Aquele Abraço: Brazilian Dance in Philadelphia

“O Rio de Janeiro continua lindo…” And so does Philly!

Bahian Gilberto Gil’s “Aquele Abraço” (That embrace) makes me think of the dance happening in Philadelphia these days. Gil is originally from Salvador, yet wrote this song in 1969 to the people of Rio de Janeiro, where he had been living and making music. The sounds of Afro-Brazil and Bahia are in Gil’s music, but he was quintessentially brasileiro. His music went beyond Salvador, and appealed to cariocas and people all over the world. Philadelphia is a long time home for ballet, flamenco and Middle Eastern (belly) dance, and new comers include Indian and Asian dance companies, Argentine tango, and Brazilian dance and martial arts. It hugs all of these cultures and this is even evident as you fly into the city, with its depiction of the airport mural How Philly Moves.

Brazilian music has been around in Philly for a while. Minas, which specializes in MPB (including bossa nova) and originally composed music, is one of the longest running ensembles, started by carioca Orlando Haddad and his wife Patricia King. Aló Brasil developed out of earlier Brazilian bands in the area. Michael Steven’s led “Unidos da Filadelfia” (samba school/band) and the Philly Bloco professional band are younger groups that include many local Americans. In terms of movement, Brazilian styles are starting to gain more of a foothold in the city, thanks to local and Brazilian dancers who are teaching Americans how to move. ASCAB Capoeira School has been teaching capoeira (Brazilian martial art) to adults and children.

Angelica Cassimiro started teaching Samba dance classes in 2009, with Alex Shaw, leader of Alo Brasil. Afterwards she independently organized and taught the classes, which included renting space in Philadelphia. Angelica was born and raised in Brazil and trained at the Palacio das Artes in Belo Horizonte, in Minas Gerais, In the U.S. she received scholarships to train with Garden State Ballet, Alvin Ailey, American Ballet Theater and Philadelphia’s University of the Arts.

I was fortunate enough to attend some of the classes in the past and they were a lot of fun, a superior workout and quite authentic. When we had classes at ASCAB Capoeira’s old space in Bella Vista, the Pelourinho scene from Salvador, painted on the walls, and the capoeiristas who joined us, set the scene for the best you can get outside of Brazil. The mood was exciting, electric and intense. Angelica always ended the classes with an inclusive “roda” or circle dance, which created a sense of community and group sharing of talents.

Angelica now performs with the aerialist troupe, Australia’s “Strange Fruit” and is currently offering “SambaDelphia” a six week samba dance workshop culminating in an informal public performance on June 14, 2015 in Philadelphia’s Performance Garage.

For more information about Angelica:

The newest addition to the Philadelphia Brazilian arts scene is Cleonice Fonseca, who is originally from Salvador, Bahia. Salvador is the Afro-Brazilian center of Brazil, and her classes focus on African dances from Brazil:


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Cleonice Fonseca is an experienced dancer who began her training in Bahia at Dança do Colégio Central da Bahia, where she learned and performed African dance, folkloric dances, religious dances (candomblé orixás), and contemporary dance with important dance masters. For 10 years she was part of the Grupo de Dança do SESC, and also performed with other companies in the area. She arrived in Philadelphia in June 2014 and has been involved with various projects through ASCAB Capoeira, Mamadêlê Produções and Sunrise of Philadelphia. She has been teaching music and dance in South Philly public schools and for adults, and the Wissahicken Dance Studio and Philadelphia Capoeira Arts Center (ASCAB Capoeira).


Her classes are ongoing! Check them out. Aquele abraço…


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