Dancing With My Eyes Closed

My bossy, wonderfully precise samba de gafiera dance teacher

Today I went to my second official Danca de Salao class, where I am learning Samba de Gafiera, Bolero, and Saltinho. These are dances I had never even heard about before landing in Brasil in 2010. I love the surprise of them. I could say, Eu fico encantanda–I am enchanted with them.

The first couples dance that I ever learned was salsa, and I learned it when I spent a month in Cuba over 10 years ago. Salsa defined the rhythm for how I moved my body in a couples dance, but these dances are very different. Bolero and samba de gafiera require you to keep your legs much straighter, and there’s not nearly as much movement of the hips.

The first time I went to an afternoon Baile (or ball) at Centro Cultural Carioca, I decided it would be my ambition for now, and maybe for a lifetime, to learn to dance like these people do: for the pure joy and grace of it. They move smoothly from dance to dance, gliding across the floor, their faces broad smiles. The Bay Area is full of salsa, but Brasil is so rich in its dance traditions: forro, bolero, frevo, maracatu, samba de gafiera. Plus they know how to dance salsa and zouk, a Caribbean dance that has become the lambada of this millenium!

I thought that I wanted to learn capoeira in Rio, but I realized when I went once to a capoeira class I just wasn’t feeling that much joy from it, so I waited and I thought, gosh, I want to dance like these people. So I have been going to classes and making steady progress.

What’s great about being an iniciante, a beginner, is that I get assigned an experienced dancer as my partner at most of the classes. So it’s almost like a private lesson. Today my partner, rather, teacher, Barbarosa focused on teaching me the basic steps of samba de gafiera and bolero. He is extremely strict, which I like.

When we got to bolero, he told me to dance with my eyes closed. I had to wait to anticipate the way he would direct me. I could not be “rebelde” (rebellious) going my own way. There’s always a subtle, or not, machismo running through these Latin partner dances, though it’s common to see women dancing together, and many women know how to lead. I find dancing with my eyes closed to be quite an amazing experience, to have so much trust in my partner, to be responsive, but at the same time to have to know what I am doing. Samba de gafiera is complicated and as the woman you can’t rely entirely on your partner–you also have to know your moves. Dancing with your eyes closed means you have to be absolutely present in your body. Anticipation of the future is forbidden.

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