Local Brazilian Dance Music Classes Encourage Equity in the Latine Community
Written by: Sophia da Silva 🇧🇷
Instructor teaching at St Andrews Episcopal Church in College Park, MD on March 18. 2023 (Giancarlo Terrones)
EducArte’s Carnival dance and percussion classes bring a taste of Brazil to the Washington region in a communal art environment.
The classes, held at the Old Parish House in College Park, consists of a frevo class, a Carnival dance from the Pernambuco region of Brazil taught by the board president and co-founder Kate Spanos. It is followed by a samba class and concludes with a bateria, or percussion.
EducArte is a non-profit focused on uplifting Latin arts in the Washington area.
The instructors are masters at creating a comfortable, accessible and playful environment. They start with warmups to practice movements and work on syncing the body to the rhythm of the music. Then the students are allowed to explore the art form on their own.
“It's a very fun environment and a very no-judgment environment. You can come from any level,” Ariel Bourne, dance class participant said. “Some people have been doing this for years like Kate and most of us, it's the first time or beginners, anyone can jump in and join the fun no matter what.”
The method Spanos teaches is called “Mexe com Tudo” taught to her by her mentor, Otávio Bastos. The method is based on another modality called “Frevo Cinquentão” or Frevo for ages 50 and up. This is a more accessible style from the typical frevo with big jumps and leaps. It breaks traditional notions of beauty and grace we may classically associated with dance like the graceful high extensions of ballerinas.
“It's all about street carnival so there's a lot of ‘empurrando’, lots of elbowing and very aggressive in that way and really feeling the music and feeling like you're part of something, like you’re part of the street carnival,” Spanos said.
In the dance classes the music is turned up and dancers move around the room. They practice the newly learned steps while interacting with their classmates. The class ends with a “roda” or dance circle where everyone gets to showcase what they learned. Students are urged to experiment and get in touch with a childlike sense of play without shame.
People dancing at St Andrews Episcopal Church in College Park, MD on March 18. 2023 (Giancarlo Terrones)
The samba instructor, former Carnival queen Ilheuma Zezeh, talked about creating a samba teaching technique that makes a deeper connection with the music and dance.
“For me samba is not only “1, 2, 3” it has a deeper sense to the dance,” said Zezeh.
For her the importance of teaching samba is about passing it along to next generations.
“By dancing we don’t allow the dance to die,” said Zezeh.
In the bateria class, after working with instruments and understanding how to play them, percussionist André Coehlo brings it together conducting the group. A very new addition to this workshop is a kids percussion class taught by Filipe Brandão de Paula who takes a more instructional approach to getting kids comfortable playing music.
“I’m trying to teach them the technique of the tambourine, of the Brazilian instruments because they are a little bit older, it's a little bit easier for them to pay attention for a certain amount of time,” said Brandão de Paula on his approach to different age groups.
Coehlo grew up playing traditional Brazilian bateria at samba schools.
“I try to bring this context and play more than teach theory. We do more, much more practical things,” Coehlo said.
Pablo de Oliveira and Kate Spanos started their company in 2015 under the name Sambajig.
“I was an Irish dancer and he was a Brazilian musician so it was a blend of the two music styles,” Spanos said.
In 2019 they formed their non-profit EducArte to uplift and present latine arts and artists in the Washington region.
“ I felt there was a lack of equity and we were left off the map in the D.C. region and Maryland,” said executive director and co-founder de Oliveira.
EducArte wanted to provide a space and opportunity for artists they knew there was an audience for.
“Presenters and venues don’t really wanna present artists that don’t have a history in the market. But I know there is an audience there and they really want it, and just the general audience, not just our community,” said de Oliveira
The organization used to focus mainly in presenting artists but has expanded to a variety of workshops and classes.