It happened to me some two years ago in Brazil. In the small town of Itacaré, in the state of Bahia to be exact. I was in an open-air dancing place set in a lush garden overlooking the ocean. The musicians just started playing the first song of the evening and the place was slowly coming to life. Lost in the middle of it, I found myself again face-to-face with the major challenge of all my travels. How do I make myself belong to a place to which I clearly don't belong?
And then I saw them. The first couple started dancing. Their dance seemed a bit like salsa but it was slower, gentler, more sensual. It felt as if they were translating music into movements in a smooth, effortless and natural way. They were in close embrace; and yet, in flawless harmony with each other, they seemed free. Every now and then they would make a few graceful pivots and come back into each other's arms. It seemed like a perfect union of feminine and masculine energies; the fusion of elegant self-confidence of the man with grace and beauty of the woman.
Watching them dance, I slowly drifted into a daydream. It felt like I was being seduced by the music, dance, people and the ambience of the place. I just stood there for hours, fascinated, watching the Brazilian life unfolding in front of me. It must have been around midnight when someone asked me:
"Do you like the dance?"
"Yes, very much. What dance is it?" – I said.
"Forró, come dance with me"– the voice answered.
The clash of reality with a daydream can be harsh though. I clumsily tried to replicate the movements, I had spent hours watching. Where did all the flawless elegance go? While the girl I was dancing with was playful, happy and wanted to enjoy her evening, I was holding her awkwardly in my arms and performing my gringo dance. I was trying to step forward and backward, "one, two, three... one, two, three", stepping on her feet, blocking her, not being able to connect my movements to the music.
After a short while, I had to excuse myself and rush towards the bar. I then realized that a man has to lose his personal dignity endless number of times before he learns how to dance. But from around the bar, with a caipirinha in my hand, I found myself being strangely attracted by the dance floor once again. I just couldn’t wake up from this dream.
I then promised myself: “No matter how much effort it takes, I will learn dancing forró and I will come back to Brazil one day as a good dancer”. Little did I know that this promise would shape the next couple of years of my life.
After coming back to Switzerland, my dream of dancing forró was still very vivid in my mind. I found the dance association Forró de Genebra led by a Brazilian dancer Milena Monteiro. For Milena, a daughter of two dancers, dancing is as natural as walking. She quickly became my first forró inspiration and endured many hours of classes with me, patiently tolerating my absolute inability to follow the rhythm.
After several months of dancing three times a week, I was still nothing but a clumsy dancer, whom women warned each other not to dance with while refreshing their makeup in the restroom. Rhythm-less Europeans start learning dancing from the level that more naturally musical Brazilians never even knew existed. It took me about six months of work before I started to feel what the rhythm was. And another several months before I could connect a few basic pivots to my steps and started to feel that I was somewhat dancing.
But despite that my progress was painfully slow, forró entered my life in another way. I made close friends in the group Forró de Genebra and my social life skyrocketed. We were dancing in the park by Geneva lake, throwing dance parties and going to forró festivals. We would also sometimes fly to Portugal for a weekend and just dance for three nights in a row.
About a year after my visit to Brazil, just as I started feeling that I belonged to the group, I had to move once again and ended up in New York. Re-establishing my life from scratch without a single familiar soul around was not easy. But one thing was clear: no matter what, I would simply not stop dancing. I quickly started researching and found out that there were three places where one could dance forró in New York: Nublu, Beija Flor and Miss Favela.
Needless to say, I would not miss a forró evening. With time, I started making friends with other forró regulars, who also seemed to draw their energy for life from dancing. As I was slowly settling in New York, forró once again started to be the major joy of my social life.
I then met my second forró inspiration, Rafael Piccolotto de Lima, the founder and editor of this site. Being a composer, Rafael dances as if he was conducting an orchestra. Every nuance of the music is reflected in his moves and passed on to his partner. Watching him dance, I started discovering a deeper level of interpreting and feeling the music. Once again, long after my visit to Brazil, I could just go out dancing in New York and lose myself in the dreamy, mysterious world of forró.
I have a feeling that the time has come for me to return to Brazil soon and live my dream. I should probably find each and every girl who suffered while dancing with me and redeem myself on the dance floor. I wonder how it will feel to experience Brazil once again, but this time around, being able to dance. Maybe I will write you about it one day.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR - Mateusz Buczek grew up in Poland and spent most of his life pursuing his natural attraction to freedom; which led him to developing interests in travels, cultures, photography and sports. He lived and worked in Serbia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Thailand and Switzerland, and spent extensive periods of time traveling. He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Edited by Silvia Alencar and Rafael Piccolotto de Lima.
Photos by Marc Schiffler and Forró de Genebra