janeiro with saxophonist Leo Gandelman and MPB’s Leila Pinheiro to celebrate 100 Years of Samba and its iconic character, the charming, roguish bad-boy Malandro. A combination of cultural myth and historic fact, the Malandro’s roots can be traced throughout the history of Samba. The Malandro Project album will be released in early 2017.

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