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For this Queen of Samba, dancing in Utah is truly a family affair

Published February 6, 2017 9:17 am

Interview • Winner of last year's contest talks about the genre's joys and how her skills continue to evolve.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Local band and dance company Samba Fogo presents its eighth annual Samba Queen Contest on Saturday at Pierpont Place in Salt Lake City.

During the contest, dancers entertain the crowd as they compete for the title of 2017 Rainha do Samba (Queen of Samba) adorned in traditional Brazilian Carnaval costumes of bright colors, feathers, sparkling bikinis and sky-high heels. Each contestant gets a chance to perform a 2-minute solo with a live Brazilian drum line, and local celebrity judges and audience voting determine the winner. The first-place winner will receive $500, and there are also prizes for second and third place. Men and women are welcome to compete for the title, and costumes are available to rent. The event is also a dance party for the audience.

Cammy Haroldsen, the 2016 Samba Queen who won the title when she was 5 ½ months pregnant, talked about her reign and her love of Brazilian dance.

What has been your life's journey to being the reigning 2016 Rainha do Samba and what brought you to Salt Lake City?

I have loved to dance ever since I can remember and have taken countless classes throughout my life, but Brazilian dance is my true love. I first went to Brazil in 2001 and got to dance in Salvador's Carnival — one of the most joyous events I've ever experienced. Since then I've been working on my samba step, which took years to take root and I'm still discovering the dance in my body and am amazed how it continues to evolve. Being close to family is what brought me back to Salt Lake in 2011, by way of South America and California, but I soon found a second family in Samba Fogo.

Can you tell me about how you transform from a regular person to being the Rainha do Samba for a performance?

For weeks before the event, I practice my favorite steps and set a loose choreography. Knowing that I'll have to respond to the drums in the moment as there is variation in the music, I'll play with different combinations that feel good and allow me freedom to improvise. Although I bought most of my costume on Etsy, I designed and created my headpiece. It's always advisable to dance as hard as possible in the full costume to see how it feels and how to accentuate different aspects of the costume.

What do you think set you apart from the other contestants during the 2-minute solo?

Although I've been honing my samba skills and expanding my repertoire for years, I think what set me apart that night is that I was truly felt the joy of samba and was able to share that with the crowd. I was confident in my dancing, felt completely comfortable in my body, completely connected to the drums and the audience. I was also 5 ½ months pregnant, which inspired me to dance not for show, but for the joy of it.

What do you love about being the Rainha do Samba?

I love that I was able to imbibe what samba is — a celebration, dancing full out, as slowly as I felt like and as fast and as ecstatically as possible.

What do you think the judges are looking for in the 2017 Rainha do Samba? 

The judges' criteria include stage presence, choreography, rhythm, connection to the music, costume and the use of the stage. But more than that, judges look for axé — the energy. Yes, the technique is important, but it's the joy of the moment and the connections that makes a dancer a queen.

Samba Queen Contest

When • Saturday; doors open at 8 p.m. with live Brazilian music; dance competition begins at 9 p.m.

Where • Pierpont Place, 163 W. Pierpont Ave. (240 South), Salt Lake City

Tickets • $20 in advance through 24tix.com; $25 at the door; VIP tables, $200 (seat four and include a private cocktail serve and prime view of the stage); reserve tables at info@sambafogo.com; open to ages 16 and above; cash bar for ages 21 and older






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