The Bossa Nova

(Early 1960s)


The Bossa Nova was a partnered dance craze of the early 1960s. Or perhaps it's better described as a music craze that was accompanied by a variety of dance steps.

Throughout the history of social dance, there's been an essential co-evolutionary relationship between music and dance: new music inspires new dances, and new dances encourage the creation of more music for those dances.

In the case of Bossa Nova, when the music, an innovative mix of Brazilian samba and American jazz, first hit the scene, there wasn't a dance to go with it. But according to a record executive in late 1962, "To sustain itself, a new beat has to have an accompanying dance." Based on this logic, it was reported that "one record company has arranged with a national dance studio to introduce a Bossa Nova step and it seems certain others will follow" [RW62]. And follow they did: in the next few years, many different teachers came up with a variety of ways to dance to Bossa Nova music, using both adaptations of old steps (e.g., Rumba, Conga, Mambo, and Merengue) and newly created ones. A spokesman for Fred Astaire Dance Studios reported, "The dance is still in the beginning stage. Everyone is making up their own steps by the hundreds. We will know in a month which steps will be accepted" [TH62].

Unfortunately, in 1963, Enoch Light, a popular Bossa Nova musician, reported, "I understand the dance studios have been working on creating a basic bossa nova step, but so far they can't seem to agree among themselves what it should be" [NH63]. In a poll of teenagers that year, while nearly half of respondents said they liked the music, only 25% said they liked to dance to it [EG63]. Without a clearly-defined character, and lacking the support of teenage dancers, the Bossa Nova was relatively short-lived as a dance craze.

The Steps

Below, the wide variety of Bossa Nova steps described in the early 1960s have been organized into several families of similar variations.


Thanks to Richard Powers for first introducing me to the dance, Forrest Outman for providing some of the magazine sources, and Sonny Watson for leading me to the newspaper sources.

© 2018 Nick Enge

For more, see our two books on dancing:
Waltzing: A Manual for Dancing and Living (2013) by Richard Powers and Nick Enge,
and Cross-Step Waltz: A Dancer's Guide (2019) by Richard Powers and Nick & Melissa Enge.

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