Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Samba made simple

You'd know the look anywhere.  Perhaps you even know the music.  But do you know anything else about it?  It can take months to create a costume and years to master the dance form.  But today, you get a quick view of this quick step in under 5 minutes... and that includes a dance lesson! [The following is from About.com]

Developed in Brazil during the 19th century, the Samba is considered the dance of celebration and joy at Carnival celebrations in Rio. Lively and rhythmical, there are many types of Samba dances, just like there are many types of Samba music. Ballroom partner Samba, one of the popular Latin dances in ballroom competitions, is made up of many different South American dances mixed into one. In Brazil, a Samba dancer is known as a Sambista.

Samba Characteristics

Before Samba became a ballroom dance style, there were many styles of partner dances as well as solo Samba dances. As with the solo Samba, partner ballroom Samba has a quick beat that requires fast footwork. Over the years, the Samba has incorporated elaborate tricks, turns, and acrobatic feats into its basic set of figures. The main characteristics of the Samba are rapid steps taken on quarter beats and a rocking, swaying motion of the dancers.

Samba History

Introduced in 1917, the Samba wasn't adopted by Brazil as a ballroom dance until 1930. In Brazil, Samba is mostly danced solo, and remains especially popular during celebrations of Carnival. The festive mood of the dance is responsible for its continued popularity. In International style Latin dancing, the Samba is one of the five Latin competition dances.

Samba Action

The major action of Samba, the "Samba Bounce Action," gives the dance its unique look and feel. The Samba Bounce Action is a gentle, rhythmic action felt through the knees and ankles. Samba dancers must strive to make this action appear effortless and carefree...it should never be exaggerated. This bounce action is quite difficult to master, but really adds to the overall character of the Samba.

Distinctive Samba Steps

The basic footwork of the Samba includes fast, three-step weight changes with a slight knee lift, led with alternating feet. The basic rhythm is "quick, quick, slow, and." Distinctive Samba steps include the following:
  • Voltas
  • Bota Fogos
  • Kick Change
  • Samba Side Steps
  • Samba Strut
The Samba also has a distinctive, dramatic climax...it concludes with dancers throwing back their heads and extending their arms out to the sides.

Samba Rhythm and Music

Samba music, with its distinctive rhythm, is highlighted by original Brazilian musical instruments, including the tamborim, chocalho, reco-reco and cabaca. Samba is danced to music with a tempo of about 100 beats per minute. The fast and energetic rhythm of Samba music encourages spontaneous dancing, such as in the streets during a Carnival celebration.
Learn How to Samba in 4 minutes

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Who was Morris & why did he dance?

In 1600 Shakespearean actor William Kempe
Morris-danced from London to Norwich.
The Morris dance is one of the most delightful and enduring of the last half a millenium.  Dancers may be of either sex at just about any age and level of fitness.  So just who was this Morris who created the steps still danced at festivals and celebrations round the globe?

The term Morris Dance was coined in the 17th century and is said to have been derived from the phrase Moorish Dance.  The story goes that in 1492 Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille unified Spain by driving the Moors out of the country. In celebration of this a pageant known as a Moresca was held. This pageant, along with the regional dance form known as the paloteao, is still performed in places such as Ainsa, Aragon, the Basque country, Castille, Catalonia and northern Portugal. The original Moresca is believed to have been a sword dance. This accounts for the striking swords and sticks used in Morris dance.

Morris Style
Despite its Spanish beginnings, the dance is now categorized as an English folk style.  The form is lively and jubilant, generally accompanied by an accordion, a fiddle and a drum, and is notable for its colorful costuming.  Costumes differ from region to region.  Many dancers dress in white with colored baldrics (belts) strewn across their chests. Border  Morris Dancers are known for their 'tatter jackets' and blackened faces.  Sides have been historically danced in shoes, boots or clogs. Modern revivalists have tended to favor clogs.  In addition to sticks and swords, some dancers brandish handkerchiefs and bells.

The dance sides themselves have often been called 'maze' or 'garland dances' as they involve intricate steps with dancers weaving around one another. Some dances are performed with a wicker hoop decorated with floral garlands that the dancers hold above their heads. In a few instances, dances are performed across a pair of crossed clay tobacco pipes laid on the floor.

Prior to the English Civil War, the Morris dancing was popular among the working peasantry, especially at Whitsun, where Ales festivities were held. Cromwell suppressed Whitsun Ales, but when the crown was restored by Charles II, the springtime festivals were restored as well. Morris dancing continued in popularity until the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Today four dance teams remain that claim a  continuous lineage of the dance tradition.

The Re-Revival
Cecil Sharp is credited with reviving the dance form on Boxing Day 1899, as it was on that date that Sharp became intrigued by the Headington Quarry, a dance team he saw perform while visiting a friend in Headington.  Sharp began collecting tunes and dances and a decade later gave them to Mary Neal and Herbert MacIlwaine for use by their dressmaking co-op called the Espérance Club in London. The 20th century saw some scattered activity, and in the 1960s the dance resurged with an explosion of new teams, some co-ed, which caused quite a debate as the dance had previously been barred to women in a majority of regions.  To this day, only all-male teams are allowed membership in the governing body called the Morris Ring.

As we gingerly step into the second decade of the 21st century, the current popularity of the Morris dance shows no signs of waning.  Many English villages have revived their previous dance traditions as new teams with their own traditions are springing up worldwide.  And it was just a few years back, in 2007, that 88 dancers participating in The Moreton-in-Marsh Show in Glouucestershire, UK set a world record for the largest Morris dance ever chronicled.

Long live Morris!