Forro - Getting Started with Brazilian Partner Dancing
By Joe Naab August 21st, 2012
If I have one regret after my eight years in Brazil, it's that I didn't take up partner dancing, here called Salon Dancing, the moment I arrived. It's a healthy and fun activity, a great hobby, and a great way to make friends and to possibly meet a romantic interest.
Most people outside of Brazil think that Samba is the most popular salon dance here in Brazil. This isn't the case. First off, Samba is most often danced alone, in place, and this is called "Samba no pé". It's what you see during Carnaval. The partner form of Samba is called "Samba Gafieira", and it is learned in a dance academy. Dancing Samba Gafierira can be difficult, involving a lot of fancy legwork like you see in Tango. Danced properly, each move, or "pass", takes a couple of meters of dance floor to execute making it nearly impossible to dance on a crowded dance floor. Danced properly, everyone present must know the proper etiquette of the "rotation" dance floor. This means that they all couples must move around the dance floor in a counter-clockwise direction. This is to avoid slamming into each other. The idea is that you'll let the people in front of you move out ahead of you in the counter-clockwise direction, thus creating space for you that you know they won't use coming back in your direction, so you can comfortably execute your pass without risk of collision.
Another thing to note is that a lot of Brazilians think poorly of Samba Gafieira, saying that it's not real samba, that it's a creation of the samba salon movement. There is a more simple way of dancing samba in pairs, which really isn't samba, per se, but two people holding each other and dancing together to the rhythm of the music.
Dance styles that you'll encounter in Brazilian Salon Dancing and dance academies are Samba, Bolero, Forró, Tango, Zouk, and Salsa. West Coast Swing has recently arrived and each region will also have it's own salon styles that are only danced locally.
Enter Forró Forró can only be danced in pairs. It is a much simpler dance form than Samba, and much easier to learn. It's so easy for the women to learn that most can forego any lessons at all, especially those who have experience in other dance forms. A woman who has never danced in a pair, and has good rhythm and an affinity to learn, can learn in about four lessons and then will finish her learning on the dance floor at the Forró dance parties.
The dance of Forró today consists of two general parts that the man will alternate between during each song depending on how he wants to lead. The first part is called dancing "juntinho", or close together. Ideally, this is chest-to-chest and cheek-to-cheek, very close, with legs interlocking, which makes it much easier to lead (and, yes, more enjoyable). The further north you go in Brazil the closer people dance together when dancing forró. People in the south are more reserved and some women prefer about the width of one's hand's distance between torso's. They might do this with men they don't know or don't care much to dance with, and then dance closely with a man they know.
The second part consists of the "passes", or the turns and other moves done once separated, though almost always with one or both hands connected. These moves resemble the turns from Salsa, and were in fact added to Forró by dancers of Salsa as the forms of forró were evolving in Rio de Janeiro 20 years ago. Early forró was only danced "juntinho" and anyone can still dance this way for the entire song, especially when the dance floor is packed. When packed, this is about all you can do.
In addition to "juntinho", the earlier forms of forró, which still exist, and are sometimes called Pé na Serra, though this is more the name for the original style of music of forró, also included some fun leg play.
The Order of Learning When learning forró, you will start with the basic step, which is essentially "juntinho". You then learn the move to transition into dancing separate, with hands connection, which is called, "the mirror", or "espelho". A beginner will use the mirror as a crutch while he's thinking how to enter a sequence of turns. With experience the mirror is entered into so briefly as to almost not be used at all. From the mirror all other moves are entered. These are regular spins of the woman and the man, reverse turns of the woman and man, and quite a bit more.
The best way to know forró is to see it danced...
Three examples of Basic to Intermediate Level Forró I have always loved these three videos. These guys are so smooth and make forró look so simple and beautiful and romantic. They each dance with the same girl. I am at this level and beyond, yet watching me from the outside will not be anywhere as pleasing as watching these guys.
Four More Advanced Examples "Advanced" can mean a lot of things. Often, it's simply to complexity of the moves performed. It can also be the ability to dance well when the music is very fast.
Develop Your Own Style In the beginning, you'll be so focused on learning the basics and not "screwing up", that you have no time to think about style. As you get better there is a natural tendency to copy the style of one or more of the dancers you think highly of. Eventually, your own style will shine through if you let it. This only comes from spending hundreds of hours on the dance floor such that all the moves are natural and you're no longer thinking, but rather leading with spontaneity effortlessly.
In Closing I hope this gives you a nice taste of what has become my favorite dance rhythm. You can find it in any Brazilian city and people also dance it at house parties. You can make it as simple or as complex as you'd like. You learn it with private lessons and at the many dance academies that you'll find in most every Brazilian city. Have fun!