Samba at Pedra do Sal
Rio is a city of iconic images- Christ the Redeemer, Copacabana beach, the Carnival parade. But one of the most defining aspects of the city isn’t something that you see, it’s something that you do: samba. So after arrhythmically shuffling my way through Carnival, I realised it was about time I learned some steps.
Thankfully, help was at hand in the form of a fun Brazilian crowd staying at my hostel. Despite the language barrier, we muddled through in a blend of their Portuguese and my terrible Spanish, over many caipirinhas at the hostel bar. They then invited me along to one of Rio’s most famous samba parties at Pedra do Sal.
Some argue that Pedra do Sal (Rock of Salt) is the birthplace of samba itself. It was once the “little Africa” of Rio, and home to a community of freed slaves, who first developed the iconic sounds of samba music. Now it’s home to a weekly samba event that draws a huge crowd to listen to live music and dance on the stone steps.
The sounds of samba drew us towards the right street, where we found a crowd of dancers showing off their natural Brazilian rhythm. One of my hostel buddies, a friendly paulistana (girl from São Paulo) named Diane instantly took me under her wing and slowly showed me the basic alternating foot pattern of samba.
We danced along for hours, energised by the electric atmosphere and by many, many beers. A crowd near us began a line dance formation, which I attempted to follow along, but failed miserably.
A few of our hostel crowd had paired up, and, watching them move together to the samba rhythm, I decided I’d give it a try and asked one of the guys for a dance. He led me back and forth through basic samba and I grinned like an idiot as I realised I was actually getting the hang of it.
Once the song ended, I beamed my thanks, and rejoined the other girls for a drink. One asked me (in Portuguese) if I’d enjoyed my dance, which I responded to by gushing in broken Spanish about how amazing my partner is. I didn’t catch what she said next, so I responded with a nod, a smile, and a “sí” (my default response in many conversations I’ve had here). With a smile, she disappeared to talk to my earlier dance partner.
The next thing I knew, he appeared beside me with a smirk and said (in perfect English), “So, she says you want to kiss me?” Flustered, I awkwardly fumbled out something about how she misunderstood me, as I vowed to myself to stop agreeing to things if I don’t know what they mean!
Pedra do Sal hosts a live samba event every Monday in the neighbourhood of Saúde. The party starts at 7:30 pm and is free to enter.
Looking for more dance experiences in Rio? How about trying some zouk…