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"Samba Bounce Versus Foot Rhythm Explained"

by Simeon Stoynov

I have always thought Samba was the toughest dance to teach and perform from a technical standpoint. Just doing my research for this, looking at what my action is and comparing it to Kora’s ideas, made me realize just how complicated it is to explain the exact action in terms of what you do, how the acceleration works, what part of the body initiates the action, and so on. In the end the top couples will always do something similar (not necessarily the same), but conveying the ideas to dancers trying to understand everything in more detail is not a simple task.

I know this project seems like it goes into unnecessary detail and that maybe just going out and seeing what everyone does and copying it will be easier. However, we always have the latter option, and trying to improve our understanding of the dance through other methods is an important stage in progression. I know a lot of dancers are scared of detail, but I think that’s because we as teachers don’t do a good job of explaining what we want in multiple methods. There are thousands of videos of Michael and Joanna, Riccardo and Yulia, and countless other couples on youtube. However, there is not one chart, video, or article that explains what the couples do – what is right and wrong, and most importantly – WHY?

What makes Samba technique so complicated? There are various reasons why Samba is complex, but the first dilemma a beginner dancer is encountered with is understanding the samba bounce action timing versus samba foot rhythm. As soon as you open the syllabus book you see the Natural Basic and Reverse Basic, both of which have bounce and the Basic Samba Rhythm.The goal of this project is to explain in great detail how the two rhythms converge in the samba action to create a smooth, dynamic, and rhythmical motion, as well as introduce a simple exercise to help achieve this. I will try to do this through written description, video, and a chart that has gone through many alterations. I will talk about the transformation of my timing chart as it underlines the complexity of the subject. The final chart is as close as I can get to the TRUTH at the moment, although I am sure next week I will want to make some improvements.

The syllabus figures fall under one of the following 8 foot rhythms (with the exception of Batucada, which is Open).

12& (SQQ)
Samba Roll
1&2 (QQS)
Samba Locks
Corta Jaca
Cruzados Walk
Samba Runs

* That's what we say but the beat values are actually 3/4, 1/2, 3/4.

However, that is only the foot rhythm. For the top two rhythms, also known as Basic Samba Rhythm and Volta Rhythm, we also have a bounce to the action – that rhythm is 1&2&3&4&....

So the problem is that we have to combine the foot rhythm for all the steps that fall under the Basic Samba Rhythm and Volta Rhythm with the bounce rhythm. Below is a graph of the bounce rhythm over 2 beats.


Your body moves down for the first ½ beat (we say 1), up for the next ½ beat (we say “and”), down for the next ½ beat (we say 2), and then up for the last ½ beat (we say “and”). There is definitely acceleration for the first part of the half beat, whether you are moving up or down, as depicted by the shape of the graph. Because the changes of direction happen on the beat and half beat we count it 1&2&. Remember that the graph only denotes the rise and fall in the center and not your actual position in space. In other words, on 1 we are actually moving strongly down, not peaking. This is the confusing part, as you can see on the chart the highest point is on the 1 and 2 but when we dance we want to be going down on those two exact points.

There are many different ways to style the “up and down” bounce action in Samba. You can be quick and punchy with it or you can make the action more smooth and fluid. What I describe is just one basic method. Most people associate the “1” and “2” with the heavily dropped position. I prefer to match the heavy accent with the downward motion as opposed to the position itself. In other words, I am not down at the beginning of 1 because that would mean I would have to start going down before the beat; instead I have an emphasized downward action on 1 but continue to lower through until the “and” count, at which time I begin my rise.

The rise is treated similarly to the drop. Start with an accent or acceleration at the beginning of the “and” but continue to rise slightly toward the end of the “and”. I have tried to make the chart reflect that with the slope of the curve toward the end of the first and second half of the beat.

Notice that, in this case, while we say “1” it lasts for ½ beat; “and” also lasts for half beat. We will apply this bounce rhythm to any steps that fall under the Basic and Volta Rhythms.

Now it’s time to add the foot rhythm for the Basic Samba Rhythm steps, which include: Samba Basic, Stationary, Side, and Promenade Samba Walks, Bota Fogos, and many others. We count Basic Samba Rhythm as 1a2, but the beat value is actually 3/4, 1/4, and finally 1 beat. The 1 marks the 3/4 mark of the 1st beat. While the "a" marks the 1/4 beat. Here are the steps marked off:


Look at the “and” of the 1st beat. You can see that the bounce curve starts to slope up on the “and” before the step happens on “a”. In other words, the body needs to begin rising before the step happens. And that is what most dancers miss.

Let’s apply the same concept to the Volta. Volta Rhythm is 1a2a repeated as many times as you have Voltas. Here is the chart for the Voltas:

Again, notice that the rise on the first “and” begins before the second step is made. The rise begins on the “and” but the second step does not take place until the “a” – the ¾ mark of the 1st beat. Then repeat the same technique as many times as you have Voltas. The chart above is for 2 Voltas.

The final goal of this project was to make an exercise that will help dancers achieve both clear foot and bounce rhythm. We will apply this exercise specifically to Basic Samba Rhythm (Basics, Samba Walks, Bota Fogos, etc). We’ll take the top chart and change the counts from 1, e, and, a, 2, e, and, a to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Basically we are now counting the quarter beats in numbers rather than the normal musical way. We are going to take a look at a few numbers specifically.


First, we have the numbers where the steps occur. In a Basic Samba Rhythm figure, we count 1a2 and the beat values are ¾, ¼, 1; therefore, the quarter beats that will have steps are 1, 4 (the ¾ mark of the first beat), and 5. By "step" I mean the foot placement, as the weight transfer can be delayed.

Second, we have the bounce timing, which we count as "1, and, 2, and". Therefore, we are going down on 1, 2, 5, 6, and go up on 3, 4, 7, 8.

Thus, if we count slowly we are going to do the following, and let’s apply it to a whisk as in the videos: on 1 take the step to the side as you start to go down, remembering that the down on 1 is accelerated, therefore, quicker than the 2. On count 2 (2nd quarter of the 2 beats) continue to go down although you are reaching your lowest point early on count 2. On 3 you start to rise, accelerated again, but do not step back. On 4 take the step behind as you continue to rise a little more. On count 5 replace your weight to the front foot as you start to go down and continue to collect through 6. On 7 start to rise but stay on the front foot and on 8 finish the rise and get ready to step to the side on the next 1 (see chart below).

Down, Strong
Down, Light
Up, Strong
Up, Light
Cross Behind
Down, Strong
Down, Light
Up, Strong
Up, Light

The above explanation and exercise can help you in the right technical direction but it is not everything you need to know; it is just 2 of the 8 rhythms of Samba. There are many other aspects of technique that are extremely important. However, I hope this thorough explanation will help you integrate the two most basic rhythms in order to create a smooth, dynamic, and rhythmical motion.

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