Looking Back at the History of Samba Dancing

Wednesday the 13th of June, 2018

Today, Samba dancing is best-loved for sparkling costumes, carnival colours and infectious moves.

At Alma de Cuba Liverpool, we offer a sensational Samba experience, from dazzling weekend shows to afternoon tea with a twist.

And to celebrate our passion for Samba, we’re shimmying back in time to explore the history of this spectacular genre…

Brazil Samba Dancing History

The history of Samba takes us back to Brazil, though the origins are deeply rooted in African culture; Samba music is closely intertwined with Brazil’s colonial history.

Shedding light on the African influence, the word ‘Samba’ is thought to have derived from West African word ‘semba’, which relates to West African religious traditions.

During the 16th century, Portuguese traders brought West African slaves to Bahia in Brazil. To the distaste of Europeans, slaves brought with them a celebratory culture of music, drums and dance.

As the years passed, Samba music and dance survived in Bahia through private celebrations. By the mid-19th century, Brazil had abolished slavery, and families of former slaves moved to Rio de Janeiro.

Upon moving, the families settled into the poorer neighbourhoods surrounding the city. It was here that communities developed Samba from a fusion of influences, including Brazilian maxixe.

Learning How to Samba Dance

By the late 1920s, Samba clubs had been formed in Rio. The dedicated clubs would teach members how to dance following the festive rhythms of Samba music.

The clubs that began to form in the early days of Samba are now better known today as Samba Schools. The gatherings were formed more officially around the 1970s.

The organisations bring dancers together as they practise for Rio’s world-famous Carnival season. When the time comes, the groups take to the parades to showcase vibrant routines and colourful costumes.

Schools certainly take things seriously, with some featuring as many as 4,000 people. Dancers typically dress in coordinated, distinguished outfits to match their impressive choreography.

Throughout the years, the genre has evolved into an array of variations. Though Samba began a solo dance style, one of the most popular variations today is Ballroom Samba.

A lively alternative to traditional Ballroom dancing, the fast-paced style is performed with a partner, and incorporates elements of waltz and tango.

The Evolution of Samba Costumes

Carnival costumes can be traced all the way back to colonial Brazil, when Portuguese colonists introduced the tradition for Lent. The festive time of year would see socialites dress in striking costumes and parade through the town.

Those taking part would wear elaborate masks and costumes, designed to showcase wealth and glamour; the rest of society would gather in the streets to catch a glimpse of the excitement.

By the 1930s Brazil’s Carnival had significantly grown in popularity. And more and more people wanted to get involved. This saw a shift in the style of Carnival costumes.

Since the traditional costumes had been so elaborately designed, they were simply too expensive for the masses to attain. Furthermore, the heavy outfits were proving impractical.

Rio’s sweltering temperatures meant that excessive, thicker materials were too uncomfortable. Taking this on board, local businesses began to design cheaper, more comfortable costumes in lighter colours.

The Rio parade of 1932 saw groups of people from all backgrounds come together to celebrate. Hotels, theatres and clubs hosted their own celebrations and best-dressed contests.

brazil samba dance history

Source: AboutBrasil.com

The more inclusive and contemporary feel to Carnival continued to develop over the years. Men began to attend the celebrations in drag, flaunting their most eccentric costumes.

The elitist traditions of Rio’s Carnival were gone for good!

Contemporary Samba Costumes

By the 1950s, the phrase ‘less is more’ certainly came into play! Long gone were the days of thick, uncomfortable costumes. The 1950s welcomed a change in style and in attitudes.

Taking a risqué turn, each year saw Carnival dancers wear less and less. Ladies attending the parades would wear brightly coloured bikinis rather than elaborate costumes.

brazil samba dance history

Rio Carnival dancers in 1998 – Source: Bucket List Events

A far-cry from the era of extravagant dresses, greater emphasis was placed on feathered headdresses and sparkling tails. The art was now in the finer details and creative accessories.

Though the pressure of expensive costumes had faded away, opportunities for self-expression were more prominent than ever. The shift in style can still be seen at Rio Carnival today.

Alma de Cuba Samba Dancers

At Alma de Cuba, we fully embrace Carnival culture. Our Samba performers showcase similar attire to Brazil’s most dazzling dancers. We bring an essence of Brazil to Liverpool city centre.

Celebrating the very best of Carnival culture, weekends at Alma incorporate Samba show performances and petal showers certain to get you up on the dance floor!

Alma de Cuba samba dancers

Since we like to do things a little differently, Alma de Cuba afternoon tea is also given a colourful twist! You can join us for a delicious selection of sandwiches, sweet treats and a spot of Samba dancing.

Our Samba Afternoon Tea offer gives guests the chance to dine in true Brazilian style with our showstopping dancers.  The unmissable deal is available for just £24.95 per person, and includes a glass of prosecco. Perfect!

A visit to Alma is one you won’t forget, which is why we’re a favourite for hosting special celebrations and birthday nights out.

To keep up with our latest deals and offers at Alma de Cuba Liverpool, make sure you’re following us over on our Facebook page.

We look forward to having a shimmy with you soon!

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