Author: Nicole M. Hill (July 28th, 2019)
Samba is my family, the International Samba Congress, Los Angeles is my family reunionNicole M. Hill
I was fortunate to discover my samba mãe and teacher Dill Costa six years ago. Dill is an amazing dancer, singer, and actress who makes all her students her children. In Chicago, where I live, there is a vibrant Brazilian community filled with live music and cultural events. Eager to learn and experience more I was excited to attend the inaugural International Samba Congress, Los Angeles in 2017. This was my first opportunity to be exposed to other great teachers.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, sometimes you can feel isolated and lost in the crowd at large dance events. But the Samba Congress is different, like all things Brazilian it is warm, energetic, welcoming, and inclusive. Whether you are new to samba or a teacher at the Congress you will be embraced and learn so much. Samba was already my family, the International Samba Congress, Los Angeles became a family reunion of sorts. There I discovered many distant cousins and elders who know all the family history and have so much wisdom to impart. Although I had never met them before, at the Congress I immediately felt a connection. And each year I make new family, as I recognize familiar faces and moves and strike up a conversation. Language is no barrier at the Congress as smiles, kisses, and embraces abound and there are translators in every class.
And each year I learn something new as classes change and new teachers come. The Samba Congress is not only Samba no Pé, there you can learn various Afro-Brazilian dances and spiritual movement as well as Samba de Gafieira. If you are musically inclined or simply enthusiastic, you can learn to play the various Brazilian rhythms. The mestras and mestres come from Brazil, the US, and beyond. They are each so talented and unique but have two things in common, a genuine desire to impart their knowledge with affection and to lovingly push and challenge you. Despite all the talent in the room, egos are checked because everyone is a lifelong student at the Congress. The teachers support each other by attending other instructors’ classes and eagerly learn side by side with you. And there is always someone to help if you are lost and to encourage you “the Brazilian way,” with a smile and a clap!
This family reunion is not just a party to consume the “food of samba,” the Congress is all about stories and history. Yes, you will learn steps and choreography but there is a larger lesson which is the focus of the event, to learn to feel samba, to understand what it all means, and how it came to be. Intentionality is very important here, whether it is Rosangela telling the class, “no, my Afro is elegant”, Patrick breaking down the movement by tempo or contratempo, or Aninha instructing us that Malandros are never vulgar and they never run. If you come with a surface level knowledge of samba, you are certain to leave with more depth. This is true every year but especially this year as the theme was to honor the roots of samba.
But it is not just the roots that are honored at the Congress, Aninha Laidley, the organizer makes it a point to honor all the people that make this event possible, the many volunteers and sponsors. In the evenings, in addition to the truly phenomenal performances, the Adriana Lima and Carlinhos Pandeiro de Ouro competitions, and the pagodes and dancing, Aninha takes the time to acknowledge and present awards. This is her way to thank those who have helped her to realize her dream of building a Congress and to recognize the legends and groundbreakers of samba. The event is very much a family affair for Aninha, who makes no distinction between blood relatives and samba relatives. Each year the Congress ends the same way, we all gather to acknowledge the blessing of samba and each other, we express our love, there are many tears, hugs, and kisses, and the longing for the next family reunion, best expressed as saudade.
I would be remiss not to invite you to attend the 2020 International Samba Congress LA in June 5-7, 2020. And if you have time to volunteer, sponsor, or provide a donation of any amount to this event please reach out to Aninha Laidley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Aninha is committed to housing this event at a professional dance studio and to fairly compensating and provide accommodations for all 40 instructors, many of which are from Brazil. This event would not be possible without its sponsors and the assistance of the global samba community.
Photo source: International Samba Congress