Batalha do Passinho, a documentary about Rio's passinho dance craze and the city's passinho dance competition, has come to New York.
The documentary debuted on July 22 at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, and was followed by a passinho dance party featuring dancers from the film. Even though they flew in this morning, the dancers still managed to wow the crowd and even teach their moves to curious partygoers. The movie will be shown again on August 2 at the Film Society at Lincoln Center, and the passinho dancers will perform at Lincoln Center Out of Doors on July 24 and July 26.
I've been following the passinho craze for awhile, and interviewed the documentary's director last year. The movie is an excellent way to learn about the dance and how it's become a cultural phenomenon in Rio. But for international audiences, here's some extra context that may help you understand more about the dance's significance and why it's a big deal that it's being featured in New York.
Funk, the music that passinho is set to, has been around for awhile but has had a complicated history. Akin to rap, it's had a stigma signifying poverty and violence attached to it, despite its popularity. Even though wealthy youth sometimes attend funk parties in favelas, a person who likes funk, a funkeiro, is associated with a person who lives in a favela. For this reason, it is a huge deal that funk and passinho are being featured at Lincoln Center, the stage for some of the world's greatest music and dance companies.
The film doesn't delve too deeply into the dancers' lives, but the truth is that it's refreshing to see a documentary focused on Rio's favelas that's not devoted to poverty and violence. The fact is, though, that passinho represents a potential opportunity for young people who get involved in the scene, and an alternative to another dominant force in their communities: drug trafficking. One of the dancers says in the film that his "dream is to be recognized," which to me sounded like not only recognizing his dancing but also recognition for being more than just a favelado, a kid from a favela.
Another element that I found interesting about the passinho is how it's a reflection of other elements of Brazilian culture: a fusion of styles incorporating foreign and Brazilian influences.
In this case, passinho melds hip hop, pop and lock, breakdancing, samba, and frevo. It's also reflective of Brazilians' abilities of creativity and spontaneity, given that the dance is frequently improvised.
The next important thing to know is that passinho's transition from becoming popular in the favelas and being picked up by major media was a huge step. Xuxa, one of the country's most famous entertainers, featured several of the dancers on her show, as shown in the film; and Globo, the country's biggest media conglomerate and TV station, has showcased the dance on numerous shows. One of them is Esquenta, a show that has brought favela culture and issues to mainstream audiences. In some of these cases, dancers speak openly about where they're from. Just a few years ago, "the idea of asking someone what favela they were from, on national television, was unthinkable," wrote Rio Real blog's Julia Michaels last year.
Passinho also reveals the shifts taking place in Brazil, notably conspicuous consumption by the new middle class and the power of digital inclusion. The film highlights the fashion and aesthetic styles associated with passinho, which recalls funk ostentatação, or ostentatious funk, where performers sing about consumption and fans seek expensive name brands to imitate artists. Plus, this type of consumption is part of being a member of Brazil's new middle class. And finally, passinho owes its quick spread to social networks like Orkut and Facebook and videos on Youtube. With more young people having access to the internet and smartphones, passinho not only spread throughout Rio, but also in Brazil. Plus, internet exposure from artists like Ricky Martin featuring passinho dancers have helped bring the dance worldwide.