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…

Minas – Timeless Brazilian-American Music, Timeless Artistry

On February 2, 2014, I had the pleasure of interviewing husband and wife duo, Orlando Haddad and Patricia King, leaders of the Brazilian-American group, Minas. They are celebrating 30 years of musical composition and performing. One of their goals is to create music that is ¨timeless”. Some of their upcoming events include: February 8, World Cafe Live at Wilmington, DE, a tribute to Sergio Mendes; Feb. 14 at the Sofitel in Philadelphia, and Feb. 15 at the Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse in Newtown Square, PA.

Since 1984, Minas has been a pioneer in the Brazilian music presence in Philadelphia, in addition to presenting their own fusion of Brazilian and American sounds to enthusiastic audiences. Orlando, in the group ¨PhilaSamba¨, introduced Brazilian percussion, ‘batucada’ to Philly, and some of those original members went on to form Alô Brasil. Following Alô Brasil, members went on to start Philly Bloco and Unidos da Filadelfia. Minas has performed in schools in the area–about 500,000 students have been touched by their music. Orlando also reached older students, teaching at the University of the Arts and Temple University.

The story of Minas sounds like it was destiny, “estava escrito”, just meant to be. Patricia and Orlando met as students at the North Carolina School of the Arts. Curiously, young Patricia, from south central Pennsylvania, had developed an interest in and love of Brazilian music before she arrived at the conservatory. Orlando, thousands of miles away in Rio de Janeiro, had been playing music in English with his band since he was 12 years old, and was initially influenced by the Beatles. Due to a lack of resources at his conservatory in Brazil, Orlando decided to transfer if he was ever going to fulfill his musical dream. And the rest is history! Of course these two would eventually meet–Patricia’s strong curiosity about Brazilian music prompted her to seek out Orlando, as soon as soon as she knew he was studying at the school, and hear Brazilian music live. Through this connection, Orlando rediscovered the music of his country.


After graduation, Orlando and Patricia went to Brazil. While there, they jammed, studied and performed with Brazilian musicians, including Dores Monteiro, Leny Andrade and Romero Lubambo. Some of the music and artists that have influenced Patricia over the years include, Keith Jarrett, Flora Purim, Tania Maria, Milton Banana and other piano trios, cool jazz, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. A child pianist and composer, Patricia studied voice and performed in church solos and musicals. Orlando was influenced by the Beatles, piano trios, bossa nova and MPB–Música Popular Brasileira–Gilberto Gil, Djavan, Milton Nascimento, Caetano Veloso, etc., and classical music. He explains how he and his brother would watch the TV show,”O Fino da Bossa” hosted by singer Elis Regina. Although he had this background, until he met Patricia, Orlando was not playing much Brazilian music.

When I asked about their favorite songs that they themselves had composed, Patricia praised Orlando’s Temporal, Ash Wednesday March, Primavera and Verde. Orlando admires Patricia’s Only the Moon and the Stars, Dream of Brazil, Bossa and Wait. Orlando asserts that he is overwhelmingly inspired by nature.

Girl from Ipanema in the Snow:

Over the years their music has evolved to be more complex and universal. The spirit is the same, but obviously after 30 years of collaborating, composing and performing, both have matured and polished their process and technique. Moreover, both have branched out to compose music in other styles. Orlando has been working on 20th century contemporary art music, while Patricia has been busy writing an operetta, called La Giara.

Minas, timeless, has stood the test of time for 30 years in Philadelphia. For the future, they hope to bring their music to listeners beyond the Philadelphia area. A long way from Rio de Janeiro, Orlando adds, ¨My goal has always been to tour the world with music.’

Minas, On Canvas, WHHY/PBS

For more information about MINAS and upcoming events, please visit their website:

To listen to MINAS, visit their Pandora Station: Minas Radio