Let's Talk About Samba - Interview with Vanessa Isaac!
Posted on 05 May 2020
When did you start Samba Dancing and where?
What inspired you to start exploring Samba?
Vanessa: Dance has been a part of my life since as long as I can remember, from performing in front of my parents as almost every little girl does, to taking ballet classes, and dancing Samba with all my soul during our Brazilian Carnaval times.
Samba is in my veins and has always been a part of me. It’s a language that my body has always understood. I feel my body is able to express itself and my spirit with Samba. As a professional there was a turning moment in my life: at 17 years old I got a scholarship to formally explore traditional Brazilian/ Afro Brazilian dance styles formally (Samba de Roda, traditional Afro Brazilian Capoeira, Samba-no-pé, Samba Reggae styles and Brazilian Jazz etc…). At that moment, I realized, I felt that I could bring Samba to the stage in a very personal way.
I then started looking into studying the history and the roots deeply. Dance is a universal language and I started blending Samba with contemporary dance in my own way. It has been an amazing journey since then.
Photo credit: Scott London
What's your favorite part of dancing Samba?
Vanessa: So many different elements come together in Samba: history, artistry, divinity, beauty and sensuality, to name a few.
Artistically, the rhythm and the way our bodies move in syncopation is something that takes you out of thinking in a “linear” way. As a dancer, Samba opens up in you a new way to think how to express your body and work with time. It’s about dance but it is about the cosmos too, how it’s reflected in the dance…. Samba music hits your body and you feel it. You have to learn Samba from an Afro Brazilian methodology of course. Samba is an Afro Brazilian dance!
When my dancers start exploring Samba, it’s amazing for me to notice their reaction. Suddenly there are all these layers in Samba. To execute Samba well you have to feel it on a whole different level. So many dancers are used to thinking “1. 2. 3. 4…..”. I don’t enjoy counting dance and my students and dancers know this. I always think…. let’s use our ears and lets feel it. The coordination required is amazing. Even for those that are not Samba dancers (Contemporary, Ballet and other disciplines), I recommend they learn Samba. When one learns Samba they are able to do so much more. I know because I have been a guest in Ballet organizations and I have seen it.
I also love how I feel the divinity of the dance. When we dance Samba we are dancing history: Afro Brazilian history, culture and the ancestors. We are dancing the joy, the sadness, the resistance, the sacredness and the incredible richness of a culture. I tell all my dancers to touch it with utmost respect. If you dance it, respect it. I have to say that sometimes I see things online which makes me very upset. Dancers must understand that Samba is a tradition.
As a teacher and dancer, I love Community. Samba is about community and I have many wonderful colleagues who are very generous, and I have many students in Brazil and all over the world through the Online Samba Dance Academy. I love how Samba brings community together.
And, of course, the beauty and sensuality of the dance is amazing. It makes you appreciate your body, and everything that it does for you. It allows you to move your hips when so many styles of dance completely conceal it. As a woman, it’s like…. Wow! It’s OK to embrace myself, my entire body! We can be mesmerized by its expression. Samba takes you to a holy higher ground for sure.
As a choreographer, I have to say that I love all that I mentioned above plus the fact I get to create something that is very Brazilian. It’s wonderful to have this uniqueness. When I perform and create my work with my dance company or any other project internationally, I feel a great responsibility by doing so.
Photo credit: Cil de Kolda
How do you keep yourself fit?
Vanessa: First, as you can imagine, I dance. I dance a lot. I dance Samba and Contemporary Afro Brazilian Fusion and Contemporary. All the rehearsals and teaching in the studio and online via our site and zoom on a weekly basis keeps me going.
I also practice Yoga, Pilates and body conditioning. I love my beach and nature walks, they are necessary for my body but also for my soul. Sometimes weight lifting is added to my schedule but I confess, I have a love-hate affair with lifting weights in the gym. I go for a few months then I get bored and stop for a while.
What advice would you give to a beginner Samba dancer?
Vanessa: Please find the right teacher that will teach you the basics and foundations well, and take your time learning the basics. It is OK to be a beginner. It’s better to not rush. Also find a teacher that is there to teach and encourage you and not to crush your soul. The way I think is that teachers should be there to support YOU and not their ego. So find someone that meets you as a creative, a full human being, and that will share with you the tradition of Samba and not just “steps”.
Understand the culture: research, talk with your teacher, read, go to seminars, watch dancers perform, and support other dancers and your teacher too (you will learn a lot by watching them). Visit and study in Brazil if you can to live the culture. Samba is a living art.
And keep a practice schedule. It’s OK to do Samba for recreational purposes but if you want to really learn and become a dancer, commit yourself to the art. I say to my dancers, Ballet dancers don’t take “time off’, they are constantly working on their craft. They show up to every class, week after week, ready to work hard. It’s a passion. Being a Samba dancer requires the same dedication!
If you love Samba start, I support you and encourage on your journey! And you know Maria Cristina, for the beginner dancers here, I want to let them know I have the Online Samba Dance Academy, Level 1 program. I created this program to teach the Samba- no-pé movement so dancers can understand it well and practice the foundations of Samba. I invite all dancers to join us online at the academy. There are also advanced virtual classes, choreography and many new programs coming soon. Plus I love sharing inspirations and the lifestyle.
Vanessa above wearing our LONG SLEEVE SPARKLE SAMBA DRESS
Any favorite experience/moments in Samba dancing?
Vanessa: Performing for thousands of people during parades and on theater stages; being a guest teacher and dancing Samba at Universities such as USC and world class dance organizations such as Les Ballet de Monte Carlo in Monaco; teaching in so many countries Internationally and at the International Samba Congress; dancing with my students, and practicing by myself in my room lol…. closing your eyes and dancing for yourself is such a beautiful feeling! I guess every moment counts.
In terms of being able to share my passion, there were some very cool moments that I will treasure forever. I’ve been interviewed on TV by CNN and Fox & Friends on Fox TV. My dance video won “Best Dance Video of the Year” by Fitness Magazine and Women’s Health and Fitness Magazine and it was featured on Dance Spirit Magazine and more.
One day, someone called me to say that my dance video was featured in the In Style Magazine as a recommendation by Teddy Bass, who is the personal trainer for Cameron Diaz. Yes, Samba is totally amazing and athletic too. It was so cool to read in the Magazine and it was a great surprise!
I was also nominated for the International Press Award in the dance category. And that was a big honor for me! It has been a long road sharing this love for Samba and Brazil with the world.
My most beautiful moments were and are always dancing in community, in Brazil and around the world and connecting to it’s roots!
Photo by Cirio Coelho
Can you share a little bit about yourself or your Samba Company?
My company is called the Vanessa Agle Isaac Dance Company (VI Dance Company). The work is based on Samba, Brazilian/Afro Brazilian dance styles and Contemporary dance. I focus on creating dance pieces for stage and film. Now more than ever, I am interested in doing art that stays and has longevity. I am basically doing work by commission with the company for different art organizations and creating our next show.
Another focus of interest for me, as the Company Director, is in collaborating with other artists: fellow choreographers, visual artists, musicians and more. I am now doing a piece in collaboration with musician Ami Molinelli Hart. She is a percussionist who inspires me a lot and we are in the beginning stages of developing a piece.
The company just had a casting call in Paris in January and will have another one in California as soon as we can. Unfortunately due to the COVID-19 crisis everything has been put on hold for the time being, so we have to wait and see. Our priority is our wellness now.
As part of the Company mission, I teach in the Community and Internationally. I also work in our community through the annual Summer Solstice parade in Santa Barbara with collaborations with musicians that come to participate from all over under the wonderful musical leadership of musician/arranger Marcus Santos (A Brazilian musician living in Boston) and musician/music leader Matt Wright (from Stanford). These projects are open to anyone to participate, dancers and non-dancers. It’s such a beautiful journey we have together. I started this work 20 years ago with Hip Brazil and it’s amazing how many dancers and musicians have participated. I love it and I really feel this connection has enriched our lives and the life of the community. I am grateful!
Above, Vanessa teaching at the International Samba Congress in which BrazilCarnivalShop is a proud sponsor
Do you teach classes and which style?
I teach Samba, Contemporary Afro Brazilian Fusion, Dancers conditioning classes (Dance/Pilates/Yoga based), both online and in the studio. We have many classes Online for our global community and many live virtual classes on my site. I love teaching! My online Samba, Level 1 program has been very well received and we have a beautiful online community now.
I also started an online Instagram Live called “Samba Everyday with Vanessa”, a free mini live class. It is created to support dancers and students on their Samba practice.
Besides dance I share inspiration, culture and lifestyle on my site. I love the video interview I did with you Maria Cristina for my online Sexy Samba Soul Show a few years ago. It is one my favorite interviews in the first season of the show. You did such a great job explaining the costumes, shoes and history.
Online on Instagram @sexySambasoul (Your Samba Soul is Sexy J)
www.sambadanceacademy.com for Online classes in Samba, culture and inspirations. We have programs and live virtual classes. And a new subscription program is coming soon. Join me there and lets Samba.
http://www.vidancecompany.com/ to get in touch with my dance company for new works and collaborations.
Lastly, what do you love more about our store?
Working with you and Brazil Carnival Shop has been amazing. I like your attention to details, the way you are hands-on with all your orders. The support for the dancers you give is beautiful. I love I can order unique and beautiful costume pieces for my dancers. Many of my shoes come from your store, and I love them. Plus you have a great costume selection.
"Thank you Brazilcarnivalshop and Maria Cristina!"