How to Samba

The Samba is an incredibly popular Brazilian dance that is performed in 2/4 time. It is meant to be fun and flirty, using swaying hips and quick rocking movements to create a bouncing effect. The samba requires precise form and has steps of varying speed that make up its truly unique style. Learn how to samba dance step by step with free video lessons from Howcast! We have videos covering the basics for beginners and more advanced moves as well!

History of the Samba

Samba dancing has a rich history, first appearing during the 17th century in Brazil. It has heavy African roots and originated from slaves living near Pedra do Sal. From the 17th century forward, slaves continued to perform the dance during social meetings despite objections that the dance was vulgar.

The thrusting hip movements in question were influenced by religion as they were meant to serve as an invitational prayer to a saint. The dance continued to be performed through the end of slavery in Brazil during the 19th century. From there, descendants of slaves migrated to Rio de Janeiro, where the samba eventually became one of the country’s most important dances.

How to Samba

While learning to samba may look difficult, the basic steps involved are fairly straightforward. It’s the mastery of hip-swaying and natural bounce that will allow you to look like a pro when you do the samba. Try to focus on learning the basic steps and how to bounce separately before trying to dance fluidly.

Body Position

To do the samba, there should be a little bit of distance between partners. The man’s left hand will extend outward and be around neck level, while the woman’s right hand will extend to meet it. A man’s right hand will be underneath the woman’s left shoulder blade, while the woman’s left hand will rest atop the man’s right arm and her hand will be on his shoulder blade.

Bouncing

One of the most important aspects of the samba is the natural bounce that is present throughout. Your steps will require you to constantly bend your knees and sway your body, which will resemble a bounce as you go up and down. You’ll need to practice shifting your weight, which is essential for properly executing the dance.

Counting

Counting the samba is quite easy as each set of three steps follows the same count for eight beats. The first step will last ¾ of a beat, the second step is much quicker at ¼ of a beat, and the final step is longer at a single beat. This means that each set of three steps will last two beat counts. You can easily count this by saying: 1 and 2, 3 and 4, 5 and 6, 7 and 8.

How to Do the Samba Basic Steps

There are just three basic steps to the samba, but the timing of each one is a little different. Understanding how to count and implementing the proper hip motions will let you dance with speed.

Basic Footwork

Basic Arm Movements

Basic Hip Movements

Here’s how you can do the Basic Steps of the Samba:

  • Leader steps forward with the left foot, follower steps back with the right foot.
  • Leader quickly moves their right foot next to their left foot, follower mirrors by swiftly moving their left foot next to their right foot.
  • Leader should bend knees and sways their hips as they shift weight onto their left foot, follower does the same by shifting weight onto their right foot. 
  • This will all be done in 2 counts and should resemble a bouncing motion by the end. 
  • Now the leader will step backward with their right foot, follower moves forward with their left foot. 
  • Leader will quickly move their left foot next to their right foot, follower mirrors by moving their right foot next to their left foot. 
  • Leader shifts weight onto their right foot, while follower will shift weight onto their left foot.

Start Samba Dancing!

Hopefully, this guide makes it easier for you to learn how to samba dance! Explore the rest of the videos in this series below for even more great samba lessons! 

ABOUT THE EXPERT

Michele Bastos

Michele Bastos is an award-winning dancer, choreographer and fitness instructor based in New York City. The Brazil native has performed with major artists and dance companies, including Jay-Z, Pharrel Williams, Daniela Mercury, Banda Olodum, and Dance Brazil, among others. She also received the “Dancer of the Year” award from the European Dance Media and the National Festival of Arts in Brazil. Michele currently works as the National Pilates director at Crunch Fitness and she continues to perform and teach Pilates, fitness, Afro-Brazilian dances and samba workshops around the world. Originally from Salvador, Brazil, Michele received a degree in dance from the Federal University of Bahia.