My first experience with truly authentic black culture and dance in Brazil happened
in the city of Ilhéus. As we traveled closer and closer to Salvador the culture
continued to change, the number of Afro-Brazilians rose and the African influence
on Brazilian culture became apparent. After a short tour of the city of Ilhéus,
we were greeted by an Afro-Brazilian dance group at the entrance to the Batacan
Cultural Center, a former brothel that had been converted into a restaurant and
historic site. The brothel used to be a place where the so-called colonels (of cocoa)
of Bahia would meet to discuss business and be entertained. According to Teresa,
our guide originally from Angola, it had an underground tunnel that connected the
church to the brothel. During church service the colonels would sneak down to the
tunnel and have secret meetings.
The Afro-Brazilian dance group consisted of three dancers and three drummers. Two
of the dancers were dressed in gold, with white highlights, and they danced on the
lower step of the restaurant. The other dancer on the top step was dressed in white
laced in gold. She seemed to be more accomplished in the art of Afro-Brazilian dance
than the other two dancers. I could tell this by her more intricate movements compared
to the other two dancers. The movements of her feet were quick, and there was a
lot of hip and head motion. The drummers were very talented; the beat of the drum
was in sync with the dancers. The cultural ensemble also performed during dinner.
Inside the restaurant there was a singer who also played the guitar. His music was
not Afro-Brazilian until he joined the Afro-Brazilian dance group and drummers.
The dancer in white was the main dancer during this performance. The other two dancers
got the crowd involved, making the night fun and enjoyable.
The Rio Scenarium club is located in the district of Lapa, in the old town of Rio
de Janeiro. The street was illuminated with neon lights, which gave the street an
appeal of its own. That night there was a steady drizzle, which dampened our mood,
but little did we know what surprises the samba club would have. It had five floors
that were furnished with antiques, giving it the charm of a bygone era. As soon
as we walked in, we took a few steps and around the corner there was a live band
that played traditional forró and contemporary samba music.
From the start the band had the crowd dancing. As I looked around the club, it seemed
to be a place where Rio’s middle class could enjoy themselves. Soon after we arrived,
another band performed, and this band was better than the first one. As soon as
this band started playing nearly everyone left their seats to either enjoy the music
or watch the dancers.
The movements of the dancers were very fast with their feet keeping pace with the
music. I noticed that the females would dance on their toes, while the men danced
on their heels. Both men and women had amazingly fast hip movements. When couples
danced together, their hips would move in the same direction, but their feet would
not. To dance together the males’ feet have to replace where the females’ feet used
to be. It was incredible how the males never stepped on the females’ feet. One couple
was especially good; they twirled and danced all around the floor, showing up everyone
else. The male was Afro-Brazilian and the female was Asian-Brazilian. I was not
quite sure if they were professional dancers, but they were very talented at dancing
the forró and made a great team.
Video of Ilhéus
Video of Rio Scenarium