Beyond Samba: 7 Brazilian Dances You Must Know

The Bossa Nova genre and Carnaval may have catapulted Samba into international acclaim ever since the mid-’50s. Still, Brazilian culture has a lot more up its sleeve to showcase how fun and exciting other regional dances can be.

From the fascinating martial arts-esque moves in Capoeira to the passionate maneuvers in Forró and even the raunchy (and sometimes rated R) Carioca Funk, there are several other Brazilian dances you must know about.

In this piece, we’re gonna go deep into the major dances in Brazil other than Samba. We’ll dive into their influences, the main instruments that make them what they are, and even show you how to bust a few moves if you’re up to the task.

So put on your dancing shoes and get into it!


Capoeira can be best described as a cultural expression rather than a dance. It’s an amalgam of martial arts, sports, dance, and music that emerged in Brazil in the 16th century and still lives as one of its major cultural aspects.

How Capoeira Was Born

Capoeira has a deep connection to the times of slavery in the country when Brazil was a Portugal colony. The slaves brought to Brazil to work on farms and plantations eventually developed what came to be the Capoeira to express resistance and nonconformity.

Since the plantation masters would go to great lengths to stop the slaves from learning and engaging in any kind of martial arts, they would practice and experiment with fight moves camouflaged as an African-influenced dance.

When put to the test, these techniques would often prove valuable to the slaves, as they were able to protect themselves against the constant assaults and attacks they received by the capitães-do-mato (a Brazilian term used to designate the oppressive militia who worked for the rich).

Tired of the physical and psychological abuse they went through, the slaves brought to Brazil from Portugal would find a way of resisting and protecting their own in Capoeira. – Credit: Flickr | Arquivo Nacional do Brasil

The Capoeira would also serve as a distraction to the daily abuse and inhumane conditions they lived during that time. The training and practice would often happen at undisclosed locations near where they were kept and hidden from the slave owners.

Even after the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888, the training and performing of Capoeira moves only became legal in 1930; after Capoeira Master Bimba showcased it to then-president Getúlio Vargas.

Before that time, Capoeira was seen as something exclusive to gangs and outlaws, with the police even being ordered to arrest citizens who were caught practicing it.

Master Bimba was a key figure in transforming Capoeira into what it is today. Not only was he the one who took it away from the context of “music for delinquents,” but he was also the one who put the Brazilian stamp on it by embedding it with local beats from the northeast region of Brazil.

After Master Bimba’s influence on the dance, Capoeira quickly diffused throughout the country, but mainly in the state of Bahia, where it is best known for.

Today, Capoeira can be best categorized in the following manner:

  • Classic Capoeira (Angola)
    Refers to the old-school Capoeira, in which the participants won’t clap throughout the rounds, and the music has
    slower pacing. The dance/fighting moves are also more ground-oriented, with few or no moves above the chest area.

A small street showcase of students practicing classic Angola Capoeira. – Credit: Youtube | Chico Abelha

  • Regional Capoeira
    Created by Master Bimba, this modality has faster pacing, and the dancing is much more visible during fights, making blows and coups more smooth and gentle. The participants who are not involved in the round stand aside clapping and chanting, which wasn’t done before.

Master Bimba has forever changed Capoeira in Brazil, putting a new spin on it and making it an official Brazilian cultural movement. – Credit: Youtube | Marcia Lameu

  • Contemporary Capoeira
    Created in the ’70s as a mix of both modalities above, this technique aims to perform fast and striking moves, combining power and grace.

A perfect combination of skill and elegance, the contemporary Capoeira is the ultimate stage in the evolution of this Brazilian cultural expression. – Credit: Youtube | mobilesports

‘Till this day, Capoeira is still widespread in Brazil, being seen as a promising sport and important cultural expression in the country, much for its strong Brazilian identity.

Just as a side note, just to emphasize how Capoeira is never perceived as neither a dance nor a fighting style, we use the expression “jogar Capoeira” (play Capoeira) to name its practice.

Main Instruments Used In Capoeira

Capoeira has a very characteristic and unique sound, mainly because of the traditional chanting and instruments used to compose its melodies. The main instruments used in Capoeira are the Berimbau, the Atabaque, and the Agogô:


The Berimbau is a chord instrument brought to Brazil from Angola and made traditional in Bahia, possibly the most distinct and characteristic Capoeira sound.

Before the participants jump into action during the Capoeira rounds, they take a moment to reverence this instrument, as it is perceived as sacred by the capoeiristas (Brazilian designation for Capoeira players/fighters).

Master Paulinho Carioca demonstrating the different melodies the Berimbau is able to reproduce. – Credit: Youtube | Capoeira Guaiamuns


The atabaque is an Afro-Brazilian percussion instrument with a similar use as the regular drum. It can be played by using drumsticks, bare hands, or a combination of both.

This instrument was initially heavily used in religious festivities, especially in catholic and Afro-Brazilian creeds like the Candomblé. It was later used to help carry Capoeira rounds, with many crediting Master Bimba for its implementation.

The atabaque produces a dry sound that can help the Berimbau to mark the beat and pace of Capoeira rounds. – Credit: Youtube | Edval Santos


We have previously briefly discussed this instrument while going through which instruments are played by Brazilian Samba Schools, and when applied to Capoeira, it basically has the same function.

The Agogô consists of one or more bells of different materials and sizes connected. When hit with a drumstick (also referred to in Brazil as campânulas), they can produce different sounds, mainly used to follow the Atabaque and help keep the pace.

This video demonstrates how the Agogô is played and the different sounds it’s able to make. – Credit: Youtube | Capoeira Amizade

Main Dance Moves In Capoeira

Capoeira has 6 main basic moves that are used as the foundation for every combination during the rounds. These basic moves aren’t really attacks, but moves that aim to dodge assaults while still protecting yourself.

I thought it would be best to show you the moves instead of describing them, so I found this really cool video of an authentic Capoeira teacher from Brazil showing the basic move set:


The Carimbó is a traditional round dance from Pará, north of Brazil. Its name is a reference to curimbó, which is the main instrument played in this dance.

It’s been a popular cultural aspect of that region ever since the 17th century, with the regional annual Marapanim Carimbó Festival being a major artistic festivity in actual times.

How the Carimbó was Born

Just as with the Capoeira, the Carimbó has deep roots in the African slaves and culture. When they were brought to Brazil and met with the tupinambás indigenous natives, the slaves learned their celebratory dance, which was more monotone and slow.

The African slaves would later incorporate aspects of the African culture into the native dances, which became vibrant and perceived as a derivation of African drumming.

The dance was also commonly performed amongst the fishermen and farmers to have fun after a hard day working and performing chores.

The Portuguese colonizers became interested in the dance and occasionally participated in the rounds with the tupinambás. This would also have a major impact in Carimbó, with traditional Portuguese dance elements like finger-snapping being eventually added to it.

Chief Babau Tupinambá is one of the many tupinambás that still inhabit the state of Bahia. – Credit: WikiCommons | Antônio Cruz

As it happened to Capoeira, being a black influenced performance had Carimbó being often perceived as something that belonged to the ghettos, something only criminals would be interested in.

For that reason, the dance was prohibited and persecuted by the police in the Brazilian state of Belém, where the Carimbó managed to stay true to its origins and maintained a large fanbase.

This would only change in the 1960s during the military dictatorship period in Brazil. Since the genre wouldn’t touch on subjects that the military government was bothered by, it remained under the censorship radar. It slowly regained force, much due to its strong regional character.

After that, many Carimbó bands and groups like Pinduca and Cupijó would emerge and became popular on the radio. Nowadays, the band Calypso can be noted as one of the biggest representations of contemporary bands in the country, heavily influenced by Carimbó.

The band Calypso is a phenomenon in the country, implementing Carimbó to its sound and making it their own – Credit: Youtube | Pedro Chaves

Singer Dona Onete, one of the most charismatic performers I’ve ever had the pleasure to see live, is another strong exponent of the Carimbó music scene. Although 81 years old (!), this lady can make you MOVE!

It’s impossible not to fall in love: in her 80s and still energetic as a young woman, Dona Onete is a big representative of today’s Carimbó. – Credit: Youtube | Circo Voador

Main Instruments Used In Carimbó

Carimbó has a vibrant and energetic sound, to which many instruments lend their melodies to compose their joyous vibes. Amongst the extensive list, the main instruments used to make Carimbó music are the Curimbó, the Afoxé, and the Reco-Reco:


The instrument that named the genre couldn’t be left off this list, right? The curimbó is a type of artisanal drum made out of a tall hollow trunk played with your bare hands. It can also be referred to as Tabaque in some regions of Brazil.

This video shows how the Curimbó is built, from how it’s made hollow all the way to how it’s played – Credit: Youtube | Francisco Alvarez


The afoxé is a round wooden (or plastic) instrument with a net made out of beads wrapping its body. It produces various sounds when the beads are swung in different manners.

The afoxé enriches the Carimbó sound, adding to the backbone structure of the songs – Credit: Youtube | O Acústico

The original Afoxé (which still exists and is still manufactured in Brazil) looks slightly different but has the same features and aspects shown in the video above.

The original afoxé is slightly larger in size but plays with the same intensity as its successor – Credit: WikiCommons | LeRoc


Also very commonly used in Samba, the reco-reco is another percussion instrument that can be made out of wood or metal. It’s played by “scratching” its hollow interior with a drumstick.

The instrument has its origins in Angola, where it’s traditionally made out of wood. It’s said to have a better sound than its metal version due to better reverberation in its hollow wooden interior.

Master Denis demonstrating some of the sounds the reco-reco can produce – Credit: Youtube | Denis Reco

Main Dance Moves In Carimbó

From what you could see so far, Carimbó is a collision of different cultures and experiences, and it definitely shows in its dance moves. The dance is usually performed in a round, in which pairs of dancers interact with one another while maintaining formation.

If you want to try out the main dance moves in Carimbó, clear your living room and press play on the video below!

Carimbó teacher showing the basic moves that are used in the dance – Credit: Youtube | Rede Vida


Forró is a common celebration in the northeastern region of Brazil and a designation used to comprehend and name regional dances such as Xote, Baião, Xaxado, and Arrastá-´Pé.

The music is usually vigorous and ecstatic, with the dancers performing fast and dynamic moves. There are also slower-paced songs that ask for more passionate and intimate dance moves, or “dançar coladinho” (dance cheek to cheek), as we like to call it in Brazil.

How Forró Was Born

Near the end of the 19th century, the forró balls were already known celebrations in Pernambuco. Still, they would only gain national notoriety in the 1950s when Luiz Gonzaga (a notorious Brazilian musician) recorded popular songs, “Forró de Mané Vito” and “Forró no Escuro.”

At the same period, Brazil’s northeastern citizens began to intensively spread out across the country, carrying the Forró with them and making it even more popular, especially in cities like Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Brasília.

The rhythm went on strong through the ’60s, with artists like Ary Lobo, Jacinto Silva, and Luiz Wanderley being major Forró staples during that time.

Forró was very present in the radio airwaves during that period, which led to many “forró clubs” built throughout the Brazilian territory by the end of the decade.

Later in the ’80s, the genre would begin declining and suffering from a lack of interest from the general public. An intense surge of national rock bands at that time deviated the audiences, leading to the rock genre dominating radio play.

Forró household names like João Gonçalves started using double meaning lyrics to regain public interest, but the genre only got back to the spotlight in the ’90s.

Bands like Mastruz com Leite and Calcinha Preta would be key figures in reinventing Forró for younger audiences, bringing the genre back to popularity. They infused the songs with electronic beats and influences from lambada and Brazil’s own axé music, giving it a breath of fresh air.

In the early 2000s, Forró would be catapulted into the spotlight again, with popular band Falamansa being one of the biggest names in the game during that time. It became trendy in college parties, to which the designation “College Forró” became mainstream.

Main Instruments Used In Forró

To ensure the charismatic and festive music that the Forró is known for, a considerable amount of musicians is necessary, depending on the venue or event size.

Although some bands can have up to 22 members and several musical types of equipment can be added, the main instruments used in Forró are the Accordion, the Triangle, and the Zabumba:


This German-born instrument is as versatile as one can be, composed of a bellow, free reeds, and two wooden harmonic boxes. Its sound can be roughly described as a portable organ.

When it first arrived in Brazil, it became quite popular in its southern regions, especially in Rio Grande do Sul, where it later became the state’s official symbol.

This musician shows different Accordion solos that are used in Forró songs – credit: Youtube | PJSanfoneiroOficial


This simple metallic percussion instrument carries a lot of character when added to a Forró song. When hit with a metal drumstick, it produces a piercing sound used to set the song’s pace.

This teacher explains how to play the triangle and achieve different sounds with it – credit: YouTube | Aprendendo Percussão


This large drum barrel may look somewhat similar to others, but the Zabumba contains a damper that makes it sound more “dry” by reducing the harmonic excess while playing.

It pairs perfectly with the triangle to maintain the song’s pace while still adding that deep “oomph” to amp up the sound. Check out this Forró trio showcasing how these 3 instruments together can carry a whole party!

Main Dance Moves in Forró

As we saw earlier, Forró can either have more romantic or frantic vibes depending on the song. Either way, the dance moves are performed in pairs and no particular order, leaving the dancers free to feel the song and perform the moves whenever they want.

If you want to risk some moves (and I definitely encourage you to try it), watch this video to learn the main dance moves used in Forró:

The moves are gracious and light, but when the band speeds things up, things can get heated fast! – Credit: Youtube | Academia da Dança

Carioca Funk

Although named after the classic 70’s genre, the Funk music from the favelas in Rio de Janeiro is a far cry from the original rhythm. Filled with infectious beats and many sexual innuendos, Carioca Funk is most definitely a landmark in Rio’s musical history.

The dance moves are often overly sexual, with a lot of booty shaking and grinding on the floor. The Carioca Funk Balls are still very popular (if not more) to this day, not only in Rio de Janeiro but also all over the country.

How Carioca Funk Was Born

After Funk music exploded outside the USA in the early ’70s, many Black Music Balls started popping throughout Rio de Janeiro. Even though Disco music would lower the public interest in the genre later in that decade, it remained quite popular in the city.

During the ’80s, the erotic vibes of the Miami Bass sound crept their way into the clubs, and the DJs began drawing from it to spice up the Carioca Funk sound. One of these DJs, namely DJ Marlboro, was crucial in reinventing the rhythm and making it the popular genre it is today.

According to DJ Marlboro, the single “Planet Rock” by artists Afrika Bambaataa and Soulsonic Force was a major influence on the sound, as it mixed James Brown’s Funk with Kraftwerk’s electronic production.

Released in 1982, the Afrika Bambaataa and Soulsonic Force collaboration was a water divider for the Carioca Funk – Credit: Youtube | Tommy Boy

Until this point, the lyrics weren’t as much sexual as they were political, with many of them speaking out on social differences and the hard life in the ghettos and favelas.

Lower class workers like street vendors would rap over pre-existing beats, creating what we refer to in Brazil as “melôs.” The Latin Freestyle genre (which would be later become known as Funk Melody) was the go-to production for this practice.

MC Marcinho’s “Rap do Solitário” became a mega-hit in Brazil, being a great example of the time the genre would employ meaningful lyrics in its productions – Credit: Youtube | mexicanpride3235

After that, the genre started spreading like wildfire in Rio de Janeiro. The clubs that held Carioca Funk ballrooms were no longer able to support the number of people who wanted to get in, and for that reason, the parties started taking place in large open areas.

The ’90s for Carioca Funk music were a mixed bag. Although some major AM Radio Broadcasting companies would start playing Carioca Funk songs on the airwaves, society began to pigeonhole the genre, associating it with criminality and violence.

Nonetheless, Carioca Funk proved to be a national phenomenon. Musical acts such as Claudinho e Buchecha and Latino were constant hitmakers, and by the mid-’90s, even the upper classes were surrendering to the rhythm.
Carioca Funk duo Claudinho e Buchecha were key characters in popularizing the genre throughout the country – Credit: Youtube | Jarede Silva

Production company Furacão 2000, which has been a big name in Rio’s Funk scene since the ’70s, gained its own show on national TV, inspired by the American show Soul Train.

By the early 2000s, the Carioca Funk was already perceived as Rio de Janeiro’s official rhythm. Several Bondes (how the Carioca Funk groups used to call themselves during that time) rose to stardom, such as Bonde do Tigrão and Bonde do Vinho.

Other household names such as Tati Quebra Barraco and Deize Tigrona were quickly absorbed by the European market, bringing Carioca Funk overseas and influencing beginning artists such as Diplo and M.I.A.

Tati Quebra Barraco became the face of Carioca Funk music overseas due to her playful lyrics, strong attitude, and down to earth personality – Credit: Youtube | Iasmin Turbininha

Main Instruments in Carioca Funk Music

There aren’t live instruments in Carioca Funk, as the DJ uses pre-recorded tracks to play during the balls. The Boss Doctor Rhythm DR-110 Electronic Drum can be noted as one of the favorite electronic drumsets amongst DJs.during the ’80s and ’90s.

Main Dance Moves in Carioca Funk Music

To talk about the dance moves in Carioca Funk music, it’s best to separate the genre into old-school and new-school funk, as there are many famous steps in both categories.

Old-School Carioca Funk Dance Moves

The old-school Carioca Funk (which was heavily borrowed from Miami Bass, as we saw earlier) had dance moves that didn’t revolve around sex so much. People would dance pre-choreographed steps next to each other, and more steps were added along with the moves, raising the difficulty (and fun).

Honestly, this is probably one of my favorite dances in Brazil; this used to be SO MUCH FUN! – Credit: Youtube | Ernesto Dias

New-School Carioca Funk Dance Moves

Carioca Funk music became increasingly sexual throughout the years and it definitely shows in the dance steps. If you’re a fan of twerking and shaking that booty, you’re in for a treat!

Raunchy and furious: Carioca Funk’s new dance moves are filled with sexuality and energy

Aside from the booty bumps, there are also real steps you can learn, some of which even became memes throughout the years in Brazil:


The Frevo is a rhythm and a dance style born in Pernambuco, located in the country’s northeastern portion. It musically draws from music styles such as polka and Brazilian own’s maxixe, while the dance moves borrow from military two-step and Capoeira.

The Frevo is very energetic and joyful, being widely performed during the Carnaval, especially in Pernambuco. It has also been declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage to Humanity, showing how culturally important it is.

How Frevo Was Born

The Frevo as a dance was born in Pernambuco at the end of the 19th century. The music was design by composers who specialized in fast-pacing songs, who started creating quick, energetic tunes to cheer up the crowds during Carnaval.

During that time, there was a lot of rivalry between the Frevo blocos (itinerary Frevo bands followed by a crowd, just like today), often leading to fighting and conflicts.

The Capoeira players that were Carnaval regulars would walk in front of the bloco to protect the people and to intimidate any rival crowds that could come their way.

This would heavily influence the Frevo dance moves, which would initially be used as a form of defense by the dancers. The current use of colorful small umbrellas is also a nod to the props used during the conflicts at that time.

In the mid ’50s, the Frevo song “Evocação N.1″ would become a hit during Carnaval not only in Pernambuco, but also in Rio de Janeiro, debunking Samba and the Carnaval marchinhas as fan favorites.

As a music style, the Frevo never really became a national phenomenon, such as the Carioca Funk we just saw. Still, it helped catapult a lot of important Brazilian artists such as Elba Ramalho and Alceu Valença.

Other prominent musical acts like Tom Jobim, Vinícius de Morais, Gilberto Gil, and Gal Costa would each drink from the Frevo fountain at some point, helping to spread out the music and dance moves throughout the country.
One of Gal Costa’s biggest hits, “Festa no Interior”, is a Frevo influenced song that dominated the radio airwaves for a long time in Brazil – Credit: Youtube | Jotha Carvalho

Main Instruments Used in Frevo

Being a Carnaval festivity, the Frevo uses loud and prominent sounds to move the crowd. The main instruments used in Frevo are the Tuba, the Maracas, and the Saxophone.


Considered by many musicians as the “heart of the band,” the Tuba may be big in size, but it can produce the sweetest, most delectable music. It is a blowing instrument made out of metal that is very versatile and agile.

Carnaval blocos all over Brazil often uses it to create a solid foundation for the melodies and chanting.

A Carnaval bloco in Olinda with the Tuba players doing their thing to spice up the songs – Credit: Youtube | Pernambuco Você é Meu

Ganzá (Maracas)

The Ganzá is the designation given to the Maracas manufactured by the indigenous natives in Brazil. They were seen as holy objects, kept for prayers and devotion after being sanctified by the tribe’s shaman.

The Ganzá can be used by shaking the Maracas or swinging them, producing a “scratchy” sound that adds to Forró’s excitement.

Forró musicians using the Ganzá to show the basic pattern for most of the genre’s songs – Credit: Youtube | Francisco Machado


Often associated with jazz music, the saxophone is a blowing instrument idealized by a Belgium musical manufacturer named Adolphe Sax. The Saxophone is a very multifaceted device, and there are over 15 kinds of this instrument.

It is often used in Forró songs to land fun and romping solos, adding a little flavor to the song and dance.

This Sax player demonstrates various old-school Forró solos. Doesn’t it make you feel like dancing all around? – Credit: Youtube | Júnio Sax

Main Dance Moves in Forró

As I said earlier, Forró is a passionate and very intimate dance made in pairs, which can either be slow-paced or really energetic. To give you a brief lesson on the basic Forró steps, I found this really cool video showing all the easier steps if you want to try it at home:

But if you want to see some REAL professional Forró dancers demonstrating the hardest steps and faster songs, check this one out:

Amazing isn’t it? The dancers need to have a lot of chemistry and training to be able to perform all these steps so gracefully and effortlessly – Credit: Youtube | Forró de Domingo


The Ciranda is both a rhythm and a dance style born in Pernambuco, north of Brazil. It is especially dear to the Itamaracá islanders, who still maintain this cultural heritage alive to this day.

The Ciranda is basically a round dance in which there are no rules on who can join in, regardless of gender, ethnicity, creed, or economic rank. There is also no limit to how many participants the round can hold, so the dancers can cut in or out anytime they want.

How the Ciranda Was Born

The exact source of how the Ciranda came to be is still undetermined ‘to this day. While some researchers say the Itamaracá islanders created the dance inspired by the sea motion, others say it came from Portugal in the 18th century. So there’s no consensus on its origin.

It started very popularly amongst rural workers, mangrove and sea fisherman, construction workers, and informal workers. They would engage in the dance rounds as a form of distraction and recreation.

The Ciranda was almost always performed at night, usually during the weekends. The dance sessions would take place in large open yards or by the beach shores, on no particular dates, even though the Ciranda today is highly associated with the Brazilian Festa Junina festivity.

The dancers were conducted by a master of ceremonies, known as Master Cirandeiro, who would stand in the middle of the round accompanied by the musicians. The performers would dance in the round, circling the Master and enjoying the music.

In the ’70s, the middle class started to get interested in the Ciranda, which would remove the dance rounds from the streets and take them to restaurants, clubs, and ballrooms.

A Ciranda round in a live concert in 2010, showing that the dance still has admirers and enthusiasts – Credit: Youtube | feiramusicabr

This would eventually lead to criticism by the old school performers, who reprehended some dance elements being taken away from their traditional nature. From then on, the Ciranda as it was started to vanish from most regions of Brazil, except for Pernambuco.

Everywhere else, the Ciranda round dance became very popular with kids, a perception that, for those unfamiliar with the dance’s history, remain that way ’till today.

Lia de Tamaracá, a 76-year-old Ciranda dancer and performer, is the most renowned artist of the genre in Brazil, being nominated as a Living Heritage in Pernambuco, also popularly known as the Queen of Ciranda.

Lia and her band performing several of her songs – Credit: Youtube | Blue Tape Media

Main Instruments Used in Ciranda

Although there were changes in regards to the people who enjoyed dancing the Ciranda, one thing remained the same: the instruments used to carry the tunes.

Since the main instruments played here are the Zabumba, the Ganzá, and the Accordion (which we’ve all seen in previous dance styles), I think it’s best to show you a Ciranda band playing them:

Credit: Youtube | wandinho manaus

Main Dance Moves in Ciranda

The moves in Ciranda are fairly simple, with the dancers performing the moves while maintaining the round. The dance can be performed as long as there are at least two people in the round, with no maximum limit on how many others can join.

In the following video, you can catch all the Ciranda basic steps from minute 01:30, so gather the whole family in your backyard and let’s start practicing!

These Ciranda dancers show all the basic moves you need to know before joining the round; isn’t it fun and simple? – Credit: Youtube | Canal de Educação Física

Bumba Meu Boi

Also known as Boi Bumbá in various Brazilian regions, this dance modality is also a big celebration in the northeastern region, especially in Maranhão and Recife.

Its dance and cultural expression revolve around the legend of a dead ox, which was brought back to life by the mystic powers of the native healers.

The performance is a theatrical representation of the legend, in which humans and magical animal characters interact to entertain the crowd while telling the story through music and dance.

How Bumba Meu Boi Was Born

The same as with the Ciranda, the origin story of how the Bumba Meu Boi celebration came to be is still uncertain. It’s generally believed that it started in the 16th century in the Iberian Peninsula, being brought to Brazil by the Portuguese colonizers.

It was then modified and updated by the slaves and indigenous natives who resided in Brazil at the time, slowly turning it into what we know of it today. Although there are some variations in regards to characters and storyline, the basic plot remains the same:

A female slave called Catarina was craving ox tongue during her pregnancy, so her husband Chico kills an ox on the farm he worked for to serve it to his wife. He didn’t know that the animal he killed was a special dancing ox, which was the farm owner’s favorite.

The farm owner then orders his arrest, but when he finds out why Chico did it, he forgives him and recruits indigenous native healers to bring the ox back to life. Once the animal is resurrected, the farm owner throws a big party to celebrate its life and health.

The performance’s main focus is to show human fragility and the animal’s strength, combining theatrical elements like comedy, drama, satire, and tragedy. Almost the entire cast is usually made out of men, including the female characters.

Nowadays, there are over 100 Bumba Meu Boi troupes in Maranhão alone, each with its own peculiarities and traits. Also, like the Ciranda, this dance is largely performed during the Brazilian Festa Junina period.

Main Instruments Used in Bumba Meu Boi

To convey the musical background while the performers tell the Bumba Meu Boi story, the main instruments used on the show are the Rattle, a bigger version of the Tambourine, and a special type of drum called Tambor Onça.


The rattle is a wooden instrument that produces a dry type of sound when the two halves are hit against one another. The rattles are mainly used to mark the beat and pacing on Bumba Meu Boi songs, as you can see in the video below:

Rattle player demonstrating how the instrument is used during the Bumba Meu Boi parade – Credit: Youtube | GovernoMA

Large Tambourine (Pandeirão)

Known as Pandeirão in Brazil, these instruments can be over 3.3 feet long, as you probably saw in the previous video. The Pandeirão is very characteristic of Brazil’s northeastern rhythms, used to make the songs feel more vibrant and alive.

The players tune the Pandeirão by the fire minutes before the Bumba Meu Boi celebration starts, as you can see in the next video:

Pandeirão players standing by the fire and testing the instruments before the Bumba Meu Boi parade – Credit: Youtube | Waguin PCN

Tambor Onça

This type of drum is very similar to the Cuíca, an instrument we’ve previously discussed while going through the instruments used in Brazilian Carnival parades. But while the cuíca produces that very distinct monkey-sound Samba is famous for, the Tambor Onça is used to imitate the ox howl.

The sound is produced by pulling the ramrod in the middle of the drum box, simulating the ox cry – Credit: Youtube | Johnny Herno

Main Dance Moves in Bumba Meu Boi

The Bumba Meu Boi dance is very performative, with the dancers interpreting the lyrics and the story that is being told through specific moves. The crowd is always welcome to imitate what is being shown, as long as they don’t interfere with the spectacle:

A Bumba Meu Boi troupe showing some of the moves used to tell the heartfelt story – Credit: Youtube | Sarandeiros

We’ve reached the end of our article, and I hope you were able to learn a few moves and appreciate the dances Brazil has to offer, other than Samba!

While the latter is definitely heavily known worldwide, we have so much culture and richness in other regional performances that it is a shame they go unnoticed!

If you enjoy Brazilian culture and dance, we think these other articles might also interest you:

Cover Image: Traditional brazilian dancers | PxHere

Bruno Reguffe

What's up, everyone! I'm Bruno, and I'm a nutritionist living in Rio de Janeiro. I've been a longtime friend of Ana's, and I'm excited to help her expand on all things Brazilian with y'all, as well as sharing some of our culture and a few personal experiences while living in the country!

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