Let’s Dance and SaddleBrooke Ballroom Dance Clubs: Samba – The music of Carmen Miranda

Steve Holdener

Growing up in the 1950s in Tacoma, Washington, I was aware of dancing in our Swiss community with polkas, waltzes, landlers, etc.; however, it made quite an impression on me as I was watching an old black and white movie on TV one day, which featured a beautiful woman dancing to a lively song with fruit on her head.

You might remember the famous Carmen Miranda (February 9, 1909 – August 5, 1955) a Portuguese Brazilian Samba singer, dancer, Broadway actress and film star who was popular from the 1930s to the 1950s. She popularized Samba internationally through her Hollywood films and was known as The Brazilian Bombshell with her signature fruit hat which she wore in her American films. She probably wouldn’t have been caught dead wearing that fruit hat in her native Brazil.

In the 1930s Miranda was a local star, singing and dancing in musicals and five Brazilian feature films. It was in 1940 that she made her first Hollywood film, Down Argentine Way, with Don Ameche and Betty Grable. Her exotic clothing and Latin accent became her trademark and, as amazing as it may seem now, she was voted the third most popular personality in the United States in 1940 and was invited to sing and dance for President Franklin Roosevelt. By 1945 she was the highest paid woman in the United States.

Miranda made a total of fourteen Hollywood films between 1940 and 1953. Although her popularity was on the downhill slide by the end of World War II, she went on with nightclub appearances and television variety shows. She indeed paved the way for an increasing awareness of all Latin culture. She was the first Latin American star to be invited to imprint her hands and feet in the courtyard of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in 1941 and she became the first South American to be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

But more on Samba itself, which is one of the five competitive International Latin dances along with Paso Doble, Cha-Cha-Cha, Jive and Rumba (last month’s column). Samba originated in Brazil with its roots reaching from Africa via the West African slave trade and African religious traditions, particularly Angola and the Congo. It is the drumming beat that makes a Samba and is seen as a musical expression of urban Rio de Janeiro. It is recognized around the world as a symbol of Brazil and the Brazilian Carnival.

Although Samba is traditionally played by string and percussion instruments, since WWII Samba began to use trombones, trumpets, choros, flutes and clarinets. Samba also brings a whole historical culture of food, varied dances, parties, clothes such as linen shirts and paintings. The Samba National Day is celebrated on December 2.

Please come join us at our open dances/practices on Sunday afternoons (4:00 to 5:30 p.m. at MountainView Ballroom) and Wednesday afternoons (4:00 to 5:30 p.m. at the Vermilion Room) and see our Facebook page that we share with Let’s Dance (type Let’s Dance).