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Rachel Levin
Dance and the City
California Dancing
The John Anson Ford Amphitheatre

Dance and the City: Samba Toward Independence - A Brazilian End to Summer

by Rachel Levin
September 7, 2004
The John Anson Ford Amphitheatre
2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East
Hollywood, CA 90068
(323) 461-3673

Dance and the City: Samba Toward Independence - A Brazilian End to Summer

Rachel Levin
September 7, 2004

A balmy evening after a day of 100-degree heat, Brazilian pop and samba music under the stars…

It could have been a night in Rio, but in fact it was the Brazilian Summer Festival at the Ford Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, in honor of Brazil's Independence Day.

After a summer spent mourning the end of a two-year relationship, I was ready to seal off the season with Labor Day and start celebrating independence. What better way to shed grief than to dress in yellow and green (the colors of the Brazilian flag) and dance samba? My personal lent was over. Time for Carnaval!

My friend Joan and I arrived late after unforeseen delays by car troubles and take-out order troubles. We could hear the strains of samba beats floating out of the amphitheatre as we jogged eagerly up the stairs to find seats.

We felt pure joy as we opened the door to the seating area and the "Super MoFongo Beat" of the pan-Latin band Bayú rushed into our ears and reverberated in our hearts. It was love at first sight. Bayú is a multiethnic band in the tradition of Ozomatli, with members from Puerto Rican, Mexican, and Brazilian roots. Somehow they've managed to combine all my favorite music styles under one funky umbrella: samba, reggae, bossa nova, hip-hop, funk, and rock. Lyrics transitioned smoothly from Spanish to Portuguese to English.

Joan and I, impatient to get dancing, gobbled up our take-out salads. We were puzzled as to why the majority of our fellow concert-goers weren't yet dancing. We had envisioned that the whole crowd would be shimmying in the aisles.

It took women in colorful feather bikinis, feather headdresses, and silver platform shoes to get the audience going. The Oyá Brazil Samba Show, a quartet of tropical beauties, shook their tails and grinded their hips with enough vigor to inspire people to take to the stage and dance. The platform just above the main stage was designated for this purpose, and soon it was filled with young and old, Brazilian and American alike. There were little girls in flag t-shirts, samba pros, novice couples…

…and a man who was a dead ringer for my ex-boyfriend. Same muscular build. Same tanned skin. Same cocky energy.

My stomach, the elevator, dropped two floors.

This particular ex stole my heart for two years and broke it. What really stung is that he was the only boyfriend I've had for any length of time that was a good dancer. He could do salsa and hip-hop. We moved together like we were meant to be. How could two people who made such great dance partners not be able to make things work off the dance floor?

And now here he was, presumably, dancing like a fiend on stage and threatening to spoil my carefree night. Why did he have to be here? And, furthermore, why did he have to dance so well? The only thing that kept me from feeling 100% certain that it was indeed my ex was a straw hat that this man wore low over his forehead, shading his eyes. From the distance of my seat to the stage, and without seeing his eyes, I just couldn't be sure.

Determined to exorcise the ghost of his presence and find out once and for all if it was he, Joan and I set out for the stage. But as Bayú wrapped its thoroughly satisfying set, my suspected ex left the dancing stage before I could get there and disappeared into the crowd.

When the featured band, As Meninas, came on, they offered me a much-needed infusion of girl power. With seven Bahian women singing, dancing, and playing percussion and saxophone, As Meninas is one part Spice Girls and one part "pop Afro" jam. The women on background vocals reminded me of cheerleaders, since they wore tennis shoes and executed coordinated dance routines. Their energy was infectious, and finally I was dancing, trying to keep up with the samba beat and let my spirits soar. It felt exultant to release my worries into the warm evening sky overhead and just rejoice in my own freedom to dance independently.

People poured once again from the seating area onto the de facto dance floor behind the stage. Sure enough, the mystery man in the straw hat was among them. My heart raced as I imagined what I would say to him should he in fact be my ex. Part of me wanted to just put a paper bag over my head. I stopped dancing as he approached. Every inch of his body told me it was he. It wasn't until he was standing almost next to me that he raised his head enough for me to get a look at those eyes under the hat. We locked eyes. He smiled an irresistible smile.

It wasn't him.

It wasn't him!

Joy washed over me, followed by an incredible realization that since this man wasn't part of my past, he could be part of my immediate future. As in, we could dance together! No sooner had I realized this than the moment of our intimate smile had passed, and he was already samba-ing away to his own beat.

"Hey!" I called after him. He turned his head back to face me. "I really like your energy." It was all I could manage to say.

"Thanks!" he said, and kept on going.

As Meninas managed to sustain its high-energy performance for a good two hours without a single break. Mr. Hat Man and I danced our hearts out, but remained two independent souls, celebrating our independence.

Mr. Hat Man
Photo courtesy of Rachel Levin

Oya Brazil Samba
Photo courtesy of Rachel Levin

Samba Line
Photo courtesy of Rachel Levin

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