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Forró: Steps from the Northeast

By Sibel Tinar, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – Samba, the festive, high-energy dance that is one of the national symbols of Brazil is actually not as ubiquitous as one may imagine. It may be the most popular, but couple’s samba is difficult to master, and the fast and solo samba no pé is in fact not a common sight with the exception of Carnival time.

A couple dancing forró, photo by Natalia Bezerra/Flickr Creative Commons License.

Forró, a dance of Northeastern origin performed to addictive rhythms by couples in a close hold, may not be as well-known as samba outside of Brazil, but you will see it on almost every dance floor in Rio de Janeiro year-round.

In Rio it would be safe to say that wherever there are couples and music, there is also forró, because contrary to popular belief it is not named after a specific genre of music but is a style of dance which can accompany pretty much anything.

Traditionally, forró is danced to Northeastern rhythms such as xote (the slowest), baião, and arrasta-pé (the fastest), but the popularity of the dance precedes that of these rhythms, and the bands that play them are usually known as “forró bands”. They are most often trios that make use of three key instruments: a zabumba (a type of bass drum), an accordion, and a triangle.

Originating in the North East with clear influences from European folk music, to this day it forms an integral part of life in that part of Brazil. “Knowing how to dance forró is almost a matter of survival there”, says Diego Alvarez, a Carioca who has spent many years in the city of Fortaleza, Ceará. “A forró band plays in every show, and everybody dances. You either dance, or get cast out.”

Rio de Janeiro may be a long way from Fortaleza, but here dancing is just as essential to socializing, and is a particularly attractive option for foreigners who may not have been as exposed to one-to-one dancing as the average Brazilian. “Dancing forró isn’t that hard, so any gringo with a bit of rhythm would be welcomed with open arms on the dance floor”, says Joanna Todd, who left her native Scotland to travel around Brazil. “It is not pretentious, and it is quite fun.”

Rio offers seemingly endless options for someone who wants to put their dancing skills to test, or simply to admire the incredible dancers that Brazil has no shortage of. Almost every establishment that primarily features Brazilian music has a night of the week dedicated to forró.

A forró band performing at Feira de São Cristóvão, photo by Arthur Neto/Flickr Creative Commons License.

Every Wednesday is forró night at Clube dos Democráticos, one of the most famous venues in Lapa, the center of Carioca nightlife. Casa Rosa, a popular club converted from a brothel in Laranjeiras, has Tuesday nights reserved for forró and in the same neighborhood, the Northeastern restaurant Severyna de Laranjeiras has different forró bands playing every Monday night.

If you want to experience the dance  in an unmistakeably Northeastern atmosphere, however, Feira de São Cristóvão, also known as Feira Nordestina (Northeastern Fair), would be the standout choice. Starting every Friday night at 8PM and carrying on until Sunday with non-stop performances, this major Rio attraction offers everything genuinely Northeastern among its 650 stalls, with endless music and food options at one convenient location.

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