It’s commonly believed that Brazil’s national dance is Samba. Not so. There is only one dance rhythm that is danced throughout the entire country and it’s called Forró (fo-HALL). The dance is at least 50 years old and the music is older. In fact, the music predates the name, Forró. The music began very simple, with only three instruments—the triangle, accordion, and the zambuma. A zambuma is a single, large drum worn over the shoulder. Both the top side and bottom side are played, with the top having the bass drum sound and the bottom sounds more like a snare. See the video below (which has additional instruments, because it’s Forró Universitário).
The three-piece forró band music is called Forró Pé da Serra. Other styles have since emerged and are more regional in nature. Up in the northeast there is a type of Forró Electrónica which I don’t like so much, though it is loved by many. Here in the south we prefer Forró Universitário, popularized in São Paulo. See the video to the left of a live performance of the most popular forró universitário band in the country, Falamansa.
There is some backstory as to the origin of the name, Forró, and I’ll save that for another time. What I’d like to write about here is the dance itself. It’s very fun and probably the easiest of all Brazilian partner dances to learn.
The earliest versions of Forró involved dancing very close with a lot of leg play and little or no spinning or complex salon dancing moves. The dance originated in the northeast. As it spread south, it eventually reached Rio de Janeiro. In Rio, all dance forms go through experimentation and eventually evolve into something different. Spin moves from salsa were fused into forró to give it the look it has today, which goes by the name forró universitário (both a style of the music as well as a style of the dance).
Here you’ll see a video I made of my instructors after class. They are wonderful dancers and this is forró universitário, though Carlos, like all good dancers, adds his own personal style.
If there is one thing I regret, it’s that I didn’t start to learn to partner dance the moment I arrived. Not only is the dancing fun and healthy, but the community of salon dancing is fantastic. It’s like a big family. There are dance schools all over every city. There are at least 30 here in Florianópolis of various sizes.
Interestingly, forró isn’t taught as a stand-alone rhythm very often. It is included in courses whereby you learn three or four rhythms gradually over the course of a year or more, starting at the basic level and moving up at your pace.
I encourage every foreigner in Brazil to explore the salon dance community. Having done so only in the past year has been a great addition to an already enjoyable life here.