I love to Samba and if you don’t yet, I invite you to join me in an online video workshop October 21 at 4PM Pacific Time, where we will practice and master the very first steps.
Apart from the fun, the exercise, and the infectious music that’s central to this Afro-Brazilian dance form, I endorse Samba as a way to promote healthy posture. Among its many benefits, Samba dancing:
- Involves a lot of lateral motion, something especially needed in our culture, where so many of us tend to move forward and backward much more than we move from side to side.
- Engages the gluteal muscles, including the gluteus medius, which–though vitally important to so many kinds of natural movements–are underdeveloped or even “fast asleep” in too many people throughout the developed world.
If you’re still not persuaded to join our Samba Steps workshop, watch even just a couple of minutes of this 4-minute video, and I’ll wager that many of you will accept my invitation to dance.
Samba de Roda
What you just saw was a marvelous demonstration of Samba de Roda, or “Samba in the round,” which features solo dancers surrounded by musicians and other dancers, singing and clapping and sequentially inviting others to take their turn. An aspect of this form of Samba that holds special appeal as the basis for a training workshop is that learning involves a great deal of observation and imitation, and that those with relatively less skill are among those in the circle invited to join in.
Also appealing is the fact that not only are the dancers’ feet, calves, legs, hips, and abdomens constantly working, their gluteus medius muscles are also fully engaged. So much so, that before we start dancing I’d like to highlight this important pair of muscles.
To engage, or not to engage (the gluteus medius)…
…can there by any question?
Even when considered from the pure-vanity standpoint of having an attractive, perky derriere, my guess is that most of us would favor the Ubong tribesmen’s gluteus medius muscles, which can easily be seen in the upper, outer quadrant of their buttocks just below their cloth belts, to the clothed and apparently less distinctive gluteus medius muscles in the photo, below.
What accounts for this “flat butt” look is the fact that these important muscles are underdeveloped and not engaged.
What are the gluteus medius and why develop them?
The gluteus medius play an essential role in all kinds of natural movement, including walking, glidewalking, running, and samba dancing. In particular, these muscles:
- Help keep the pelvis level on the hip joint of the weight-bearing leg. (Without the gluteus medius, we would take a step and then sink.)
- Are essential to holding the pelvis in the anteverted, or tipped forward, position. (This is essential because the pelvis serves as our foundation stone; when its inappropriately tucked in, the rest of the body cannot properly stack, and posture and pain problems ensue.)
- Are essential to gait and facilitate “soft landings” when we walk. (Unlike our hunter-gatherer ancestors who lightly, quietly tread when hunting prey, too many of us thump around, including to and from the fridge.)
A couple of other reasons, which we will only touch on here, but will explore in future posts, relate to two painful disorders that arise, at least in part, out of underdeveloped or suboptimally performing gluteus medius muscles:
In a nutshell, a growing body of evidence indicates that gluteal medius health strongly correlates to knee health. If you have good strength in your gluteus medius, your knees will be in better shape, and PFPS is less likely to afflict you. Similarly, if your pelvis is appropriately oriented and your gluteus medius muscles are doing their job, the piriformis muscles, which lie directly beneath the gluteus medius, won’t have to pick up the slack and, due to suboptimal orientation or hypertrophy, impinge on the sciatic nerve, which exits the pelvis just underneath.
How to locate and engage your gluteus medius and practice basic Samba Steps
- Identify your gluteus medius as shown in the above photo. Once you feel where this muscle is, step away from the chair.
- Now, take a small step back with your right leg, press your heel into the ground, straighten your right leg, and squeeze the gluteus medius muscle in the upper, outer quadrant of your buttock until you can feel with your hand how hard it is.
- When your right gluteus medius is engaged, hold this position for a beat.
- Return to your starting position by moving your right leg forward.
- Now, go through the same motions with your left leg.
- Practice these steps, alternating right and left legs, until the squeezing of your gluteus medius becomes natural and familiar.
Samba Steps Video Workshop
While you will get a lot out of the workshop by simply participating, a fun and helpful way to prepare is to watch one or more of the following Samba YouTubes, each highlighting slightly different aspects and methods.
What’s really helpful about this first video is that the dancer starts with pre-Samba steps, emphasizing the back and forth movement of the hips. Keep in mind that there are many varieties of Samba, and that this dancer demonstrates just one style. My only cautionary note about this demonstration and the one that immediately follows is that the dancers slightly arch their upper lumbar regions in a way that’s not ideal.
Apart from the occasional sound of wind in the microphone, the second video is worth watching because it offers another lesson in the basic Samba step–this time with music.
The third video also highlights a very basic Samba step very similar to the one just above, but the dancer does so without swaying her back. Another nice feature of this video is that the dancer varies the speed of the Samba steps, starting slowly and then picking up the pace to the point where the Samba becomes attractive.
Because some of you might be inspired by pure music, I also suggest that if time permits you check out some of my favorite Sambistas:
And if you join me for our Samba Steps video workshop, I’ll share these and other favorites with you. You can register here.
Photo and Video Credits:
Samba de Roda YouTube, pousadamorrodesaopaulo.net
Ubong Tribesmen, Esther Gokhale
Gluteus Medius Anatomical Drawing, Wikimedia Commons
Esther Engages Her Gluteus Medius, Gokhale Method Institute
Samba Dancer, Wikimedia Commons
Samba Steps, Youtube, sambabody.com
Learn Samba with Gianne Abbot, Bella Moda Brazil
Basic Samba Footwork, Michele Bastos