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What is the Bossa-Nova?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 23, 2024
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Bossa-nova, loosely translated, means "trendy charm." This style of music dates back to the late 1950s in the upscale beach areas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The music is born from the samba, but still very different from it, as the bossa-nova has a great amount of inspiration from jazz. The term refers to a dance as well as the music, but the music ultimately became more popular for listening to than dancing to.

Many people prefer to listen to bossa-nova sounds rather than dance to them. Some people even contend that North America tried to turn the South American music into a dance craze. There was a short fad of bossa-nova dancing from about 1960 to 1965 in the United States and some groups do still dance it today. The dance features swaying movements and has some samba and rumba steps. A signature of the dance is the stillness of the body except for the soft swaying of the hips while the knees are bent.

The bossa-nova allows the dancers to add their own steps to fit in with the beat. Even waltz or fox-trot steps can be used with the dance if they are short, smooth slides. This flexibility makes it an easy dance for beginners to learn.

While samba began as working class music, bossa-nova was associated with the wealthy. The song "The Girl from Ipanema" remains as the best-known examples of this genre. Most classic bossa-nova songs are about the themes of beaches, women and love. The genre began in Brazil's Ipanema Beach and Copacabana areas.

Bossa-nova music does include samba-like drum beats, although samba usually has more percussion. It is often played on a classical guitar and sometimes the piano. In the late 1960s the genre became more political in content, giving it more samba-like qualities.

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