Thursday 30 May
So they have a style of dance here I had never heard of – Samba Rock. Except that in Portugese, there is no sound for “r”, because they pronounce it with a “h”. also they don’t end words in consonants, so anything that ends in a consonant has a requisite “y” on the end of it. So my host Michelle is there telling me repeatedly that she wants me to go to Samba Hockey with her, and the ever sport averse Sharon keeps declining because helloooooooo you can’t trick me into doing sport just coz there’s nice music playing to it. And it took 2 full days of conversations before it dawned that she was talking about Samba Rock! Not Samba HOCKEY!!
So day 2 of dancing, this time no salsa. We went to one of the largest dance schools in Sao paulo, where Rodrigues teaches. It was massive, and inspiring. One building with 5 or 6 big studios (can fit about 40 people in each), plus 2 doors down another studio in a shophouse, and across the road another studio. All belonging to this one school. They have all the best instructors in Sao Paulo for each dance genre, from Tango to Samba Hockey (lol) to Salsa (Rodrigues and Karina!!) to Gafiera, etc. It was amazing. Met a whole slew of these instructors as well as the owner and made some very good contacts, and learnt a lot about their operations.
I was given the opportunity to attend an advanced Samba Rock class. And aced it! It is such the most fun dance, and is done to the coolest music. Funky bossa nova. Very cool indeed.
After Samba Hockey class, a bunch of people from the class stopped by at this open air eatery. Dudes, it was like I was in singapore. Down to how it looked, the food they served, the furniture, etc. It was like I was in a street kopitiam for sure, except all the signs were in Portuguese. Down to the old dude sitting behind a counter selling cigarettes. It was like I’d just finished salsa class at ADS and we went to get roti prata around the corner. Totally bizarre. We sat there for a while soaking it all in – felt like I was at home but still so aware that I was in a VERY Brasilian part of town, and the only foreigner there.
After that, Michelle took me to a samba club. In the ghetto. Not like on a ghetto-ish street like we were in the salsa club yesterday. I’m talking, IN the ghetto. Like, she said she wouldn’t have taken me there if I wasn’t brown and could blend in. And it was in a dodgy ass part of town where she, as a local, wouldn’t park on the street.
There was a line so huge it went for 2 blocks – we had to line up for 1hour 15mins. It was crazy slummish, she had warned me that the people going would be very slummish – but it was nothing I was prepared for. imagine being in a line of drunkish crazy Brasilians and being the only person who can’t speak the language, and is a total foreigner. No one’s dressed up – everyone’s just rocked up in whatever. It felt like I was in some weird movie, with peddlers selling alcohol out of crates strapped to their chests, to people in the line who were getting progressively drunker. When we finally got in, I got bag checked and xrayed and patted down for weapons. Everyone did. It was totally surreal being in a shed with metal detectors. Not a favela, but definitely ghetto.
So we get in there, and I feel like i’m in that Christina Aguilera Fighter video, the muay thai club scene. It was just a giant warehouse, a big shed by aussie proportions, rafters exposed, slightly dilapidated, just giant PA speakers and a stage the size of a car for the band, made up of dodgy materials and wires running everywhere. lightbulbs hanging from rafters, photos of famous Brazilian singers tacked up on the walls with nails, Brazilian flags everywhere. Rotting wood walls painted garish pink and a mural depicting a night street scene. A bar made out of several street carts joined together to make a huge counter, prices scrawled on the wood of the cart. Security everywhere. no tables or chairs anywhere – just buckets on the floor for you to throw your empty drink can in. It literally looks like that, and the crowd is very similar looking. Jammed to the rafters – I’m told there’s 600 people in here. It’s just Beers and Caipirinhas or cans of coke. Caipirinhas are cheap (3usd each) and literally made with such voodoo brew that it hurts your stomach as soon as you drink it and burns your tongue. Took me 45 min to finish one small glass, it was that awful.
When we get in, the atmosphere is rife with uncertainty, uneasiness, in my perception, everyone seems nervous and on edge, just very soft bossa nova playing (no loud music) so it’s fairly quiet for a night club… everyone tense, standing around, like they’re waiting… for… something. It was unnerving, I had never walked into a nightclub so silent, so unhappy. I actually was feeling a little worried! Then after about 20 minutes of worry…
The Samba band starts, taking over the entire club with it’s loudness. all of a sudden and without warning. And everyone starts cheering and screaming and the entire shed is one giant mosh pit, moving as one towards the band. It is impossible not to get swept up in the fervent atmosphere – one of the most famous samba bands in Brazil is playing like crazy, the music surrounds you and everyone goes insane, samba-ing, pacheca (a sexy street dance), gafiera, samba rock, they’re doing it all. Those that aren’t dancing are singing with gusto, hands up in air, – not one person in that club is talking – they are all focussed in unison on the band, the music, the singing, the revelry. All of a sudden, all danger feelings are absolutely gone, and for the next 3 hours, we sing, sway as one, 600 people joyfully belting out traditional bossa nova tracks, hands up, hugging, dancing, with no relief, it just doesn’t stop for hours. it is the most amazing experience, the energy is electrifying, young and old, they are all shaking and moving and belting out chorus lines. The band plays amazingly – i’ve never heard anything like it live. They are tireless – keep going with sweat dripping off their brows, eyes closed, singing with incredible stage presence, amazing rhythms, and at once so absorbed in the music they aren’t even aware of the audience.
i’ve never seen a people so connected by music like that. it wasn’t like a concert, or like a nightclub. It was like a house party, a concert, a nightclub and a dancing club all rolled into one, but in the world’s most dodgy shed, everyone squashed in yet moving smoothly, everyone singing yet not rowdy, heads turned up and smiles abound. There is no hint of sleaziness, danger, ego, or the usual macho based issews that come with huge nightclubs.
The only time after entry that I really felt worried/out of place again was when i went to the bathroom – up the back of the club where some dodgy stuff was happening with quite dangerous looking people who gave me a bit of attention I didn’t like at all. Msged a friend, saying, I’m in the ghetto, meaning, if you don’t hear from me in a couple of hours, do something!
We stayed till 3.45am – after having danced for 4 hours, sometimes the samba, sometimes slower pacheca, sometimes just grooving and singing along. Michelle told me later that I was probably the only foreigner there in fact, she had never seen foreigners there in years of attending, as it was such a quintessentially Brasilian place and not really open to others. I was so grateful she had taken me – she had hesitated, she told me earlier, as she was a bit worried that 1. I would be scared and hate it, and 2. that the people were slummy and 3. that people would realize I didn’t speak the language and was out of place, hence try to take me for a ride (she didn’t specify), but she was happy that I just fit right in. She had thought we would go in, stay for an hour and leave but it all turned out ok. It was amazing. Incredible. Mind blowing.
Came home on such a high – I just can’t get out of my mind the feeling of being there, of being so incredibly swept up in the energy, of the beautiful music, the simple enjoyment of the dances, the culture. Of 600 people faces upturned, smiling, eyes closed, swaying, dancing, unable to stop. Dancing such gorgeous dances that make women feel like women and men feel like men. Music that makes your heart sing.
I could quite happily never dance salsa again.