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The History and Difference Between Samba and Salsa

by LatinAmericans.co.uk
The History and Difference Between Samba and Salsa
To the uninformed, these two dance styles may appear to be one in the same, but closer inspection reveals a diversity that spans the globe and is as interesting as the cultures that gave birth to them.
If one were to look at a time-line, the samba would precede the salsa by about one hundred years. It is believed that the samba originated in the 1800’s at Cape Verde as part of religious ceremonies then traveled to Brazil with African slaves.
There have always been disagreements about the origin of the word samba, but most probably it is a derivative of the African Bantu word “semba” , meaning “navel bump”, and is literally an invitation to engage in a most intimate dance.
Slaves from Cape Verde and Angola landed in Brazil and brought their traditions with them. The Bahia region became known as “Little Africa”.
samba girlsWhen slavery was abolished in 1888, freed slaves migrated to Rio de Janiero. Samba flourished in these poor neighborhoods. Schools were formed for the teaching of samba dance and music. During this time, Carneval, the most important event on the Brazilian calendar, was born.
The samba was not a big hit with Brazilian upper-classes, however, and was considered to be improper and obscene. As early as 1838, Father Miguel Lopes Gama of Sacramento, CA. wrote against what he called the “samba d’almocreve”, meaning a type of dance drama performed by blacks.
Although samba dancing was initially frowned upon, it flourished with the advent of radio and by the 1930’s, samba was declared “the official music of Brazil
The samba is danced in 2/4 time and, although pairs dancing is acceptable, it is not necessary, as is demonstrated by thel “schools” of impromptu dancers (as many as 50 in a school) seen at Carneval. What is necessary, however, is the “pelvic tilt” (no doubt homage to the “navel bump”), which is very difficult to achieve.
The samba remains a spontaneous and sensual dance form seen in movies, ballroom competitions and ice dancing performances. Sambas popularity has earned it a holiday, National Samba Day celebrated on December 2.


Salsa dancing was born in the Caribbean, of mambo parentage. Devotees theorize that salsa’s roots are Cuban, but that is about the only aspect agreed upon. In fact, the country dances of Europe were brought to Cuba by French escaping from Haiti. These styles mixed with African-based rhumbas and the Cuban Son, a traditional dance with Spanish troubadour roots.
But it wasn’t until Cuban immigrants arrived in New York that salsa got its name, specifically during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Since salsa is a much more rapid spin-off of the mambo, bandleaders would often shout “Salsa!’ to urge their musicians to play faster…and hotter.
Salsa is danced in 4/4 time but unlike the free-wheeling samba, it is a pairs dance, with an exact sequence of steps to be carried out. And unlike samba, which is more flexible musically, some music is simply not appropriate for salsa, with its average of 112-120 beats per minute.
From its mambo-inspired beginnings in movies such as ‘West Side Story‘, to the salsa romantica of ‘Saturday Night Fever’, salsa is the adopted dance of a whole generation, as sign-ups for dance classes continue to prove.


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