If there was a chance I could go back in time, meet my 20-year-old self and tell him that in the future he will be living in New York City, working as a composer, arranger, conductor, videographer, recording engineer AND teaching forró classes, my younger self would not believe it. A lot has happened in 11 years. Living in New York and working with music were dreams of mine, so it would not be so hard for him to believe. But, to teach forró here? That never ever crossed my mind.
As a dancer I fell in love with forró in my twenties. I felt very passionate about learning this dance style in my early years of college. Besides my musical studies that I always took very seriously at UNICAMP – State University of Campinas – for a year I went to dance classes almost every day in one of the most traditional forró spots in the countryside in São Paulo: Cooperativa Brasil in Campinas. My weekends were dedicated to the nightly parties which was my chance to put to the test the new moves I’d been practicing. It was a time in my life where I was dancing forró almost from Monday to Monday! It was clear that this aspect of Brazilian culture would be essential in my life.
Five years and much forró later, I moved to Miami to continue pursuing my musical dreams. I started my Masters studies at Frost School of Music (University of Miami) and became the composer fellow and assistant conductor at the Henry Mancini Institute. Unfortunately, forró had to be put on hold. Not exactly by choice, but as an imposition of destiny. During that time, Miami did not have an active forró scene. If I wanted to dance it would have to be back in Brazil. I looked forward to summer vacations in Brazil and I’d dance as much as I could. I would see old friends and party until the sun came up.
A few years later, another big transition took place in my life: I finished my doctoral studies and continued to pursue my career and musical aspirations. I moved to New York in 2016 to be part of the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop. I had 1,001 new ideas for artistic projects I wanted to start. However, none of those ideas included teaching forró, let alone creating a website, filming friends dancing, posting forró videos on YouTube or posting blogs about how forró can impact peoples lives. In this new time, life was full of surprises.
Unlike in Miami, New York City already had a forró history, some good active musicians, venues to dance and some people passionate about the style. But, for some unknown reason, the parties and events were not packed with people. I remember vividly one night, talking with accordionist Felipe Hostins at Nublu, a night club in the East Village that has forró events every Wednesday. The venue was almost empty that night: the amount of dancers was not many more than the band, which was made up of 4 musicians. I questioned: “How is this possible? A very talented band playing live music, in a city as multicultural as New York, and there are no people to party?”
Felipe was cheerless, as any musician would be with that little audience turnout. I was worried. We talked and wondered about the reasons that show was so empty and couldn’t come up with an answer. I was hopeful to have this passion - forró - back again in my life, alongside my professional dreams, and I wouldn’t let the opportunity pass me by.
On my way home, an idea came to my mind. While on the subway I made a decision that was sure to be taking up a great deal of my free time in the weeks ahead. Sitting in that empty train car I started to plan the creation of the Forró New York website, the YouTube channel and the Facebook page. Forrozeiros – locals or travelers – should have easy access to information about the forró scene in the city. I wanted to promote any related activity in New York to attract more people to dance, make the parties more fun and make the scene grow. I then bought the domain (forronewyork.com) and started enthusiastically working on the website. It was like a new hobby for me. Coincidentally in the same month, I was invited to teach forró classes with dance instructor Cookie. It was also an important factor to make the scene grow, attracting new people interested to learn the style, just like me more than a decade ago.
Now, after a little more than half a year, I see a re-energized scene that is constantly growing, bringing joy to many people! I noticed that those small initiatives produced significant results. During this period, like myself, many other people took the lead and helped to improve the forró experience in the city. New faces emerged being essential to the growing process! All that somehow brings me back to my early twenties, when I was discovering the forró universe, full of new possibilities. Once again I’m looking forward to each new event, meeting new friends and exploring different moves. Thank you to you all for making this party that is forró even more fun here in New York.
Since forró is alive, well and growing in community, I take this opportunity to invite you all to collaborate to create content for the website and other digital platforms. If you want to tell your history, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org. All stories are welcome!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR - Rafael Piccolotto de Lima is passionate about arts, a doctor of musical arts and a Latin Grammy nominee as a composer. For him all forms of expressions are somehow related. Based on that premise, his interest and work has a wide spectrum: from a tail tux at a concert hall, to the sandals at a worn-out dance floor. Born in Campinas, São Paulo - Brazil, now he lives at the Hudson waterfront, looking at the south of Manhattan.
Edited by: Nikki Baffa and Mateusz Buczek.