Tuesday, March 12, 2013

History & Description Of The Maxixe Dance

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part series about the Maxixe dance. This post features four excerpts from online articles about the history & descriptions of the Maxixe dance. Most of the information in these articles focus on the heavily modified early 20th century United States forms of the Brazilian Maxixe in contrast to the Maxixe as it is still danced in Brazil.

Click for Part II of this post.

Part II of this series features film clips & re-enactments of early 20th century Maxixe dancing in the USA. Part II also features contemporary videos of Brazilians dancing the Maxixe. Additional information about the Maxixe dance is found in several video viewers' comments which are included in that post.

The content of this post is presented for historical, folkloric, purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

This post was previously published under the name "Maxixe Dance (History & Videos)"

Excerpt #1:
The first excerpt is from a website that is no longer viable. I posted this quote in a comment that I made in 2007 on a Mudcat Cafe discussion about the tune of the widely known United States song/rhyme entitled "Chewing Gum" (my mother gave me a nickle, to buy a pickle). That tune was appropriated from a 1905 song "La Sorella" (also known as the "La Mattchiche") which was composed by Charles Borel-Clerc. Some sources cite Louis Gallini as the composer of "La Sorella"/"La Mattchiche".

From Lyr Req: Chewing Gum / Choo'n Gum / Bubble Gum

"History Of Latin-American Dancing [link no longer active 2/4/2013]
The Portuguese imported many slaves from Angola and Congo into Brazil in the 16th century, who in turn brought their dances such as the Caterete, the Embolada and the Batuque (Raffe, 1964, 313). These dances were considered sinful by the Europeans as they involved the touching of navels (Sadie, 1980, 10/47). The Embolada is about a cow with balls on its horns for safety, and became a term meaning 'foolish' (Michaelis, 1955, 281). The Batuque became so popular that Manuel I passed a law forbidding it (Raffe, 1964,60). It was described as a circle dance with steps like the Charleston done to hand clapping and percussion, and with a solo couple performing in the centre of the circle (Raffe, 1964, 60).

A composite dance evolved in the 1830's combining the plait figures from these Negro dances and the body rolls and sways of the indigenous Lundu (Behague, 1979,93). Later, carnival steps were added like the Copacabana (named after a popular beach near Rio de Janeiro). Gradually members of the high society in Rio embraced it, although they modified it to be done in closed ballroom dancing position (which they knew was the only correct way to dance anything) (Ellfeldt, 1974,77). The dance was then called the Zemba Queca, and was described in 1885 as "a graceful Brazilian dance" (Burchfield, 1976, III/1466). This was later called the 'Mesemba'. The origin of the name 'Samba' is unclear: perhaps it is a corruption of Semba, although another suggestion is that is derived from Zambo which means the offspring of a Negro man and a native woman (Taylor, 1958,648).

The dance was later combined with the Maxixe (Raffe, 1964,438). This was also originally Brazilian: a round dance described as like a Two Step (Burchfield, 1976, II/865), and named after the prickly fruit of a Cactus, although now the word is used in Portuguese to denote a gherkin.

The Maxixe dance was introduced into the U.S.A. at the turn of the 20th century (Stetson 1956,30). It became popular in Europe after a demonstration in Paris in the early twentieth century. It was described as having the steps of the Polka done to the music of the Cuban Habanera (Chicago, 1985, 7/968). The present day Samba still contains a step called the Maxixe, consisting of a chasse and point (Romain, 1982,19)".

Excerpt #2:
"The maxixe (Mah-SHEESH and many other pronunciations) is essentially Africanized polka or two-step, meaning it was an Afro-Brazilian styling of the polka which was brought to Brazil by European immigrants. The maxixe as done in the U.S. was probably not the original Brazilian form since it was first modified by French dancers when it was introduced there in 1905 by Derminy and Morly (to the tune La Sorella — it didn't catch on) and was modified again when it was successfully re-introduced in 1912 by Monsieur Duque ("The Duke" – the stage name of Brazilian dancer and composer Antonio Lopes Amorim Diniz, who moved to Paris in 1909). It is said that the maxixe fad was launched the same year as the Titanic and lasted about as long.

The maxixe (also spelled mattchiche and matcheche) was sometimes danced to authentic Brazilian music, such as Dengozo by Ernesto Nazareth, but just as often was danced to tin pan alley compositions like Down in Zanzibar, or Buenos Dias Maxixe by Indiana ragtime composer Kathryn Widmer.

The Argentine tango was the brighter star on the dance floor in 1912, so to sell more dance music, some publishers began to promote the maxixe as another form of tango, with slowed tempos to match the mood of the tango, and some dance bands also recorded the slower tango-style maxixe for the phonograph. But the authentic renditions were bright, cheerful and more like a two-step. Maurice Mouvet wrote in 1914, "The Brazilian maxixe can be danced to any two-step, whereas the tango can be danced only to tango music. The maxixe is peculiarly adapted to the American temperament. It is full of snap and life, while the tango is slow and languorous." In other words, don't dance the maxixe like a tango."

Excerpt #3:
"Bohemian Life - (Maxixe) - 1914 - Madeiros
The Maxixe is the oldest urban dance of Brazil, its origin is in the late 19th century. One of its interesting elements is the use of syncopation. The major component of the Brazilian Maxixe was the use of the rhythm we recognize as the main rhythm of the cakewalk. It is also written that the Maxixe was a predecessor of the Samba and of the European Polka. We also find the Afro-Cuba influence in the rhythm that was also know as the Habanera and its syncopation of Afro-Brazilian influence."

Excerpt #4:
"The Maxixe – (Max-ish, Mah-SHEESH, Mah-SHEEH-A, and many other pronunciations) was also known as the Brazilian tango or Mattiche (similar or same dance), and came from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil in the late 1860’s or early 1870’s. The dance was considered to be very lowly in stature among the public perceptions and was named after the prickly part of a cactus. In attempts to raise its stature, many composers would title it “Brazilian Tango”, as the Tango was gaining popularity at that time.

The Maxixe has its roots in the Polca, Lundu, and Habenera. The original Maxixe was a mixture of the Two Step and certain Tango patterns and steps…Mmes Derminy & Paula Morley danced the Maxixe in 1905… The Castle did what they called a Brazilian Maxixe that was similar to the Samba (some say the precursor to the Samba) while some dancers danced the Maxixe more like the Tango...

The Maxixe that was to become popular in its brief span in the United States and the UK was heavily modified over time and the music slowed down from its beginning roots, by the exhibitionist desire or race to sell a new dance to the dancing public. Like the Twist of a later decade, they finally hit on a version that was only to be a fad for a day, having quickly been replaced by another.”
It should be noted that forms of the Maxixe are still danced in Brazil, and probably elsewhere. Video examples of those dances are presented in Part II of this series.

The word "maxixe" may have come from Mozambique. Here are two excerpts from an online article about African slavery in Brazil (quoted "as is" with no spelling corrections)

"Slavery has a huge impact on Brazil. It affected both the economy and the ethnic make up of the Brazilian population. The importation of such a large number of Africans into a colony with such a small number of Portuguese, profoundly affected the ethnic ballance. The level of Africam imports also meant thsat unlike North America, Africam culture was not largely wiped out and thus had a significant impsct on Brazilian culture (food, music, dance and religious practices). This is especiuallt the case in Rio and the northwast where many of the slaves were concentrated."

"Captives from different African regions were transported to Brazil. This included Africams from West Africa, Cape Vert, Angolsa, Mozambique and from interior regions. Large numbers of Africans were obtained from southern Africa (Angola and Mozambique) where the Portuguese had a dominant role. Some Africans from these areas were transported to the Caribbean and the United States as well, but the shipments to Brazil were especislly significant."

Information about Maxixe, Mozambique can be found at,_Mozambique.

Here's an audio file that provides three ways that the word "Maxixe" is pronounced:, including the Portuguese pronounciation that sounds like the English "mah-she-she".

Thanks to the authors of the articles that are quoted in this post.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Viewer comments are welcome.

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