In the background from her feathered headdress, Maisa Duke puts on eye makeup. Queen Mary, Longbeach, CA
Samba is energy. Sensual, not sexual. It is perfected athleticism adorned with sequins –the body celebrated. In Brazil, the dance is part of national identity. Here, in California, samba, naturally alluring, draws performers from all different backgrounds: Angolan, American, Cambodian, Mexican, and their presence and movement simultaneously celebrate the origin of the dance and create a space of intercultural communication. In this way, Samba, is a ritual to unite peoples. The preparation for any given performance is always the same; a half hour of makeup, tights, glittering costume, dramatic heels, feathered headdresses, joking, laughter, warm-up. They are then called from their private dressing rooms to bring an audience together, to shout, to participate, and stand in awe.
When I started this project I had just returned six months prior from a year long stay in Brazil. The challenge for me was how to photograph samba in a way that would express how I had learned samba to be: sensual rather than sexual. In order to explore sensuality, and yet, differentiate samba from the sexual stereotype most Americans place on the dance, I asked myself, “How can I use the borderline between private and public space to emphasize the sensuality of the dance?” In the private realm, which is representative of our internal space, there is quietude, contemplation, spirituality, strength and myth. Outwardly, in the public realm, samba is experienced through performance, dance, joy, music, movement, and celebration as a collective experience.
I give special thanks to my dear friend Jessica Phisterer who introduced me to Maisa Duke and her San Francisco based samba group, Energia do Samba, who gave me permission to follow their performances during a California Carnival season.