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Wellington Costa, 19, performs at the semifinals of a passinho competition in Rio de Janeiro on April 23. Passinho is a liberated dance form born in Rio's favelas, or shantytowns. (Lianne Milton for NPR)

Rio's New Dance Craze: The Passinho

by Rebecca Sell
Jun 7, 2013

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Rebecca Sell

When photographer Lianne Milton was invited by friends to attend a passinho dance-off competition, she was not expecting the large, corporate-sponsored event at which she arrived.

"It was incredible to see a lot of young people, a lot of kids, a lot of girls, cheering on their favorite dancers," says Milton. "It was a calm, fun, spirited event."

Arriving in Rio in early 2013, Milton has been photographing stories ranging from redevelopment and forced evictions to daily life. She came across a dance style rapidly growing in popularity.

The passinho is born out of baile funk, or Rio funk. While baile funk involves masculine movements and hypersexualized lyrics in its music, the passinho is a more free-form and individualized dance that combines styles including hip-hop and break-dancing with traditional Brazilian dance such as samba.

During the dance-off, Milton met Wellington Costa, a 19-year-old performer whom she photographed again as he practiced passinho with friends. Costa learned the basics back in 2008, then added and improvised, and is now performing in commercials for mobile phones.

Though the dance form has been around for more than eight years, passinho has just recently gone mainstream. According to Milton, it is now in commercials and televised competitions, and passinho songs receive millions of hits online.

While the dance movement was not a direct result of Rio's pacification program, — in which police units are installed in favelas, or shantytowns, to drive out violence — the baile funk parties previously held by drug traffickers have been banned. With the end of those parties, there's been a new place for passinho.

It is just one of the stories Milton has found in Rio de Janeiro.

"Rio is enormous," she says. "There's a lot of stories happening that no one is covering, so I'm trying to cover them."

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