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What is Forró Roots Style?

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

Forró Roots is a new and trendy forro dance style among forrozeiros worldwide - a specific niche of forró dancers.

But why do people call it Roots if it is a new style? You might ask.

The beginnings of a new dance style

The title (Roots) relates to the origins of the style. It developed in Brazil in the 2010s in parties and events that favored traditional (older style) songs; the musical "roots" of forró.

The exact origins of the style are hard to pinpoint, but many forrozeiros agree that the Itaunas forró festival and the Rootstock forró festival played a big part in its natural evolution.

The name "Roots" likely came from people talking about dancers that liked to dance to these traditional forró songs and would go to Rootstock forró festivals and similar events.

Precursors of the style

Years before anyone started calling this way of dancings as "the Roots Style," many dancers were dancing in ways that could be considered indirect precursors of this new style.

I remember going to forró parties in my hometown of Campinas (São Paulo) in the mid and late 2000s and seeing some people dancing a little bit different than most. Most people there were dancing what we call Forró Universitário, but a small number of experienced dancers would use fewer open turns and include little kicks and walks as part of their repertoire. These forrozeiros would go to a dance venue in São Paulo called Remelexo, where a different way of dancing was emerging. We used to refer to these dancers as "Paulistinha." One of the prominent figures of this dance movement was Evandro Paz, a dance instructor at Remelexo. Talking to him, he called his way of dancing the "Forró Balada" or "Forró Urbano," a style suite for the crowded forró parties in São Paulo. His style is different from what we consider Roots today, but nonetheless, it pointed out another way of dancing compared to Pé-de-Serra/Universitário style.

As with this example, we can only imagine a similar phenomenon happening in other cities and forró venues. The constant exchange of experiences at parties and festivals would be the perfect scenario for the natural development of new ways of dancing.

Forró Roots Style dance characteristics

The style uses a different repertoire of movements and body language, compared to the Universitário style developed in prior decades (the 1990s and 2000s). While Forró Universitário dance style was influenced by social dances that favor open-position turns, such as Salsa and Samba-Rock, Forró Roots favor movements in close position, influenced by styles such as Samba de Gafieira and Tango, usually involving walks and intricate partner footwork.

Roots is a style that continues to evolve and has a natural crossover with Forró Pé-de-Serra (Universitário), so it is hard to isolate it as a completely different dance, especially considering that if you go to forró parties, you will see much variety on the dance floor. That being said, these are some common characteristics among Roots dancers:

  • Focus on close-position movements;

  • An embrace that varies angle and proximity during the dance and allows various kinds of body contact and space for footwork;

  • Movements focused mostly on the lower part of the body (especially legs and feet);

  • Less activity on the upper body and arms (compared to Universitário Style);

  • Use of sacadas de perna (leg lifts);

  • Use of walks, interrupted walks, and turns together in close position;

  • Use of contratempos (upbeats) and footwork ornaments;

  • Preference for songs with a middle to upbeat tempo that matches the energy for the typical footwork associated with the style. Very slow xotes are usually avoided, as well as ultrafast forrós, xaxados or baiões.

Additionally, Roots dancers have the inverted turn (also called "Giro Paulista") as a favorite turn of the style. This particular turn was widespread in São Paulo during the Forró Universitário movement (the 2000s), but it lost popularity with the advancement of 5-step turns used by dance schools like Pé-Descalço. It regains popularity with Roots and is now considered an emblematic turn that Roots dancers use in open-position.

Higher entry point

This can be a hot and controversial topic. While Forró Pé-de-Serra (Universitário) is known to be a very welcoming dance with a low-level entry point, Roots can be pretty different.

Forró Pé-de-Serra (Universitário) can be quite forgiving technically - you can make many movements work without the proper technique and it will (kind of) work. It requires just a few basic steps for you to get started dancing and participating actively in social events. The attitude of dancers also tends to be very welcoming.

Forró Roots, on the other hand, tends to require a higher technical level of the dancers and precise body language to execute movements that are typical of the style, making it much less beginner-friendly than Pé-de-Serra/Universitário. The attitude towards complete beginners can be discouraging for some.

That being said, it is important to point out that Universitário Style can also be quite complex and technically challenging depending on the kind of movement you are doing. The difference is that the entry point is lower for Universitário, making it very welcoming and beginner-friendly.

How about the music? Is there such a thing as Forró Roots music?

No. Roots dancers tend to have a preference for certain kinds of forró music - as I mentioned previously -, but these same songs can be used to dance Forró Universitário Style and, of course, the original rural version of the dance - "dois pra cá dois pra la" (two steps to each direction). There is no such thing as Forró Roots music.

That being said, several forró DJs - especially the ones who like to play Vinil records - focus their repertoire on the kinds of songs well suited for Roots movements; usually mid-tempo "old school" songs with a strong rhythmic sense.

Roots variety

It is interesting to observe that various so-called Roots dancers can have very different ways of dancing. Two good very contrasting examples - teachers in recent Forró New York Weekend editions - are Daniel Marinho and Juruna. While Marinho has a smooth, almost ballroom dance style, Juruna has a jumpy and groovy way of dancing. Some people differentiate them by naming Juruna's dance as Itaúnas Style.

See videos below as examples:

Forró: a dance in constant evolution

It is nice to observe many dancers mixing - once again - both ways of dancing, using movements from Universitário and Roots styles in the same dance. Depending on the music played and the dancer they are sharing the dance floor with, these forrozeiros lean more towards one or another style.

I am one of these "hybrid" forró dancers, incorporating some Roots elements and characteristic movements in my dance, which is originally based on the Pé-de-serra (Universitário) style of the countryside of São Paulo (where I learned how to dance in the 2000s).

Other well-known dancers that do this crossover well are Milena Morais, Mardio Costa, Mara Figueiredo, Nati Militão, Icaro Abreu, Pamela Barron, Victinho Maia, and Camila Alves, to name a few. Watch their videos on social media and you will see what I'm talking about. You can see some of these examples as part of my "Forró Reaction Series" on youtube.

If you want to learn more about the other styles of forró, watch the video collaboration with Victinho Maia below:


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About the author

Rafael Piccolotto de Lima is an experienced teacher. He is passionate about arts, a doctor of musical arts, and a Latin Grammy nominee as a composer.

For him, all forms of expression are somehow related. Based on that premise, his interest and work have a wide spectrum: from a tail tux at a concert hall, to the dance shoes at a worn-out dance floor.

Born in Campinas, São Paulo - Brazil, now he lives at the NYC area, teaches weekly forró classes in Manhattan and produces some of the best forró festivals in North-America.

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