June 18, 2024

Jo Mai Asian Culture

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Brazilian Dance ‘Passinho’ Receives State Heritage Recognition, Inspiring a Generation

3 min read

Picture this: nimble footwork, sharp backwards and forwards strides, all synchronized to an infectious Brazilian funk rhythm. Intermittent stylings borrowed from samba, capoeira, break dancing, frevo, and a plethora of other dances. This is the essence of the dance style known as passinho, born in the 2000s in the working-class neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. March saw passinho elevated to the coveted status of “intangible cultural heritage” by Rio’s state legislators, an official recognition of this homegrown artistic spectacle.

Passinho, Portuguese for “little step,” was pioneered by adventurous and flexible youths in their homes. With no formal training but a knack for innovation, these young dancers exhibited their fresh moves at community funk parties. Notably, the dance style found fertile ground in the era of burgeoning social media platforms as youngsters uploaded their novel dance sequences to platforms like Orkut and YouTube.

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The spread of passinho wasn’t limited to the favelas it originated from—it seeped into other communities, creating a vibrant, competitive dancing scene. Young participants meticulously observed and adapted the skills of seasoned dancers, while constantly innovating to produce captivating styles and stay relevant in their craft.

Dancer and choreographer Walcir de Oliveira, 23, sees passinho as the cornerstone of his life and livelihood. “It’s through passinho I express my joy and relieve tension. It’s a source of happiness,” he declared.

Brazilian producer Julio Ludemir accelerated the popularity of passinho by staging ‘passinho battles’ in the early 2010s. These events fostered a platform for dancers to showcase their talent, earning accolades from a jury of judges. Passinho’s enthralling energy caught international attention when, in 2014, New York’s Lincoln Center hosted a passinho duel during its “Out of Doors” festival. The once favela-bound dance now commanded the spotlight even outside Brazil—on mainstream TV and more prominently at the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Ludemir sees passinho as a dynamic reflection of Brazilian “antropofagia”—a theory premised on the metaphorical consumption of external cultures to shape innovative Brazilian identities. He argues that passinho encapsulates a myriad of cultural influences assimilated by marginal youth as they engaged with the world through the internet.

In addition to serving as an avenue for cultural expression, passinho also offered its practitioners an escape from the conjoining problems of crime and drug-gang rivalry that plague their communities. The dance’s alluring appeal provided favela youths with an alternative to the crime-riddled world or the stereotyped dreams of becoming a soccer star.

Considerably, passinho’s recognition as state heritage is a significant boost for its legacy. Rio state legislator Veronica Lima acknowledges the importance of this recognition in helping to “decriminalize funk and artistic expressions of youths” from favelas. Ludemir also adds, noting that the recognition will fortify the first generation of passinho dancers as role models for future aspirants.

Pablo Henrique Goncalves, known by his stage name Pablinho Fantástico, is one such role model. A winner of the 2014 passinho battle, he later formed OZCrias, a dance group comprising dancers who, like him, hail from Rocinha, Rio’s largest favela.

Another notable dance group is Passinho Carioca from Penha, a cluster of favelas in the opposite part of the city. Nayara Costa, one of the directors, narrates how learning the dance offered her a lifeline from the drug trafficking engulfing her family. Now, Costa uses passinho to inspire youngsters and anyone interested in the dance.

“Today I give classes to people who are in their sixties; passinho is for everyone,” shared Costa, 23. “Just as it revolutionized my life, passinho is still going to change the lives of many others.”

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