Dancing is a crucial element of the Madeira culture, and there are several traditional dance styles on the island. They all have multinational origins, since a lot of people of different ethnicities travelled to Madeira through its history, due to it being a major port in trade routes of the Atlantic. The black and Moorish slaves from Guinea, Morocco and Mauritania, had a great influence on local culture, bringing some African dance elements, such as jumps and turns, and Arabic melodies. British, Flemish, French and Italian merchants popularized the European dances, like waltzes, contra dances, polkas and quadrilles that had an impact on the Madeira’s “dancing scene” as well. And, of course, it has also roots in Continental Portuguese dances, especially from the Minho and Algarve regions.
Despite all the international influences, Madeira people managed to develop their own unique styles that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. The best-known style is the Bailinho da Madeira. It appeared about a century ago, the same time the first folk groups were created. The dancers usually wear the traditional costume, traje da Madeira, and are followed by musicians playing traditional local instruments, such as viola de arame, machete or braguinha, rajão (types of guitar), rabeca (from the violin family) and ferrinhos (triangle). Another rather unusual instrument is the brinquinho. It consists of seven wooden dolls dressed as dancers with castanets hanging on their backs, placed on a stick. The player moves the brinquinho up and down, thus mimicking the bailinho.
There are various types of bailinho: Bailinho das Camacheiras (featuring a lively tempo), Bailinho de Oito (involving four dance couples) and Bailinho Pesado (“Heavy Ball”, a slower style) are probably the most popular ones. Aside from bailinho, other folklore dances exist, such as Chamarrita, Charamba and Mourisca, among others.
As you can see, there is a lot of variety when it comes to Madeira dance styles. And each of them is extremely fun to watch (or to dance if you dare to try!). A great opportunity to do that is during the 31st Regional Folklore Festival – 48 Hours of Dancing, which will take place this July in the municipality of Santana. 20 folk groups will show their dancing skills for three days, both in individual performances and collective parades. If you want to know more about this festival, check out our article about the Regional Folklore Festival!