I didn’t get around to going to the real Carnival this year, so this weekend I went with a couple of friends, Kathy and Alyssa, down to the Lafayette Bar & Grill in Tribeca for a little end-of-Carnival Samba party. It was hosted by a Samba meet-up group I joined a while ago but whose meet-ups I never had the courage to attend, owing largely to an insane experience I had in Quenia Ribeiro‘s Samba class at the Alvin Ailey extension.
Well, I am happy to say that this time, though I was nowhere near perfect, or even good, I did much better! Or at least I felt much better. The meet-up group’s founder, Marizete, who is from Brazil, began the evening with a little class. She first taught us the steps, which were so much more basic and easier than anything I’ve learned in ballroom Samba and certainly than Quenia’s class. Quenia’s class was more focused on Bahian Samba, or Samba Reggae, which seemed more African and even a little hop-hop infused than what I was used to with ballroom. But Marizete taught only the Rio style, whose steps are smaller, and, to me, more basic than Bahian style. And the emphasis is more on sexiness, attitude and just overall style than on detailed traveling movement patterns, difficult isolations, and changing rhythms. The basic is simply, crossing one foot in back of the other, sliding the other foot a little bit forward and then bringing the back foot up to meet the front with a little hop. And then added with that were some pelvic rolls while standing, pelvic rolls while bending knees and going all the way down to the floor, then pelvic rolls while turning slowly in a cirle, and, at the end she added some pretty arm movements.
Here she is showing us how to roll our hips. It was a lot of fun, and way way way the hell easier than the Bahia / Reggae style, for me. I just look like such a goof trying to do African dance, although I’d really like to be good at that some day. The only thing so ridiculously hard for me to master in Marizete’s class was doing so many things at once — I’m so uncoordinated! I was fine with the basic, fine with the pelvic / hips rolls, but once we started trying to turn in a circle doing the pelvic rolls, I just couldn’t seem to manage both at once. And once the arms were added, forget it. I was going in the wrong direction, bumping butts with poor Kathy, whacking the guy on my other side with my arm, moving my hips in the same direction I was turning in instead of opposite, which I think was the way it was supposed to be… I was a mess! Thankfully there were so many people on that crowded floor, I don’t think anyone really saw me making mistakes galore. Most of the people were not experienced (unlike those crazy Ailey students) so I didn’t feel like that much of an ass. And, I think with practice this is something I could actually do okay.
Here she is trying to teach us the arms.
After the class, we all sat down and had some drinks and dinner, and listened to a Bossa Nova / jazz band, which was lovely. Of course they performed some samba too, in honor of Carnival. And there was some general dancing. I watched Marizete dance with several guys and it was really interesting to see they way they partnered. They were connected and maintained the normal frame, like in regular partner dancing, but they each kind of did their own thing; it wasn’t formal ballroom at all. The guys would just kind of lead her in a certain direction and she would do the Carnival-samba basic with her regular cute bouncy hop, even though the guys weren’t doing the samba basic but just kind holding her and walking her around the floor. There was another woman there who was very good, who was doing the same thing only way faster. It was like watching a Carnival dancer going at her own pace, but maintaining connection with a guy who was just kind of going at a quarter her speed and then not even doing the same footwork. So it looked very asymmetrical, but it still somehow worked. I so want to dance like Marizete and the other woman I saw.
During the band’s breaks, Marizete played some tapes she’d brought of recorded live music at past Carnivals in Rio. Everyone got out on the dance floor and just bopped around to those. Even people who couldn’t really do samba, who’d missed the class or forgotten the basic got out there; we all just did our own thing. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, the rhythm just gets you!
Then, at the end, a local band, “Manhattan Samba,” played, and they were fantastic! They were all percussion like a regular street band, and had a leader bearing a whistle around his neck blowing out directions. Marizete came out dressed in a Carnival costume and danced a few numbers.
Here’s one of the band. They were having a blast, as were we just listening to them. There is nothing more infectious than a Samba percussive band; nothing!
To Marizete’s left is one of the guys she was dancing with, whom I think she’s taught. I wish she would teach more formal lessons. She seems to create such a nice, fun, social, very informal atmosphere, which for me, is so much more conducive to learning than being around already-perfect dancers, like I found at Ailey. Although Ailey was more challenging and I’d like to go back to Quenia’s classes when I’m better, I need something more basic for now, until I have more confidence.
Anyway, very fun night. The only drawback was the wait-staff at Lafayette Bar & Grill. So nasty. First our waitress was very annoyed when we asked her for a bit more time deciding on our order. Later, when asked for more water, she basically reprimanded us, telling us she “can’t be walking around with the water pitcher.” We waited about twenty minutes until we were able to get the attention of a busboy. At one point another waitress crashed into me, then instead of apologizing harrumphed; apparently I was standing in her way trying to take a picture. About half an hour before the show was over, our waitress threw down our check saying gruffly, “show’s gonna be over soon.” When we looked at the bill, it was more than we’d expected. When I added it all up, I realized they’d already added a $12 “service charge.” This was in addition to the cover charge we paid to get in, so I assumed it was a mandatory tip. While I understand why they do that for large parties, we were only three. I think if they’re going to host special events there, they should train their wait-staff a bit differently…