The samba school where Brazilian rhythms meet country

At Austin Samba School, students are dressed in American-flag cowboy outfits and dancing to a samba rhythm. And class has just begun.

The dance school combines the study of Brazilian samba with Texas country. Modeled after samba schools in Rio, including Unidos da Tijuca, Portela and Salgueiro, its instructors teach styles from several different parts of Brazil, mixing Afrobeats, rhythms from Rio, and other musical elements with melodies from country music in an homage to samba’s history.

“The songs themselves tell a story, so then my challenge was, how do I reflect a little bit and wink at the story being told in the song, but then also try to remain true to the underlying Brazilian rhythms?” Imani Aanu, dance coordinator at Austin Samba School, said. “We wanted to pay homage to all of the different styles of song that have influenced Texas across its history.”

The school has developed a community of people who dance across cultures, Aanu said.

“At the heart of it, we are a community of people coming from all walks of life who have in common this love and curiosity and interest in Brazilian dance and history and culture, and to practice the craft so we can continue to grow in that artistic culture,” she said.

Video produced by Eve Tarlo. This report originally appeared on PBS member station KLRU. Local Beat is an ongoing series on Art Beat that features arts and culture stories from PBS member stations around the nation.