The History of Portuguese Dance

By John Yargo

Located at the far western edge of continental Europe, Portugal ascended to elite authority from the 15th to the17th centuries, largely because of its advantageous position for trade and navy. That advantageous position between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea has permitted its cultural exports, including its dances, to become prominent internationally.

Styles

Portugal has produced the two-steps waltz, two types of the fandango, the corridinho and the bailarico, among dozens of others. Each dance has a rich history and technique.

Historically, the country’s dances have been accompanied by guitar, tambourine and other percussion instruments. In rare cases, a dance is staged to complement the recitation of folk tales. More recently, electronic music has been synthesized with older traditional instrumentation.

Dress varies depending on the kind of dance. Sometimes, the dancers’ clothing is uniform and traditional, but in a few cases, the dress is informal, evidencing class difference and social status.

Native Dances

Many Portuguese dances are long-established celebrations of seasonal festivals, including fall harvest and the beginning of spring, and commemorations of religious events. Local and national dances have drawn from pagan and Christian traditions equally. The annual festival held four days before Ash Wednesday, “Carnaval” highlights some of these fusions. For instance, the Careto ceremonial rite evinces some features of pagan and Christian festivals.

Influences From the Colonies

Dance in Portugal, like other aspects of its culture, has been transformed by mutual cultural exchanges with its colonies since the 17th century. Because of cultural engagement between Portugal and its then-colony Brazil, modern Portuguese dance has acquired some characteristics of Afro-Carribean dance. The samba is a hybrid of Portuguese and Afro-Brazilian dance.

Alternately, the branyo and farapeira have been affected by Malaysian influences being carried back to Portugal from the Portuguese colony Malacca. The branyo is sedate and well-liked among older generations, while the farapera is a fast, merry dance specifically for the young and unmarried.

Dancing in the Villages

Many rural villages have long-established dance rituals and styles. In villages near Miranda, annual “stick-dances” are performed. During the week before, the performers roam the streets, soliciting voluntary support for the production. The performance itself involves the performers doing multiperson acrobatics with long decorated sticks for the community.

Festivals

Today, the rich history of Portuguese dance is on display at the Carnival in Madeira and the Burning Ribbons festival in Coimbra.

References

About the Author

John Yargo is a sports writer, living in Orlando, Fla. His work regularly appears in the "Jackson Free Press," and he has published articles on theater, fiction and art history. He has also received a master's degree in English.