Brazilian State Lawmakers Declare a Dance ‘Cultural Heritage’

    17 May 2024

    A dance that started in some of Brazil's poorest neighborhoods is being honored by Rio de Janeiro state lawmakers.

    The passinho started with leg movements, strong steps backwards and forwards, while moving to a Brazilian form of funk music. It took moves from dance styles like break dancing, samba, capoeira and frevo.

    Young people in Rio de Janeiro's poor neighborhoods known as favelas started the dance style. Rio de Janeiro state lawmakers declared the dance a piece of "cultural heritage" in March. The declaration honors a cultural expression from the favelas.

    Youth perform a street dance style known as passinho for their social media accounts, in the Rocinha favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
    Youth perform a street dance style known as passinho for their social media accounts, in the Rocinha favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

    The creators of the passinho were young people and children. They started trying out new moves at home and then showing them off at funk parties in their communities. The dances became more popular after people started sharing them on the internet.

    In the early days of social media, people shared videos of their dance moves on Orkut and YouTube. The style started spreading to other favelas and competitions started. The young people copied and learned from the top dancers, leading them to invent new moves.

    "Passinho in my life is the basis of everything I have," dancer and choreographer Walcir de Oliveira told the Associated Press. "It's where I manage to earn my livelihood, and I can show people my joy and blow off steam," he said. "It's where I feel happy, good."

    Brazilian producer Julio Ludemir helped discover new dancers by organizing "passinho battles" in the early 2010s. At these events, youths took turns showing off their steps before a jury that chose the winners.

    A music and dance event in New York City held a competition in 2014. It showed Americans the dance style. Dancers started appearing on popular TV shows and performed at the opening ceremony of the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.

    Ludemir describes the style as an expression of Brazilian culture, called "cannibalism." That is the idea of taking elements from other cultures to produce something new. He said the passinho is a dance that takes elements "from all dances. It's a crossing of the cultural influences absorbed by they were connecting with the world through social media in internet cafes."

    Supporters say dancing also became a way for young people from the favelas to avoid becoming criminals. Rio state legislator Veronica Lima proposed the law honoring the passinho. In a statement, Lima said it was important to help "decriminalize funk and artistic expressions of youths" from the favelas.

    Ludemir said the declaration honors the first generation of passinho dancers as examples for favela youths.

    Among them is Pablo Henrique Goncalves. He won a passinho battle back in 2014 and created a boy group called OZCrias. The group has four dancers from Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro's largest favela. The group earns money performing.

    Another dance group is Passinho Carioca in the Penha favelas on the other side of the city. One of its leaders, Nayara Costa, said she came from a family where everyone was involved in selling drugs. She said Passinho saved her from that life. Now she uses dance to help young people and teach anyone interested in learning.

    "Today I give classes to people who are in their sixties; passinho is for everyone," said Costa, who is 23. "Passinho, in the same way that it changed my life, is still going to change the lives of others."

    I'm Dan Novak.

    Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press.


    Words in This Story

    style –n. a particular way of doing an activity or wearing clothes

    heritage — n. the traditions, beliefs and accomplishments that are part of the history of a group of people

    choreographer — n. a person who directs and teaches dance

    blow off steam — v. (idiom) to release energy to avoid getting angry or unhappy