As I prepare to leave Recife 😢, sinto saudade, as they say. This song, “Último Regresso,” was one of the first frevo de bloco songs that I heard when I got here back in January. I was at the Bloco da Saudade prévia and I remember not understanding anything except for the last line, which everyone screamed, “…dizendo bem, que o Recife tem, o carnaval melhor do meu Brasil!”
It has been an incredible six months. I have to thank the Fulbright Scholar Program and Fulbright Brasil Commission for this opportunity to learn another culture, another dance, another city, and another language. This work has been intense and exhilarating, and although my body is exhausted (so much dancing!), I feel intellectually and emotionally refreshed. I’m looking forward to presenting my work and writing about my research findings.
Yesterday was a great event for me! Escola de Capoeira Perna Pesada had a women’s encounter that included some of my favorite things: capoeira, frevo, and even Irish dancing! I was invited to teach an Irish dance class as part of the day’s activities and I was really happy to have the opportunity to share a bit of my culture with the group. It all came circle for me.
My first introduction to capoeira (and Brazilian culture in general) was in Ireland when I was doing my Master’s in Traditional Irish Dance Performance at the University of Limerick. I was reading a book chapter about Laurie Booth, a British dancer and choreographer who used capoeira to develop his technique, and I thought, “Capoeira? What a funny word. What is that all about?” I was intrigued and asked my course director if I could do capoeira for my second semester elective. She found a teacher for me, Mestre Piau of Grupo Candeias in Limerick, and so it began.
I returned to the US and started training with Mestre Curisco’s Grupo Capoeira Malês in Chico, CA and then the same group in Washington, DC. And it was through capoeira that I was introduced to frevo—someone said to me, “You should try frevo because it’s more like Irish dancing”—that is, more vertical, lots of footwork and kicking, heels and toes, etc. I think the implication was that I didn’t quite have the ginga (or swing, swagger) for capoeira; I’ve always struggled to “get low.”
So I did a bit of research on frevo and immediately loved it. I thought, “Hey, I can do that!” Until I saw the big leaps and squatting movements. That’s another story 🙂
In any case, this is why is was very special for me to be able to teach Irish dancing at a capoeira event, and we even had a frevo+capoeira class at the end. The frevo+capoeira was taught by Professora Paula who was visiting from Halifax and I had a great time mixing the frevo moves I’ve learned with the “game” of capoeira. The game felt liberated from the aggressiveness of capoeira but also from the pressure of having improvise a solo in frevo—I could play off of my partner so there was more action/reaction. I got a chance to see how effective the move abre alas is in practice. It works! It made me understand a bit better, experientially, how capoeira could have turned into frevo back at the turn of the 20th century.
There was also a lecture at the end about Valdemar de Oliveira’s Frevo, Capoeira e Passo book from 1942 about the development of frevo from its capoeira origins. She explained something I hadn’t thought much about before—that is, how capoeira in Pernambuco is (and has been) different from capoeira in Bahia. I think the capoeira from Bahia is more widespread now, even in Pernambuco, but historically they were very different. So when we are thinking about how frevo could have developed from capoeira, it is important to remember that not only did it not develop from the capoeira we know today, but did not develop from the capoeira that may have existed at the turn of the century in Bahia. Pernambuco has, of course, its own specific context.
So it all came full circle for me. A perfect end to my six months here in Recife.
Yesterday we went to Goiana to see the final competition of Quadrilhas Juninas da Globo for the state of Pernambuco. There were ten groups competing in the final and all of them were breath-taking.
I knew nothing about quadrilhas before I went, and I was stunned by the spectacle, the incredible costumes, the complex choreography, the diverse storytelling, and the emotions of both performers and spectators. I learned that there is always a casamento (wedding) and other various characters (bride and groom, priest, narrator, etc.) and there are certain elements that are common among all groups—I was especially impressed by the skirts! Many of the women’s roles were danced by men, adding an element of transvestitism and queerness to the event that I had not expected.
Besides those common elements, every group had a creative take on their story and adopted various historical perspectives. Since Festa Junina celebrates saints São João, Santo Antônio, and São Pedro, there was obvious religiosity, but the groups approached the stories from various religious perspectives, including Afro-Brazilian (orixás and their Catholic saint counterparts) and Evangelical.
The winner was Quadrilha Junina Lumiar, who will go on to the regional competition next weekend, where they will compete with the best from other northeastern states, such as Ceará, Paraíba, and Alagoas. Go Pernambuco!
Lest you think I have been working working working without any rest—you would almost be right, but we have taken a couple short beach trips recently! I’ve been so busy with dancing, reading, and interviewing that I haven’t gotten out enough to enjoy the beautiful views here. With my trip coming to a close, I decided it’s time to get my nose out of the books and relax a bit!
The first was in Boa Viagem, which is here in Recife, but feels like a whole different city. You can’t go swimming there because of shark attacks (someone was attacked just hours after we were there) but we could enjoy the beachy atmosphere and pretty views. There is always something relaxing about just seeing the water and hearing the waves.
This weekend we went to Porto de Galinhas, where I purposely did absolutely no work for two whole days. I didn’t even write in my field journal! I had a caipirinha on the beach (my annual drink) and we ate fresh fish with macaxeira at the barracas. Basically, we just walked on the beach, ate, drank, and enjoyed the views. The beach is beautiful and we saw some pretty intense waves (with surfers!) in some areas, but also calmer conditions around the piscinas naturais (natural pools).
I have a little more than a month left in Recife and things are speeding up more and more as I approach the end of this research trip. A lot has been happening since my halfway point reflection so this is my “three-quarters point” reflection.
The month of May has been filled with interviews which have been fun, informative, and overwhelming. I spent the first couple months here just soaking things up and getting a lay of the land (also called “deep hanging out,” to quote anthropologist Clifford Geertz), and then I spent the next couple months in dance classes every day to dig into the “participant observation” phase of my research. Now that I have met some people, and I have a better idea of what is going on here, I have been able to approach some important figures in Recife’s frevo world to ask them some better-informed questions.
Eduardo Araújo and Lucélia Albuquerque from Guerreiros do Passo offered great insight into their group and their commitment to ensuring the continued legacy of Mestre Nascimento do Passo.
Ferreirinha do Frevo spoke passionately about historical and current cultural context of frevo in Recife and explained some of the “darker” history of frevo, indicating that frevo is not all smiles and colorful umbrellas.
Valéria Vicente comes to frevo as a foliã (someone who enjoys carnival and dances frevo in the streets) and is also a dance artist and scholar who has created works and written books about frevo. Her scholarship and artistic work has been very informative for me, as she touches on themes of resistance as well as the somatic experience of frevo.
Bruna Renata is the director of the Companhia do Frevo de Recife and practices many different dance styles besides frevo, including ballet, jazz, dança de salão (ballroom/partner dancing), and more. She offered a unique perspective on modern influences on frevo and innovation within this genre of dance.
Júnior Viégas directs his own Stúdio Viégas and is my frevo teacher at Escola Municipal de Frevo. He is an artist who works primarily within the frevo genre—he is extremely active in the frevo world and he talked to me about his experiences directing his own company, teaching at Escola Municipal, and offering “vivências” for visitors at the Paço do Frevo (a museum dedicated to frevo).
Laércio Olímpio comes to frevo as a folião and is also our professor with Guerreiros do Passo. He demonstrates inspiring creativity and ability in his dancing that brings a certain carnival “spirit” to the space. He spoke to me about the differences between the frevo of previous generations and frevo today, offering great perspective on what has changed and what has stayed the same.
Fabinho Soares spoke to me about cavalo marinho and maracatu rural from Zona Da Mata. Fabinho is one of the best dance teachers I’ve ever had because he combines historical/cultural/political context with the nuances of the movement and he teaches us how to respect these traditions. He offers an important perspective for better understanding the multiplicity of cultural expressions in Pernambuco.
And I still have more interviews to go! The amount of information I’m learning from each of these people is overwhelming, and each one shapes my understanding of frevo in unexpected ways. I’m grateful that they have all been so willing to speak to me and share their knowledge.
As a result of these conversations, I have also been pointed in the direction of many important books and articles written about frevo and popular dance in Recife/Pernambuco. In case you think my days are filled with dancing (those are my evenings, haha), I have been trying to cram as much reading in as possible. This is no easy task for me in Portuguese, but I’m managing.
(By the way, Evernote is my best friend, and I am not being paid to say this. I don’t know how I’d organize all this information: articles, photos, notes, video links, journal entries, etc. All tagged and compiled into digital notebooks.)
Meanwhile, I am continuing to take dance classes nearly every day and my body is in pain, but happy (good pain). We are also going to capoeira classes at Mestre Perna Pesada’s academy in Encruzilhada, which has been great fun. It has been awhile since I’ve trained capoeira and it feels good to get back in the jogo (game). My introduction to Brazilian culture was through capoeira, so it’s been interesting to go back to that world after having been in Brazil for a few months.
I am planning a couple more trips for my last month. At least one of these will be purely recreational—I still have not spent time at the beach, besides a short walk in João Pessoa, and I am also hoping to swim under a Brazilian cachoeira (waterfall). Festa Junina is also coming up throughout the month of June so we are planning to travel to some other cities in Pernambuco that are known for great music and dancing. I’m ready to dance some forró! 🙂
The event started at around 9:30pm and went all night! (I admit that I only lasted until around 1am. We had to drive 1.5 hours there and back.) I have been watching videos of cavalo marinho and learning some basic steps in class, but I was so excited to see it live and in its complete context. There is something about cavalo marinho that I am drawn to—when I first saw a video (less than a year ago) I was immediately drawn to the music, which, for me, is reminiscent of some combination of Appalachian and Irish fiddle with minor Greek tones and Brazilian rhythms (all of which have personal meaning for me). Then the dance is intriguing—it reminds me of Appalachian flatfooting mixed with urban house dance (?!). But it is not those things and there is something about the posture, a tilt of the head, or something—plus something a bit different in the music—that has made me curious to learn more. I still don’t understand it at all, but I’ve learned more.
Cavalo marinho is very colorful, full of amazing costumes, instruments, and props (for lack of a better word). The energy is intense—it is simultaneously a bit intimidating and also light-hearted. There were lots of kids there who seemed to openly express what I was feeling at every moment: fear, concern, confusion, laughter, boredom, intimidation, disgust, joy.
I am not in a position to explain the content because (1) I am unfamiliar with the characters and the stories, (2) I couldn’t hear anything, and (3) Even if I could hear, I couldn’t understand. So I picked up what I could visually and, I suppose, kinesthetically. What was clear to me was that this was not a performance by any means—it is not a “product” to be “consumed” by others. This event was for the brincadores, the people who were directly participating in the folguedo. That said, there were a few moments when the floor seemed to open up to anyone in the crowd, and people would join in for a few steps. I was interested to see that Fábio played multiple roles; I don’t know if that’s common or if he was filling in for lack of participants, but his energy and versatility were astounding.
Here are some of the characters:
Cavalo marinho has nothing to do with frevo. The only connection, it seems, is that they originate from nearby places, but the people who dance them and the contexts in which they are danced are very different. Still, I am learning a lot about the “landscape” of popular dances in Pernambuco by learning what some dances are and what they are not.
I’m fortunate to have many great teachers here to guide me through this research. Fábio is one of the best dance teachers I’ve ever had because of his attentiveness to the nuances of the movement and insistence that we continue to search for the proper “energy” (which comes from body posture; exact angles of the feet, legs, torso, arms; rhythm and connection to the music; facial expression; etc.). Along with teaching these basic steps and physical postures, he is open to sharing his thoughts about the state of cavalo marinho today and provides lots of historical and present-day context. These lessons only deepen the kinesthetic learning and help me better understand what it means to “embody” a collective memory or experience. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to see cavalo marinho live and better understand where this folguedo comes from.
We went to João Pessoa for a few days! The main purpose of the trip was to interview dancer and scholar Valéria Vicente, but we also have some friends there and were able to enjoy the beach, landmarks, and some music.
Valéria Vicente is an artist and scholar who has written a number of books and articles about frevo, including Entre a ponta de pé e o calcanhar (2009) and Frevo para aprender e ensinar (2015). She has also choreographed many original works using the vocabulary of frevo in various ways, such as Fervo (2006) and Pequena Subversão (2007). She teaches at the Universidade Federal de Paraíba in João Pessoa and is finishing her doctorate in Artes Cênicas at the Universidade Federal da Bahia. She is a Recife native and is extremely knowledgeable about frevo and other popular dances from Pernambuco. It was a great pleasure to sit down to talk with her!
We took advantage of our short time there to visit the beach (finally got my feet in the water!) and do some quick sight-seeing of the southern coast of João Pessoa.
We saw a concert on Thursday evening with Diana Miranda at the Usina Cultural Energisa, and she had some amazing guests, including Nathalia Bellar, Paulinho Ditarso, and Mahatma Costa, who is an accordion player from Olinda in Pernambuco and is a world champion. He was incredible! And played some great forrós—we even got up to dance a bit. At the very end, he played “Vassourinhas,” so it has become obvious that we cannot avoid frevo at all here. (That’s a good thing! And I did a few tesouras to celebrate.)
The great composer Vital Farias was also in the audience and Diana played one of his most famous songs, “Ai Que Saudade de Ocê,” another one of my favorites.
João Pessoa is a beautiful city and I wish we’d had more time to explore…and enjoy the beach! Definitely a place I want to return to.
Pablo and I just spent a long weekend in Salvador, Bahia! I have wanted to visit this city ever since I was first introduced to Brazilian culture through capoeira in 2008. This was more of a trip for leisure and less for research, although of course I learned a lot that informs my research in Recife.
The first thing we did was visit the famous area of Pelourinho, which was filled with beautiful architecture, artisan shops, ice cream (!), and just an overall great vibe. I felt immediately that the energy in Salvador is unique.
I got a fitinha (ribbon) tied to my wrist within 10 seconds of stopping in Pelourinho; I made three wishes that will supposedly come true with the ribbon finally falls off. We also visited the Igreja do Senhor do Bonfim, which is in the neighborhood of Bonfim, and people tie the fitinhas to the gates and say a prayer.
We walked through the streets of Pelourinho on Friday night, and I could hear capoeira music coming from many windows and doorways. Hearing the berimbau and atabaque was incredible—there is nothing like capoeira music and all that it evokes. We stopped by the original academy of Mestre Bimba, who created what is today known as capoeira regional. It was very cool to see the tiny space and imagine all the history that happened there.
I was also excited to see a short performance of the Balé Folclórico da Bahia at the Teatro Miguel Santana. They performed a variety of styles, from orixá dances to capoeira and maculelê to samba de roda. They had some incredible percussionists (I was especially impressed by the guy who played “Asa Branca” on the berimbau) and two beautiful singers. This video by AFP gives a sense of their work:
We visited the brand new Museu da Casa do Carnaval, which just opened its doors this February. The museum gives a video interactive tour of the history of Bahian carnival, and the displays were filled with incredible costumes, instruments, and decorations. I could have spent the entire day there! It was very interesting for me to learn how different carnival in Bahia is from carnival in Pernambuco—and it is no less rich than Pernambuco. The creativity is awe-inspiring. We also had a fun dance lesson at the end of the visit—we entered a dark room and we were instructed to put on some of the carnival masks and hats that they had available. Then they played a dance lesson video on the big screen and we learned a bunch of the popular carnival dances from over the years! #bootyshaking
It was also interesting to visit the Casa do Rio Vermelho, which was the house of famous Brazilian author Jorge Amado. The house was filled with collectible art pieces from around the world, had a toad pond in the back yard, and had a beautiful garden. My favorite part was a little gazebo/grotto in the garden that was filled with silver ornaments symbolizing the orixás (from candomblé), which twinkled in the breezy sunlight.
Of course I had to try the food in Salvador! Here is Pablo’s acarajé and my abará (which might be considered the “lite” version of the fried acarajé). Everyone was right—it was delicious!
I also had a real Bahian moqueca which was made with fresh local fish and was, again, muito gostoso.
Even though it’s April, I even got to experience a bit of Salvador carnival while I was there! Ivete Sangalo is a famous singer/performer who has performed at every carnival in Salvador for the past 26 years. This year, she had to miss it because she gave birth to twins. Now that she is working again, they decided to have a special show just for her! We went out to Avenida Oceânico to await for the much-anticipated trio eletrico—it was quite a show!
The trip was short but we packed a lot in. I would definitely like to return to Salvador in the future and spend more time exploring the city and some of the natural sights surrounding the city.
April has been the month for dance classes! This month I dove headfirst into frevo and cavalo marinho classes, and I’m starting to see the hard work and consistent practice pay off. Not only are the movements getting physically better, but I’m also working on musicality, rhythm, and developing the right “feel” for the dances. I’m also lucky to have instructors who are willing to talk to me about the historical and cultural context of the dances.
I have been taking two classes a week at the Escola Municipal de Maestro Fernando Borges with instructor Junior Viegas. The class is for beginners, but there seems to be an expectation that everyone in the class has seen frevo, is familiar with the context (i.e., Carnival), and has a willingness to try some pretty difficult moves. We always start with a quick warm-up and stretch, followed by some movements in the middle of the room. The class is fast-paced and the music is loud, so I always feel jolted awake with a bit of an adrenaline rush. I am still learning the names of steps, so it takes me a second to, first, know what step we are being asked to do, and second, figure out that step! We also do some movements across the floor in pairs, which gives us some time to observe our fellow classmates (and catch our breath). I am enjoying the challenge of learning a lot of new steps and feeling improvements in speed, control, and flexibility over time. The class is an hour long, and it goes by quickly!
I am also dancing with the Guerreiros do Passo every Saturday afternoon at Praça do Hipódromo. The class is three hours long! I started taking classes with them before Carnival, but they took a break and started up again after Easter. This class is based on Nascimento do Passo‘s method and is quite different from class at Escola Municipal, although there are similarities. We do a lengthier warm-up and stretch to non-frevo music (salsa, hip hop, anything to get the heart pumping), followed by a frevo-specific warm-up that includes rhythmic exercises that help us ease into the music. Although one instructor leads the class (currently Laércio Olimpio), there are a bunch of other Guerreiros instructors who walk around and give us individual tips.
We do two rodas, when we make a big circle and clap to the music while each of us has an opportunity to improvise individually in the center. The first roda follows the first section of class, which seems to focus more on footwork, and the second section seems to focus more on floorwork. I appreciate having two opportunities because I have been trying to use the first roda to get warmed up, feel the music more, and not try to do anything too fancy. In the second roda, I try to take more risks, which for me is doing more movements “em baixo” (low), and eventually I want to try to do some jumps too.
We always end each roda with a fun confusão that is reminiscent of the fervent, sweaty madness of Carnival 🙂
After the second roda, we usually cool down with some other popular dance styles. Over the past few weeks, these styles have included Afro, coco, cavalo marinho, and ciranda. This is awesome because each style is very distinct (in terms of both movement and music), but there are little connections between each of them. Including other dance styles in the class helps contextualize frevo for me (as an outsider), as something that is distinct but is also part of a larger “constellation” of popular dances from Pernambuco.
I also did an interview last week with Lucélia Albuquerque and Eduardo Araújo of the Guerreiros do Passo. It went for 2+ hours and I was so appreciative of all the information and opinions they were willing to share with me! Class goes by so quickly and we don’t often have a chance to ask questions and hear the reasons why certain things are done a certain way, but it is clear that the Guerreiros do Passo have thought through everything and create their work with clear intentions.
In addition to frevo, I have continued Fabio Soares’ cavalo marinho and maracatu rural classes at the Paço do Frevo. I’m always astounded by his attention to detail and insistence that we feel the nuances of the movement. The footwork may seem rather basic at first (for example, stamp two feet together and then step back twice), but Fabinho corrects our posture, our knees, the height at which our foot comes off the ground, exactly how our feet hit the floor and how they sound—everything matters. As he says, if we don’t do it just so, “é outra coisa” (it’s something else). For example, he can demonstrate how the same footwork in cavalo marinho and caboclinhos can have such different dynamics in terms of weight and sound. I might not have noticed if he hadn’t pointed it out, but it’s clear if you know what to pay attention to.
Maracatu rural is an interesting style and I am aware that I need more context to fully understand what we have learned so far. We, of course, do not dance in the amazing costumes that they wear, but Fabinho leads us through some exercises that help us get “the feel” for the dance. It is a bit aggressive and what we have done so far is “deflect” attacks from him or from another classmate while doing a simple footwork pattern to the rhythm of the music. It feels very much as though it exists in that in-between (liminal) space between seriousness and playfulness; I’m not sure what part of it is a game and what is a fight, or if it’s both simultaneously, and whether I should laugh or run away (ha!). Although it looks nothing like capoeira, that feeling of impending attack countered by playfulness is familiar.
Cavalo marinho continues to be challenging. I have never been so intimately aware of the bottoms of my feet and how they connect to the floor—which is an interesting thing for a percussive step dancer to admit, but, of course, I always step dance in shoes, and we do cavalo marinho class barefoot. We usually only do two or three steps per class and we repeat them over and over again. Somehow it doesn’t get boring; Fabinho gives so much feedback that I’m constantly adjusting and readjusting my posture and weight transfer, and discovering new things in the process.
I also attended one cavalo marinho class with Frank Sosthénes at Carvalho Stúdio de Dança in Boa Vista. That class was an entirely different experience. We did a ton of steps, one after the other, by following Frank dancing at full-speed in the front of the class. I loved the exposure to more steps and variations, and it was very challenging to keep up! We learned a choreography in the second half of class which included a mergulhão, which I’d only seen, but never participated in. This is a roda (circle formation) where one person goes into the center and “calls” another person, who then calls another, who then calls another, and so on. The “caller” and the “called” do a specific step that seems to go by in a blink of an eye. I have been fascinated while watching this because I can’t quite tell what the relationship between the caller and the called person is—there is momentary eye contact, but by the time you are called, you already have to think about who you are going to call next. It was fun (and admittedly frustrating) to try this for the first time, and I’d love to know more about what’s going on there.
Finally, I had one more new dance experience this month! I tried a vogue class with Edson Voguee, who is also a Guerreiro do Passo. He often incorporates vogue into his frevo solos, which works surprisingly (or not so surprisingly) well. There are certain similarities, especially in terms of floorwork (e.g., duckwalk and “patinho”). The class was also at Praça do Hipódromo and it was incredibly fun; I accessed some attitude within me that I’d never known was there 🙂
When I first met Edson, I actually recognized him from a video I saw last year on Facebook: “Dance Your PhD 2017 – Pop, Dip and Spin: The Legendary Biosensor For Forensic Sciences.” A vogue version of a dissertation in Forensic Sciences at Universidade Federal de Pernambuco!
Here also is a short video made by Ricardo Mantovanini about how Edson thinks about the relationship between vogue and frevo:
And on that note…are wrapping up the month of April in Salvador, Bahia, so stayed tuned for an update on that trip!
In my last post, I wrote about Otávio Bastos’ frevo cinquentão class and how we are playing around with dynamics using the story of frevo’s origins in capoeira. He shared this video on his channel “Mexe com Tudo,” in which he explains what he told us in class about the two styles and “drible.” Check it out!