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Jenny and Toby

Samba

American Style Rhythm

Every year in Brazil during Carnival, hundreds of thousands of costumed revelers parade in the streets with one universal beat binding them all: the samba.

Samba is said to have originated in African rhythms. It was developed on Brazilian plantations by rural blacks, who eventually brought it to the cities. Today it is nothing less than Brazil's national heartbeat, claimed by one and all with nationalistic pride.

The music often serves as a kind of oral history, relating current events, raging against inequities or simply celebrating the joys of a great party. The dance is also a solo art form, characterized by rapidly moving hips and a quick transfer of weight from one foot to another.

Samba was introduced at the 1939 World's Fair in New York and more widely exposed in the United States through films. Fred Astaire and Dolores del Rio danced to a Brazilian beat in "FIying Down to Rio," and the enormously popular Carmen Miranda shook her hips (and her fruity headdresses) in films such as "That Night In Rio" in the years before World War II.

In the 1960's Brazilian music became widely popular in the U.S. with the release of Stan Getz' "Jazz Samba" and "The Girl from Ipanema." These bossa-nova standards combined Samba rhythms with "cool" jazz.

In the U.S., Samba evolved into a couples dance performed mostly in ballrooms. Its distinguishing feature is a bounce created by bending and straightening the knee of one leg while subtly changing the weight on the other. The music is usually in 2/4 time, and the tempo is 48 to 56 bars per minute.

Dance histories supplied by Diane Jarmolow of the Ballroom Dance Teachers College and reprinted with permission.