Rio teacher out to prove 'gringos' can samba, too

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 12, 2013 at 7:08 am •  Published: February 12, 2013
Advertisement
;

When Campos opened her studio last year, a roster of around 40 students, all of them women and nearly all of them foreigners, followed her. Most have husbands or partners who were transferred to Brazil and are here on spouse visas that don't allow them to work.

"A lot of my students have had a really rough time integrating. They don't speak Portuguese and haven't made many friends here," said Campos, who gives the lessons in Portuguese, with a healthy dose of hand gestures and a sprinkling of simple English words. "Samba is their way of integrating Brazilian culture, and they throw themselves into learning how to dance it well."

That dedication is clear at the lessons. Even the shyest of students stare themselves down fiercely in the mirror, as if willing themselves to nail the steps. So much effort goes into the getting this that Campos periodically has to remind some to stop scowling and smile.

Despite the heat and the intensity of their concentration, every face in the class lights up when they rehearse the routine and song the group performed at the Sambadrome last week with the Academicos da Rocinha samba school. Feet get thrown into high gear. Faces are frozen into beaming smiles, and even those who can barely muster a "hello" in Portuguese belt out the lyrics to the school's theme song with gusto.

Student Mandy Gulbrandsen, a 37-year-old mother of one from Salem, Oregon, radiates excitement.

"I never, ever imagined I'd be dancing in Carnival in a costume that's so small that I should be wondering where it went," said Gulbrandsen, who moved to Rio about a year and a half ago with her husband, who works for Merrill Lynch. "I danced ballet and tap as a kid and that helps, but nothing prepares you for this."

Gulbrandsen said it took her about 10 lessons to manage to dance anything even vaguely resembling the samba. Her British-born classmate Jane Strachey said it's taken her even longer.

"I've been taking classes for about a year, and my moves have definitely improved but I have to face the fact that I'm never going to dance like a Brazilian," said Strachey, who moved here with her husband two years ago. "When I went to my first Carnival, I thought these girls were so beautiful and I wanted to be able to dance like them."

"And 12 months later, I am, but 'gringo' style," she said, employing the Portuguese word Brazilians use to refer to all foreigners.