The Samba is associated with the Brazilian “Carnaval” and the music embodies its lighthearted rhythm and sensuality. The Samba provides us with an upbeat and rhythmical dance that is quite unique among the latin dances and is often a very practical dance for social dancing.

Sometimes called the South American Waltz, the Samba pulsates to a unique Latin rhythm.

Teaching Elements:

  • Forward and Back Motion–Weight changes incorporating vertical motion
  • Side Motion–Weight changes incorporating vertical motion
  • Slip Action–Progressing, side, crossing
  • Timing–Hold action, timing changes, phrasing
  • Turns–Changes of direction with control and proper body and arm action
  • Compare/Contrast–Waltz, Rumba


The word Samba comes from the word “semba”, found in West African languages. For the African slaves brought to Brazil, semba had a variety of meanings such as prayer, or to invoke the spirit of ancestors or gods. As an adjective it could mean regret or sadness, something like the way the term “blues” is used in the southern United States.

The first direct written reference to Samba in the Portugese language used to denote a rhythm or dance was in 1838. An article appeared in the local newspaper “O Carpuceiro” written by a priest named Lopes Gama. Over the years the popularity of Samba music and dancing grew in Brazil unil they became inextricably linked with Brazilian culture. Samba is danced in every Brazilian community and in virtually every household.

Rio De Janeiro ultimately became the capital for Samba but the dance gained world wide appeal afer an exhibition dance in Paris in 1905. This dance was showcased again in the New York World Exposition in 1939 and movie star and singer Carmen Miranda is credited with continuing its popularity in North America through the early 1940’s.

Since that time Samba has developed in the dance studios into the form that is taught today, an exciting and dynamic Latin dance that is quite adaptable to many modern pieces of music. Samba is currently danced in professional competition in the International Latin division.


Samba has a very unique rhythm written in 2/4 time (2 beats per bar of music) with heavy accent on the second beat. It’s music has a heavily accented pulsating sound that can be quite “tribal” in nature, a repeated “bum-pa-BUM” sounding rhythm that, once you learn, you will always be able to recognize.

Samba tempo is recommended at 48 to 50 bpm (bars per minute) for the International Style and a slightly faster 52 bpm for the American Style but it can be danced at quite a wide range of tempos for the social dance floor.

Today’s Samba music is influenced by Jazz and other Latin rhythms. The music is festive and fast paced with a sound associated with Rio’s “Carnaval”. The basic count is “Slow a Slow” or “1 a 2”.


Walking steps and side steps are the basic components of Samba using a triple rhythm often counted “1 a 2” with the music. One major characteristic of the Samba is the vertical bounce action, a unique element distinguishing it from all other latin dances. Most steps are taken using the ball of the foot and lowered to flat as if trying to ‘squish’ a spring down that is attached to one’s heel.

Knee action along with body sway and “pendulum motion” makes the accomplished dancer look effortless and carefree while maintaining the pulsating rhythm of the music. A subtle hip action and centre isolation help to give it a smoother but sexier look. Unlike most other Latin dances this dance can travel around the floor in a counter clock-wise fashion as the Smooth and Standard dances do.
Samba can be a very practical and fun social dance to learn.  At its highest level it incorporates actions and technique from every other dance giving it an exciting and varied texture. These textures range from the Samba bounce, circling hip actions, fast cuban motion and smooth waltz-like rolling body movements.

Samba songs and artists include:

  • One Note Samba – Antonio Carlos Jobim
  • Macarena – Los Del Rio
  • Copacabana – Barry Manilow
  • Quando, Quando, Quando – Engelbert Humperdink