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Portuguese Dances Folk Dance Federation of California, South, Inc.

Portuguese Dances
By Jay Michtom



When we think of Portuguese music and dance, Fado is the first thing that comes to mind. The word "fado" comes from the Latin word fatum, from which the English word "fate" also originates. The word also is linked to the music genre itself. Many songs play on the double meaning, such as the Amália Rodrigues song "Com que voz," which includes the lyric "Com que voz chorarei meu triste fado" ("With what voice should I lament my sad fate, sing my sad fado?"). Although the origins are difficult to trace, today, fado is commonly regarded as simply a form of song that can be about anything but must follow a certain traditional structure.

In popular belief, fado is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a sentiment of resignation, fatefulness, and melancholia. This is loosely captured by the Portuguese word saudade (longing), symbolizing a feeling of loss (a permanent, irreparable loss and its consequent lifelong damage). This is similar to the character of several musical genres in Portuguese ex-colonies such as morna from Cape Verde, which may be historically linked to fado in its earlier form but has retained its rhythmic heritage. This connection to the music of a historic Portuguese urban and maritime proletariat (sailors, dock workers, port traders, and other working-class people in general) can also be found in Brazilian modinha and Indonesian kroncong, although all these music genres subsequently developed their own independent traditions.

Fado dancers in the middle of the 19th century were mainly from the urban working-class, namely sailors, bohemians and courtesans, who not only sang but danced and and beat the Fado. During the second half of the 19th century, the dance rhythms would eventually fade away, and the dancers became merely singers (fadistas).

A particular stylistic trait of fado is the use of rubato, where the music pauses at the end of a phrase and the singer holds the note for dramatic effect. The music uses double-time rhythm and triple-time (Waltz style) rhythm.


Music and arts play a prominent role in Portuguese culture, and traditional folk dances, called Ranchos Folclóricos, stem from the country's rural areas and farming communities. Jubilant and energetic, Ranchos Folclóricos sound very different from Fado, and these partner dances are either danced in couples or as groups and are still practiced today. Usually, they are observed in public during holidays and special events. The prominent characteristics include colorful costumes worn by men and women, guitar, accordion and bagpipe instrumentals, finger snapping, and circular movements. The different dances and costumes represent different regions in Portugal. Normally, the women's costume is long and colorful, composed of either a dress or skirt and a top, and complete with matching shoes and a hair scarf or handkerchief. Men, on the other hand, wear rather plain costumes made up of trousers and a long-sleeved top that is sometimes covered with a vest. It also is common for men to wear hats. Traditionally, the styles of the costumes worn by the dancers were influenced by the region and social system that the dancers belonged to.

Each "dance" has a different technique, whether made up of two or three steps, and is danced in long lines or small circles. A few of the more popular techniques include the Vira, Fandango, and Corridinho. The most traditional folk dances stem from the north of the country, but some, such as the Corridinho, also are part of the south's history, and will even be observed in the Algarve (southernmost region of Portugal) during festivals. Malhão, from northwestern Portugal, danced by couples in long lines, has changed little in more than a century.

The Vira (turn) comes from the Minho region in the north, and its style has been compared to the Waltz. During this dance, men and women form a circle, that they revolve around with their hands in the air, and partners (which continuously change) circle each other as well. Like the Vira are the Chula and Fandango, which differ by being a little more energetic and accompanying different instrumental styles and melodies.

In general, all of the dances include circular movements and elaborate footwork, but the Coridinho is a little different. During this dance, partners stick together and take turns in the center of the spotlight where a major part of their routines incudes spins that may makie the non-dancer dizzy to watch.

A couple of the most famous folk dances are Tamar from beachside Nazaré and Pauliteiros from Miranda in the Douro region. The Pauliteiros is unique as it's a style of a warrior dance, which is not common in Portuguese folk routines. During this style, men dance together, incorporating the use of wooden sticks that they hit together to the music's rhythm and synchronize with their footwork. Pauliteiros comes from the word paulito (small stick), and neighboring Spain has a similar style called Danza de Palos.

Most of this article was taken from the Internet.
Printed in Folk Dance Scene, April 2018.