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by Shirley Aymé ©

Born in the umbigados of the African slaves sent to work on the sugar plantations of Northern Brazil, the raw form of Samba aroused strong social and spiritual forces. At that time, there were many solo dancers, and the dance form had very symbolic arm and hand movements stemming from a ritual where the dancers waved highly potent aromatic herbs to drug their performance.

In the second half of the 19th century, the slave bands of the plantations, when playing just for themselves, went wild with their own sensuous thrusts and swings. The result was the Maxixe, an exuberant form of tango, which after first being condemned, later ascended to high society. It arrived in Paris around 1905 and was an exhibition rather than a ballroom dance.

In the early 1920s, the music was heard in Paris again, only this time in a slightly more rhythmic form, and under the name Samba. By the 1930s the Maxixe was fading in Brazil, and the more aggressive, simpler Sambas animated in the spirit of Carnival took its place. Gradually the rhythmic beat and interpretative nuances began to take over in the street dancing, cafes, and dance halls, until it found its way as the dancing soul of Brazil.

After the popularity of American musicals and celebrated bands, the early 1950s saw a Samba boom. The relative wealth of the late 1950s and 60s provided a climate for the Bossa Nova—a derivation of Samba created by the middle-class intelligentsia. It did not however have staying power.

Samba is the most light-hearted of all the Latin dances. Flamboyancy, ostentation, and emotion energize the beat with the dominating Samba bounce and abandoned hip and pelvic movements. The body above the waist should be held steady, this is a characteristic of all the developed Latin dances. The upper torso is held poised and toned with the rib cage lifted. The shoulders are held relaxed at normal height, and care must be taken not to raise them. There is a well-toned suppleness of the knees and ankles. The weight of both the man and lady is held forwards towards the balls of the feet and towards the inside edges, while maintaining an earthed position. It is most important that the correct weight distribution is strictly adhered to. Pressure should be made from the floor through the feet to create attitude. As in all Latin dances the more contact the feet have with the floor the better the stability and control will be. Floor pressure should remain constant throughout all movements. The strength of action of the moving foot is taken from the standing foot. Whenever the leg straightens, the knee is not locked back.

There is incredible flexibility through the middle of the torso, and the body above the waist is held poised and steady. When a hip or pelvic action is used, it is not normally reflected in the upper body or shoulders. Bodies are supple and the pelvic girdle is free.

This is a dance where the bulk of the action commences from the feet. The foot, ankle, and calf muscles spell out the bounce. On many figures there is a marked tilting of the pelvis.

The man has attitude. He looks and feels relaxed, yet vigilant and playful. There is elaborate expression. The lady is the centerpiece. She carries herself with an exotic proudness. She epitomizes the power of female sexuality which is her strength and potency. She dances with unruffled grace and ease.


On all Samba figures both with and without bounce, there is a free uninhibited hip and pelvic action. In true Latin-American style all actions are natural and flowing. There are never any forced or thrusting actions.

As a general rule, when taking a step the body initiates the action, and moves fractionally before the step is taken. This is in stark contrast to incorrectly taking a step with the body following. Remember that the feet move faster than the body, and apply the "FFF" principle — "FEET FOLLOW FRAME".


The bounce action is used on all movemens that are counted "1a2" and "1a2a3a4", also to some extent on the Basic Movement when using two steps to a bar (SS). The bounce has varying degrees on each figure which is subject to different actions. If the correct technique is applied, it should come naturally.

The bounce action has a very light feeling with the movement created by the compressing and straightening of the knee and ankle holding the most weight. Move the body in the direction you wish to travel, and then by the use of the knees mark out the rhythm with the feet under the body.

The principle of the bounce action is that there is little or no rise above normal height. Therefore we have two heights, down and normal. The stress is on the downward bouncing drop action, while the subsequent rising action should come naturally and not be stressed. For learning purposes, "DOWN a DOWN" is good terminology. All bounce actions begin with the knees compressed, and the "coming out" which is done on the last 1/2 beat of each beat, refers to the coming out of the compressed knee action to nomal height. It is vital to understand that before taking any new step, the "coming out action" must be made. The action of "coming out" makes the free leg ready to move, ready to start the next step at the beginning of the new count when normal height has been achieved. From this point the knees will compress into the bounce for the first 1/2 of the beat before "coming out" on the second 1/2 of the beat.


There is a strong language of gesture in Samba, and when we dance, every part of the body must enter the harmony of rhythm. To a great extent, the use of arms and hands is a matter of creativity and you should generally do what feels and looks good to you.


  1. Arms down, hands in front of body, perhaps crossed or touching at wrists.
  2. Arms extended out to sides.
  3. One arm straight up over head and other out to side.
  4. Arms down and flexed at elbow, one hand in front at waist and other behind at lower back.
  5. Arms raised overhead, perhaps crossed or touching at wrists.

ARM THRUST—From a bent elbow, going with the pulse of the music, extend yur arm diagonally up towards the corner of the room with the hand flexed. The other arm may be held out in 2nd position (horizontal to the side; straight out) or lowered to continue a diagonal line.

HAND EXPLOSION—From 5th position (arms raised over head) with the hands held back to back, swiftly lower the arms to a low position.

LASSO—Take the arm into 5th position and circle the relaxed hand and wrist.

COMBING THE HAIR—This action is achieved by combing the hair backwards with the palms of the hands in mime without actually touching it.


  • Wrist Isolation and Rotation—Keeping the fingers straight and relaxed, make a rotation in either direction with the wrist.
  • Finger Burst—With the wrists crossed and held out in front at waist level (palms down), clench the fists and then immediately release the fingers to a fully extended position. The movement should be sharp "Zap". You can then continue the movement taking the arms out to 2nd. Or use this action with the wrists crossed in 5th position. A clap could substitute the finger burst.
  • Beckoning Hand—With the palms turned up, keep your fingers extended and relaxed. One by one, bring your fingers in to touch the palm, starting with the little finger proceeding to the index finger.

This essay was taken from chapters 1, 3, & 5 of Shirley Aymé's Latin-American At Its Best — Samba, © Shirley Aymé, 1998. All three of her books are available from IDTA. Click and search for Aymé.

this article was published in the
Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, April, 2009

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