Thursday, 7 October 2010
London swings to Samba
When non-Brazilians think of Brazil, they often picture Rio and its legendary “Carnaval”, a magnificent series of floats carrying the extravagantly dressed dancers from local Samba schools, who expertly swing their hips to the beat of the drums. The experience itself is so uplifting that a friend of mine was in tears when she witnessed her first Carnaval. But if getting to Rio next February is not option, you could try to recreate the experience in London.
The London School of Samba (LSS) is the oldest of its kind in the capital and Kanika Findley-Chin has been a member for two years. I caught up with her to find out a little bit about it.
What made you join LSS?
Every year I try to learn something new. I’ve always loved dancing and I’d had a few salsa classes but I wanted to try more Latin dance. Everyone’s seen pictures from the Rio Carnival: the passistas, the colours and amazing spectacle. I‘m not Brazilian and didn’t know much about samba, but I loved the way it looked. A lot of people think it’s just a sexy dance but, it takes a lot of skill and it's also, I think, very elegant. So I did some research and found LSS in Waterloo.
What is a passista?
A passista is a male or female dancer. In the samba schools, passistas are the advanced dancers who samba very quickly, combined with lots of improvisation. The women are easiest to spot because they’re usually wearing big headdresses, sparkly bikinis and huge platform shoes.
How many people are in your class? Are they mainly English or Brazilian?
Class numbers vary week to week. In the intermediate class, where I am, there’s usually anywhere from 12-plus dancers but the beginners class is often larger. There’s a good mixture of nationalities, mostly non-Brazilian though. Many of the dance teachers are Brazilian.
LSS performs at the Notting Hill Carnival. Tell me what it’s like to perform there.
The Carnival theme (this year it was Greek Gods, myths and monsters) is announced months before the actual event at a mini performance showcasing the costume prototypes and different alas (dance groups). About a month before the big day the costume and float workshops begin. We make and decorate all of our costumes, props etc so if you’re performing at Carnival you have to help. It can be time consuming, but it’s a lot of fun and you get to meet other people from the school. Not forgetting to fit in dance rehearsals.
2010 was my second Carnival with LSS so I knew what to expect, but it didn’t make the build up any less exciting. The weekend of Notting Hill we move to our “barracão” or base in Notting Hill, where we spend the last couple of days finishing up costumes and rehearsals. It can be a bit manic – this year only I got a couple hours sleep the night before performing – but the atmosphere is fantastic and you feel like one big family. One of the nights we have “Pagode”, an evening of traditional Brazilian music and dancing washed down with a few beers or caipirinhas.
Are you performing anywhere else?
Two weeks after Notting Hill we performed at the Thames Festival, along the Embankment. LSS perform throughout the year at venues like Guanabara, 93 Feet East on Brick Lane or at private functions.