This ethnographic project focuses on the frevo tradition of Recife, capital of Brazil’s Pernambuco state. Recife’s annual pre-Lenten Carnival is a spectacle that showcases a variety of local cultural traditions, including frevo—from the word ferver (“to boil”), it is an energetic music and dance that symbolizes Pernambucan culture. Loud brass instruments provide the fast-paced music, and dancers in bright costumes hold tri-colored sombrinhas, or small parasols, as they perform acrobatic feats, dropping to their knees before springing up into high airborne splits. Frevo originates from capoeira, a better known Afro-Brazilian art form, but it represents a particular Pernambucan regional variation on Brazilian national identity.

Frevo is listed among Brazil’s intangible cultural heritage for its role in Pernambuco’s mestiçagem, or “mixed” racial/cultural identity formation. Frevo represents a regional variation on Brazilian national identity and narrates notions of identity that contribute to social empowerment and valuation of popular culture. This research on frevo and other popular dances of the region aims to understand the political role of such performed cultural expression, how it serves to engage communities and empower marginalized individuals.

Project Summary

Image source: Prefeitura de Olinda/Wikimedia Commons

“The Frevo Tradition and Pernambucan Cultural Identity in Recife, Brazil” is an ethnographic project by Dr. Kate Spanos, who has received a postdoctoral Fulbright U.S. Scholar award to study frevo dance and music in Brazil. She will be based at the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco in Recife for six months, starting in January 2018. The project is an extension of Kate’s dissertation research, which focused on similar themes in dance, music, and festival on the Caribbean island of Montserrat.

This website features observations, photos, audio recordings, videos, and other resources gathered during Kate’s fieldwork in 2018.


Image source: Guerreiros do Passo

I am a dancer and dance scholar who is interested in the role of “dances of resistance” in cultural identity formation. I am especially focused on the interweaving of African and European traditions, stemming from my background in Irish dance and my doctoral research on Afro-Caribbean dance and music. I am also interested in bridging the academic studies of music and dance, which are necessarily intertwined in community practices, but less often explicitly linked in the methodological approaches of ethnomusicology and ethnochoreology, or dance anthropology. Such research can fill in gaps that other disciplines such as history, sociology, and literary studies leave behind, giving attention to forms of cultural expression that are not always written or voiced in archives or official documents. Research on the practice and preservation of the highly valued frevo tradition and other popular music and dance practices of Pernambuco may contribute to the local community, as well as to a greater understanding of this complex society among non-Brazilians.

I received my PhD from the University of Maryland, College Park School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies, and I work for the School as coordinator of marketing & communications. My host institution in Recife is the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco (UFPE) Department of Music.

Visit www.thekatespanos.com.


Photo by Kate Spanos