Let's Talk About Samba - Interview With Mishel Jemma Finlayson
Posted on 22 December 2021
If you combine the words samba, Australia, queen and mentor, there is only one person who comes to mind - Mishel Jemma Finlayson!
This diva, queen and majestic samba lover is the embodiment of true roots samba, with a commitment and passion for her dance community.
She is the inspiration for so many students in Australia who want to learn how to dance samba with mastery.
There is something very unique about Mishel when she teaches: she will help you explore your talents, self expression, and above all, she will boost your body confidence and self love, along with teaching you authentic samba from Rio.
We had the pleasure of working with Mishel way back in the early 2000's when we were about to launch a mobile app that was dedicated to samba. Mishel had stunning samba photos that were breathtaking, and we just had to use them for our app!
We fell in love with this queen and have been her #1 fan since then!
Every time Mishel is in Brazil during carnival season, the local media "clicks" are all over her!
She has been featured in Brazilian National Media like Rede Globo TV, Vogue Brazil, local print and online media and when she returns to Australia, "all eyes are on local star Mishel", the Australasian Queen.
Let's get to know more about this diva?
We asked her a couple of questions and we hope you get inspired by her journey!
Let's Talk About Samba!
Where did your Samba journey begin?
My first experience with Samba was when I was 18 years old (way back in 1998!) and I went to a Latin night at a dance academy in Brisbane, Australia. They taught an ‘Intro to Latin styles’ class followed by a dance party, and I instantly fell in love with the vibrancy of South American music.
We learnt a little bit of Merengue, Salsa and Bachata, and at the end of the class they taught Brazilian Samba to live drumming. I clearly remember thinking:
"What is this magical culture, this infectious rhythm and these incredible body movements? Where have they been all my life?!”
I had never seen dancing or heard music like that before, and watched in awe as some of their performers started Samba-ing to the drums - they were so confident, feminine and beautiful. I was completely enchanted and my love affair with Samba and Latin dance was born!
So what happened next?
I was studying to be an English language teacher at University and was doing a Languages and Linguistics degree majoring in French, Spanish and Japanese. Being interested in all of these cultures and languages definitely helped my journey towards learning Portuguese, but more on that later!
When I turned 21, I graduated from University and got a job as an English teacher at an international college in Brisbane where there were lots of Brazilian students. I had continued learning Latin dance during university, and had made a handful of Latin friends, but suddenly I had all of these crazy Brazilians in my English class! Having daily interactions with the Brazilian culture and people, I fell even more in love with their warmth, vibrancy and extroverted nature – I finally felt like I’d found ‘my people’!
My students would often bring Brazilian music to class, or they would invite me to a Festa (party) or Churrasco (BBQ) on the weekends. It was here that I started to get a feel for Portuguese, and through listening to both Forro music (Falamansa were my favourite) and Pagode (Grupo Revelacao were truly a revelation!) I became interested in learning the language, despite being frustrated that Brazil is one of the only countries in South America that doesn’t speak Spanish!
When did you go to Brazil for the first time?
After a few years teaching English, I was in need of an adventure. I had just turned 23 and one day I woke up and decided I would book a one-way ticket to Rio! It was one of those decisions you make when you are young, naïve and wanting to experience life away from your parents in a far off land! I had never lived overseas before, besides spending a few short months with a host family in Japan on exchange. But it was one of those ‘big girl’ decisions - I was so enchanted with this culture and the only way I knew I was going to learn more about it was to fully immerse myself in it.
My parents were terrified for me – even though a few of my students had returned to Rio and had offered to show me around, it was still such an unknown destination for Aussies (not to mention 24 hours by plane away!), and all we heard about on the news about Brazil was the violence and crime. This was also in the days before social media and YouTube (early 2000s), and even before web cams were invented, so it was going to be hard (and expensive – think phone cards!) to keep in touch with loved ones!
How did you feel arriving in the City of Samba?
Arriving in the Cidade Maravilhosa (the Marvellous City as Rio is known by locals) for the first time was a somewhat spiritual moment for me - a strange feeling of "coming home”. I remember flying over the illuminated Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer statue) at night, with his arms wide open - almost welcoming me to the city - and thinking, “I have been here before”.
I am not Brazilian and I don’t have any Latin heritage, nor had I grown up with Brazilian friends or the Latin culture. My mother is from Holland and my father from Australia, so it was such an odd sensation of feeling like I was returning home...
Tell us about life in Rio!
I decided that I would spend the first 6 months in Rio studying dance. I went to the famous Carlinhos de Jesus and Jamie Aroxa dance academies and focused on dança do salão - ballroom dance styles including Samba de Gafieira, Zouk Lambada, Bolero and Forro. It was a very social world of constant bailes, practicas and weekend-long congresses, and although I couldn’t speak much of the language, you don’t need to when you’re dancing, so I met lots of locals and had a ball dancing the nights away!
Once the initial thrill of living overseas wore off though, and I had to deal with the daily difficulties of getting around an enormous city using public transport, paying bills via public telephones, standing in line for hours at the post office and struggling with intermittent internet to keep in touch with family and friends back home, I became really homesick.
I also found Portuguese so much more difficult to learn than Spanish, and although my French background would help me with the reading and writing, the accent from Rio was so challenging with all the "shhh" words and endless slang!
I really loved Cariocas – Rio locals who truly embodied that Brazilian lifestyle of sun, surf and Samba! Their ‘joie de vivre’ is so tangible and infectious, and regardless of the frustrations of trying to make a living teaching English on minimum wage and make myself understood in my limited Portuguese (as most locals don’t speak any English), they made me feel so welcome and embraced me as one of their own.
How did you become a dance teacher?
During my first time living in Rio, as well as studying partner dancing, I had regularly gone to my local gym to work out and discovered Lambaeróbica classes (basically a Latin Fitness class long before the days of Zumba!).
Once I returned home and back to English teaching, I was really missing authentic Brazilian dance classes but had nowhere to go in my city that taught in the way I’d learnt in Rio. So I decided to open my own class!
I had no dance teaching experience or a partner to teach with, but was a university-trained teacher, so figured I could just work it out as I went along! I had a few CDs of Axe and Samba reggae music (fun, upbeat styles from Bahia) that I’d bought in Brazil, and some Lambada, Salsa and Cha Cha music so I decided to do a Latin Mix class for women at my local gym, where they didn’t need a partner nor any dance experience, and could experience the joy of dance and Latin music whilst getting fitter and making friends – that’s how Sambaliscious essentially began.
When did you next go back to Brazil?
I was slowly starting to build a following in Brisbane teaching my Latin Fitness classes, but soon realized that if I wanted to take my dance teaching to the next level and transition out of my day job, I needed to study further, and the only place where I could learn from the very best was of course Rio!
Each week I’d get paid in cash for my classes at the gym and I had a money tin at home where I’d stash my earnings away until it was full. Once it was, I knew I’d have enough money to pay for a flight back to Brazil! It took me 18 months to save, and then I marched into the travel agent one sunny day and bought a 12-month return ticket to Rio! Little did I know that this next trip would totally change the trajectory of my life!
Returning to Rio…and falling in love with a Brazilian!
Well, it was bound to happen!
I returned to Rio and to my dance classes, and ended up falling in love with my dance teacher!
He was Carioca, from Rocha Miranda in the Zona Norte (Rio’s infamously dangerous suburbs), and of course a total malandro. He was handsome, smooth and full of baggage – lots of children with different women and lots of broken hearts in his wake. He was also 15 years older than me…
I was young, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (as we say in Australia!) and totally fell for his charm. Next minute we were living together in Lins de Vasconcelos (a suburb right next to a slum with bullet holes in our apartment walls!) but I was having the time of my life.
We went out dancing most nights and spent weekends on the glorious beaches of Ipanema. He took me up into the favelas to Baile Funk parties and out to Via Show, a famous suburban show venue where you could hear some of the best Samba bands in Rio.
We went to glamorous bailes at Estudantina – a traditional Gafieira ‘dance salon’ where local band Brazil Show would play and the dance floor was packed with beautiful people dressed to the nines, partner dancing till the early hours of the morning. I had such an amazing cultural immersion and grass roots experience with him, which truly shaped the professional dancer I would become later on.
At that time, our focus became training me up to perform with him at events in Rio, and then we started to discuss the possibility of him migrating to Australia and us opening a dance school, especially since at the time Zouk Lambada and Samba de Gafieira were starting to become popular in Australia and there was a market for classes in my home town.
He wasn’t really keen on the idea of moving to the other side of the world, as he loved his city and his lifestyle so much. I could see there was so much possibility back home for us, but he still remained hesitant. The money I was earning teaching English in Rio was only just covering my bills and I was working 12-hour days followed by dance training and then going out dancing afterwards. I was exhausted and couldn’t see how we could build a life in Brazil and get ahead, especially as I was used to not just surviving but thriving back home.
Eventually, my money ran out and I had to go home. It was one of those sliding door moments in life – we both could have chosen to walk away (or in my case fly away!) from the relationship, but we knew we had something special together and wanted to give it a red hot go.
In order to get him to Australia with the intention of migrating for good, we had to get married, but there was a lot of bureaucracy and red tape involved, including a long and very expensive process of applying for his visa. As we were now apart, we ended up having to get married over the phone (to the horror of my parents!) and he arrived 10 months later without a cent to his name and no English language skills. The things we do for love!
We opened a dance school called Ipanema Dance and taught all of the Brazilian ballroom styles with quite a lot of success, but unfortunately the relationship turned abusive as he struggled to adapt to life in Australia and to having an independent, free-spirited woman by his side. After 2 years of hell, I finally gathered the courage to leave him and everything I had worked so hard for behind. It was a crazy, passionate relationship that nearly destroyed not only my life, but my love of dance, and would greatly mark me for the rest of my journey ahead.
So, what happened next?
After my divorce, I hit rock bottom. My confidence was shattered, I was emotionally exhausted and financially ruined, and did not want anything to do with dance or Brazilian culture.
I went back to teaching English and was so sad that I couldn’t even listen to Brazilian music, let alone dance to it because everything reminded me of him, of Rio and of all of the dreams we had had to travel the world and teach and perform together.
Many people asked me to come back to dance teaching, but it was so difficult to find a new dance partner who was my height, or taller, who had the dance experience that he had, who understood the Brazilian culture/language and who was as committed to a dance career as I was.
After about a year and a half of being depressed and not doing any dancing, a friend of mine who was a Salsa teacher gave me a stern talking to! I still remember her words to this day:
"Look Mishel, I know how much you love to dance and I understand that a lot of your passion for it was connected to your ex-husband, however you didn’t go to Brazil for him, you went to Brazil because you love the culture, you love the music and you love to DANCE!
So just because you are not together anymore, doesn't mean that should quit. You have found your passion and you have a gift for teaching dance – and you need to share it with the world!”
What a friend!
Her words were so instrumental in catapulting me out of my funk, and I started to really reflect and realize how right she was - BRAZIL, MUSIC and DANCE were all connected to me, and not to anyone else. The fire inside me was ignited again, and maybe, just maybe, I thought I might be able to return to Rio again one day.
How did you go back to dance teaching?
My friend was the Director of a Salsa dance academy in Brisbane and without asking me, said she had already promoted a Zouk Lambada course with me to her students, and it was fully booked!
I obviously resisted, and reasoned with her that I didn’t have a dance partner to teach with. “I’ll teach with you then!”
“Two girls can't teach Zouk together – the guys need a male reference and I only know how to follow, so can’t even teach you how to lead!”
“No worries – I lead Salsa all the time so I’m sure I can work it out!” And she did!
Despite her being very short and me very tall, and our 20-year age gap, our classes were a hit. They were fun, light-hearted and helped me to not only regain my confidence, but also heal my heart and rediscover my love of dance.
How did you move from partner dancing into solo dance?
During that time, I could see that women who were coming to my classes needed something more. They enjoyed Zouk, but they often didn't want to be led or told what to do on the dance floor, or be in close contact with a man they didn’t know.
I could sense that they wanted more freedom of movement, rather than learning sequences, and also wanted to improve their confidence and femininity, so I started to think about solo female dance styles.
I decided to do some Egyptian Bellydance, Hawaiian Hula, Spanish Flamenco and Stiletto heels classes. I was totally out of my comfort zone but loved the sensuality of bellydance, the gracefulness of hula, the power of flamenco and the sassiness of stiletto.
Freestyling for me had always been a challenge as I had only trained in partner dances, but gradually my confidence in dancing by myself improved, and an idea started to form in my mind for a ladies only dance class.
What Inspired You to Start Exploring Samba?
When I was last in Rio, I had had a few Samba no pe lessons with ‘Passistas’ (professional Samba dancers in Carnival) but I didn’t really pursue the style as it was just too difficult (and dangerous) to go up into the slums each time for a class (this was long before you could learn on YouTube or Instagram!)
I did however record some footage on my little JVC Camcorder (which I’d nervously hide in my bag each time I went up into the slums for a class!) and when I dug it out of my drawer after all of those years and watched the playback, I was so surprised to see the joy on my face whilst dancing, and the vibrancy and energy of the instructors and music. I couldn't believe I had forgotten all about Samba!
I had very minimal content on my Camcorder, but I rewound and fast-forwarded, paused and slowed down those basic Samba movements again and again and tried to work out how to break down the basic Samba step, arms and hips from the videos.
I knew many women also struggled to walk elegantly in high heels, move their hips with sensuality and hold good posture, so I created an outline for a class which would include these elements, plus some basic movements of the other solo styles with the vision of helping them to reconnect to their bodies and feel sexy and confident moving on their own.
Little did I know that this would essentially be the start of Sambaliscious!
So how did Sambaliscious begin?
I launched my first ladies only course in 2011 and had only one student for the first week! She loved it so much that she brought two friends with her the next week, who then brought more friends the following week, and suddenly I started to have a bit of momentum!
After a few courses and getting such positive feedback from the students, I realized I was onto something, but also was very aware that I needed to up skill quickly to keep ahead of the game (remember that this was still before any dance teachers were actively using YouTube for online instruction!)
In my classes, the girls’ favourite style was proving to be Samba, as they loved the femininity, vibrancy of the music and the fitness it brought them. I definitely felt more confident teaching Samba over the other styles, especially as I could understand the music (having trained in Samba de Gafieira) and had spent time in Brazil.
I decided to travel interstate to some Latin Dance congresses to seek further knowledge. Although these events usually only had one or two Samba workshops and the rest were Salsa and other partner styles, I enjoyed networking and returning to my partner dancing roots. I spent thousands of dollars attending these events (travel, accommodation, entry fees etc.) but still didn’t seem to be able to find anyone who could really take my Samba to the next level.
Deep down, I knew I had to return to the homeland.
How did your Rio Carnival tours come about?
One day, one of my students said to me, "My dream is to dance in the Rio Carnival - will you take us?"
"No, no, no - I haven’t been back to Brazil for 5 years and I don't really know the Carnival scene, nor do I have many contacts there anymore.”
What I really meant was that I was terrified of returning to Brazil and to all of the memories that would resurface once I arrived back in Rio.
They were a determined bunch however, and continued to push me. "You speak some Portuguese, you lived there with a local and trained at dance schools, so please find a way to take us!"
I thought about it for a long time. Who did I know there who could help me? Would I be able to pull myself together to return to the city that had broken my heart?
Then I remembered that I had an English student who I’d taught many years before in Brisbane who was from Rio. I didn’t then know it, but later discovered that he lived in Vila Isabel (a famous suburb in Rio known for its Samba artists and division one Samba School) and was a mad fan of Samba and Carnival.
I reached out to him and said “I've got some girls who are interested in coming to Rio - do you think it's possible for them to parade in Carnival?"
This was at a time when the Carnival industry wasn’t anywhere near as open to receiving foreigners like it is these days, and all negotiations to parade with a school were done in person in Rio with the school’s president. With the agreement (stern warning!) that the dancers would learn to sing the school’s enredo (theme song) in Portuguese and dance Samba well to represent the school (and not embarrass them or cause them to lose points), my friend managed to convince Imperio da Tijuca, a second division school, to accept us.
We were the very first Australian group ever to perform on a float in Rio Carnival (2012), and I was having such a great time being back in Rio that I decided to extend my stay for another 6 months to fully immerse myself in the magical world of Samba.
Every year my tours grew in numbers and became more organized and professional. With each tour, I learnt more about my students’ needs whilst travelling in a foreign country, about navigating my way around Rio (in high season with crazy traffic and millions of extra tourists) and doing business in Portuguese with, at times, some very shady people in the Carnival industry. As well as performing in Carnival, I tried to create a more cultural experience for the girls so that they fully immersed themselves in the Rio way of life and left with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the culture behind Samba.
To this date, I have taken over 500 foreigners to perform in Rio Carnival, and each year I stay on afterwards to continue my professional development as a dancer and keep up to date with current trends.
And guess what? From the moment that I returned to Rio on that very first tour, all of my painful memories subsided and I was filled with only excitement and love again for the City of Samba, my soul city. So far I have been to Brazil 11 times – so it definitely must be a true love affair!
How has Sambaliscious evolved over the years?
I have been running Sambaliscious now for 13 years! Can you believe it?
As each year came to a close, I always thought, “I am going to have to return to full time work next year as I’m sure my luck is going to run out and I won’t be able to work another year being self-employed”. But I always found a way to diversify and create multiple streams of income based on the question “What do women want/need?”
For example, when women start a course, they initially need active wear and high heels, so how can I source quality products from Brazil to get them feeling excited about Samba? How can I ensure that their bodies are ready for Samba by adding strength + conditioning training and yoga to their dance classes? How can I encourage them to train outside of class with online lessons?
Once they’ve been dancing for a while, they want to perform, so how can I source costumes and work with Brazilian choreographers to ensure to keep up with the latest trends? Once they’ve had a taste of performing, many want to dive deeper into the culture, so how can I teach them Portuguese?
How can I help them to overcome their stage fright by not only teaching dance technique but also working on their mindset so they can truly own the stage like a Carnival Queen? If they can't afford to go to Rio straight away, how can I create a Brazilian event in my city that gives them a feel for the essence of Carnival?
This is how my business has evolved over the years – always asking women what they want and showing them what they need! This is how I also had the ideas to create the Brisbane Samba Encontro, Australasian Samba Queen Competition and World Samba Congress.
Tell us about your Samba Encontro + Samba Queen Competition?
I wanted to bring together artists and students from around the country for a weekend of Brazilian cultural immersion, including workshops with live drumming, parties with DJs and performances, and a Brazilian fashion bazaar with gym wear and lifestyle wear to create the feeling of being in Rio! I decided to call it an ‘Encontro’, which means a ‘get together’ in Portuguese.
At the same time, I was seeing a lot of Latin Dance Competitions happening around Australia, where Samba was thrown into an ‘Open’ category along with other dance styles. The girls who performed were only doing choreographed routines, there was no live batucada drumming, and they were being judged by Latin teachers, not specifically Samba teachers.
These girls were winning and saying "I am the Australian Samba Champion", but they couldn’t freestyle...the majority of them were Salsa dancers, who had simply learnt a Samba routine but had never actually studied the art of Samba. That put a fire in my belly to create an authentic Samba competition reminiscent of the Rio de Janeiro Queen of Carnival Competition (which by then I had been to watch many times so I had a guideline of how to run one) and the USA Samba King + Queen Competition (to which I was invited to judge and perform and is immaculately run and beautifully presented by Angelique Marquand in Phoenix each year).
With this experience and insight, I was able to create a platform where dancers could showcase their knowledge of Samba and freestyling skills to live drumming, and were judged by experts in the Samba industry.
These 2 events, which have now been running for 5 years, have become an instrumental part of my business to showcase the beauty and diversity of Brazilian culture, nurture upcoming artists, connect Australians with the joy of dance and music, and build a supportive and inspired community.
What inspired the World Samba Congress?
You’d think that with these events I would have had enough on my plate, especially as my annual Rio tours were growing (meaning a lot more admin/marketing 6-12 months in advance) as well as developing a teacher-training program to expand my classes around Australia and into Europe and Asia. But when you are truly passionate about something, it gives you energy and motivation to keep on raising the bar. I decided to jump (and what a jump it was!) and launch the 1st World Samba Congress and International Samba Queen Competition in Rio de Janeiro in 2017.
My vision was to create a safe environment for foreigners from around the world to come to Rio to learn from the Masters of Samba and to compete at the highest level possible for a Sambista from overseas.
I didn’t want students having to go through what I did years ago - trekking up into the slums in 40C heat trying to find passistas to teach them, or not being able to understand them due to the language barrier.
I wanted a beautiful venue, which ended up being the Novotel Hotel, where they could both stay in comfort and safety, and learn from the very best in the industry in the one place. I invited so many prominent industry professionals – Queens and Muses of Carnival and famous choreographers to teach workshops, local singers and musicians to perform, Candomble priestesses to bless the event and even the cultural minister of the arts and the reigning Queen of Rio Carnival at the time to judge the competition.
I am so incredibly proud of that event as it took 2 years of hard work and lots of set backs (not to mention all of my own money invested) to come to fruition. I only just covered my costs, but I learnt so much and it was an historical event for the city of Rio, which had never seen a foreigner host an international Samba event before.
I’d like to think that this event was not only important for the progression of my career, but also for the promotion of Samba on the international scene, and moreover, motivating local Rio artists to recreate their own similar events.
How did you become the first Australian Muse in the history of Rio Carnival?
Each year that I returned to Rio for Carnival, I would perform with my students on a float in the second division one night, and then return the following night to be a spectator and watch the incredible parades of the first division schools. As each school passed, my heart grew sadder watching the beautiful Muses parade down the avenue in their stunning costumes and showing off their Samba skills, and I had a burning desire to showcase my skills on the ground, rather than on a float.
I started asking around about how I could perform as a Muse (this was before it became popular and relatively easy for foreigners to be Muses) and everyone kept telling me the same thing – you either have to pay a hefty fee to the school (think the price of a deposit for an apartment!) or offer a ‘favour’ to the school’s president. I decided to pay!
In order to prepare for my role, I trained with Muses, Queens and Passistas a year in advance, and enlisted a personal trainer to improve my strength and conditioning for the avenue. It was a huge personal investment, but I knew it was essential for elevating my career, and a once in a lifetime bucket list goal I had to achieve.
As a dancer, I had beautiful arms, footwork and poses, but I didn’t have the resistance or stamina that other Brazilian Musas had to be able to endure the almost 1-kilometre long, 55 minute parade in 40C tropical heat with 100% humidity! They were able to train all year long at their samba schools in Rio, whereas I had to improvise back home by training along asphalt running paths with weighted vests (to replicate the weight of a backpiece) and in knee high boots (my neighbors all thought it was hilarious!) It was definitely like preparing for a marathon!
Even after a year of both physical and mindset preparation, I was a bundle of nerves on the avenue, but I managed to hold it all together and debuted as the very first Australian and International Muse for Rio’s oldest Samba school, Estacio de Sa, in 2017. You can read more about my nerve-wracking experience in my free E-book series
What are some other major career highlights for you?
After my debut as a Musa for Estacio de Sa in the second division, I decided I wanted to try to perform in Rio’s first division – the highest level of Carnival. I knew that there was going to be a lot more responsibility and expectations of me in this level, and I would need to train ever harder to get in peak performance condition for such a coveted position.
Whilst I was on tour teaching Samba in Europe, I went to Italy to do some private classes with Quiteria Chagas, an icon of Rio Carnival and the Queen of Rio’s most traditional and respected samba school, Imperio Serrano. After our final session, she surprised me by inviting me to be a Muse with her school, and I excitedly accepted!
In the lead up to my debut as the first Aussie to perform as a Muse in the first division of Carnival, there was a lot of media hype around me, particularly because by now my Portuguese was fluent and radio/TV/magazines could interview me without the language barrier.
I was invited to perform together with Quiteria and the bateria drum squad of Imperio Serrano on Brazil’s most famous talk show, Encontro with Fatima Bernardes (think the Oprah of Brazil!)
I was also chosen by Vogue Brasil to appear on their cover (a dream come true!), and was interviewed by Quem (Who) and Ela (She) magazines about my love affair with Brazil and Samba.
These were truly spectacular career highlights, and you can read about them more in my free E-book series!
Where have you taught Samba around the world?
It’s been such a pleasure and honour to be able to travel the world and connect with so many other Samba lovers over the past decade, sharing my knowledge, experience and passion for Samba and Brazilian culture.
I particularly loved my USA Tour where I got to come to San Francisco and meet you in person! I also taught in LA, San Diego and New York, and judged, taught and performed at the USA Samba Queen + King Comp in Phoenix.
My absolute favourite Asian destination is Singapore, as it reminds me of Rio with its lushness and tropical vibe. I’ve been there 5 times to teach, perform and do business coaching with the ladies from the Singapore School of Samba to help grow their school. Whilst in Asia I also was fortunate to be invited to teach in China and Vietnam.
A few years ago, another dream came to fruition when I toured Europe – I taught, performed and did teacher training and business coaching in England, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark. I’ve also taught all over Australia and New Zealand, and cant’ wait to return to touring soon.
What advice would you give to a Beginner student?
There are a few things that I say at the start of my courses for absolute beginners. The first thing is that this is your own personal journey, and everyone comes to class with a different experience and background, so don’t compare yourself to anyone - only to yourself and your progress from week to week.
Secondly, make sure you don't put pressure on yourself. Dance is supposed to be fun and bring you joy, not stress you out and cause insecurities! Your goal for each class should just be to connect to the music and try to get out of your head and into your body.
Thirdly, learning to dance is like learning a language – the more you practice, the better you become. It’s a simple as that. Try to add a little bit of dance and movement to your daily routine, and start to listen to Brazilian music to get a feel for the groove.
Finally, Samba is 50% technique and 50% fitness. You can learn all the technique in the world, but if your body isn’t prepared for Samba, you won’t improve. I also encourage my students to add weight training, Pilates and Yoga into their practice to help to condition their body for Samba.
And for dancers who are already on their Samba journey and might be feeling like they aren’t progressing, or are perhaps losing their joy for it, always remember why you started to Samba in the first place. We can get very caught up in doing a million sequences, dancing in Carnival for the social media images and peer recognition, or learning a choreography to perform, but the essence of Samba is the joy and freedom of movement, the way the music makes you feel and the community that you connect with when dancing.
What Do You Love Most About Our Store?
I love your passion for authentic Brazilian costumes of the highest quality, how you support local designers by bringing their styles to the forefront and provide income for them, and how professional and caring you are with your international customers to ensure they get the costume of their dreams.
When you and your brother Andre started BrazilCarnivalShop, it was really inspiring to see how passionate you were about sharing the history of Samba in Rio and connecting Brazilian artists with foreign dancers.
I’ve really appreciated your unwavering support as a sponsor of my events over the years, and especially during this difficult time of COVID where you’ve continued to support us.
You are not just a costume shop. You’re a touch point of Brazilian culture for Samba lovers around the world.
Let's Connect With Mishel?
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We hope you enjoyed this blog and got to know a bit more this ICON in the Australian samba community!