The dance is performed on various occasions, such as popular Catholic festivities or Afro-Brazilian religious ceremonies, but is also executed in more spontaneous settings. All present, including beginners, are invited to join the dance and learn through observation and imitation. One of the defining characteristics of the Samba of Roda is the gathering of participants in a circle, referred to as roda. It is generally performed only by women, each one taking her turn in the center of the ring surrounded by others dancing in the circle while clapping their hands and singing. The choreography is often improvised and based on the movements of the feet, legs and hips. One of the most typical movements is the famous belly push, the umbigada, a testimony of Bantu influence, used by the dancer to invite her successor into the centre of the circle. The Samba de Roda is also distinguished by specific dance steps like the miudinho, the use of the viola machete - a small lute with plucked strings from Portugal, as well as scraped instruments, and responsorial songs.
The influence of mass media and competition from contemporary popular music have contributed to undervaluing this Samba in the eyes of the young. The ageing of practitioners and the dwindling number of artisans capable of making some of the instruments pose a further threat to the transmission of the tradition.
Inscribed in 2008 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (originally proclaimed in 2005)
© Text and images: UNESCO