“You know the samba?”

About three years ago, when my then-future-wife was just moving to Akron in preparation for graduate studies, her grandmother said that some distant relatives happened to live in northeast Ohio. Over the course of the next two years, she—and subsequently we—became great friends with these ‘cousins’ (actually a much more complicated relationship, but this is how we refer to it for simplicity).

Last night we had the pleasure of visiting with them and taking in a concert at the Copley Bandstand. It was a fun night of big band music, courtesy of Swing Machine. Great memories of playing second tenor in a big band came rushing back to my mind as I listened to charts such as Basie’s “April in Paris.”

After the concert, we talked to a couple who was friends of our relatives and a friend of theirs. The couple was from Puerto Rico and the friend was from the Dominican Republic. The began talking about music and Bob, the husband of the Akron “cousin” remarked, “This couple taught me the samba.”

I responded, “Oh, that’s fun!”

To which the couple asked me, “You know the samba?”

At this point I got confused. I thought, “Sure, I know the samba. I’ve played plenty and heard even more.” But I knew that I was missing something.

The other man then offered to teach us all the calypso and gave a quick sample as he shuffled his feet.

I got it: they meant “Can you dance the samba?”!

It’s amazing to look back at how many style or genre terms originated as names for dances. It would perhaps even be fairly safe to say that instrumental music began as dance music.

We’ve come a long way since then—and I don’t necessarily mean in a one-way track of improvement. Popular music still knows how to dance; some of these musicians may be making some of the best dance music ever. “Classical” music, on the other hand, has two left feet. I think we are starting to see a little swing (pun partially intended) back in the other direction, especially as the neo-romantic-post-minimalist trend seems to have hit it big with audiences. I wouldn’t be surprised to see well-crafted, quality dance music reappear in the next couple of decades as composers begin to reconnect with culture, and the “hidden language of the soul.” [Martha Graham, American dancer and choreographer]

As many conductors and music educators have often said, “Let it dance!”

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