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Salsa Samba Sarah: Dancing to the Beat of a Surdo Drum

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accents on english

Newsletter of the Department of English
at Arizona State University

Fall 2017-Spring 2018
Volume 21

Sarah Snyder in samba gear / Courtesy photoShe writes. She teaches. She dances. She sings. She welds. But not at the same time. How does Beyonce do it wonders Sarah Elizabeth Snyder, PhD candidate in writing, rhetorics, and literacies. She got hooked on dancing in 2005 after seeing Dirty Dancing Havana Nights and just had to take salsa lessons. She’s been dancing ever since. And excelling at it! She and her partner ranked 4th in the nation in 2009 for the American Rhythm 4-dance event (cha-cha, rumba, swing, and mambo).

To Snyder, salsa is the most enjoyable form of physical activity. “The music is so upbeat, it's a whole body-mind exercise, and there are millions of possibilities,” she says. “The only thing I don't like about it is that I can't do it myself.”

While salsa was her first love, Snyder eventually spun toward ballroom, and then twirled on to the high energy samba, a lively, rhythmical dance of Afro-Brazilian origin in 2/4 time.

The International Latin 4-dance event was her first intro to samba, but it’s a very stylized partner-dancing version. The Brazilian samba that she does now is more vibrant and energetic.

Sarah Snyder and partner AJ in the 2008 Dancesport Championships / Courtesy photo“It is a solo dance and I can do whatever I want. I am no longer following my partner,” says Snyder. “I don't have to think while I dance salsa and ballroom, but I have to think during doing samba, which makes it more challenging.”

While some might get exhausted just watching someone dance the samba, Snyder says it actually gives her energy.

“It's so exhilarating. The bass of the surdo drum drives the body like a heartbeat. The cutting, syncopated tamborim inspires micro movements... it's like a freight train that can't stop!” Her favorite warm up song is "Trem Batucada" which starts off slowly and speeds up to light speed!

Are you ready to dance yet?!

Sarah Snyder in samba dancers in 2015 / Nightfuse photo

Snyder has taught weekly classes, performed monthly, and competed yearly at the Samba Queen Contest, held in Phoenix, Arizona, but as she got deeper into her doctoral program, she has had less time and money to teach and compete. She is currently on a dissertation fellowship and plans to graduate in May 2018. Snyder’s dissertation "Voices of Second Language Writers in the Stretch Composition Model" helps people understand how second language (L2) writers are experiencing the Stretch Program at Arizona State University, and perhaps more generally in Stretch Programs at-large.

“The reason this topic is important is that the Stretch Program wasn't made for L2 writers, it was made for L1 writers, but L2 writers inherited it once they hit critical mass,” explains Snyder.  

Professionalizing Second Language Writing edited by Paul Kei Matsuda, Sarah Snyder and Katherine O'MearaShe’s also worked on an edited collection with professor Paul Kei Matsuda and alum Katherine Daily O’Meara (PhD English 2017) which was published in October 2017. Professionalizing Second Language Writing contains eight chapters of “really great scholarship and advice from a range of scholars in our field.”

But when she needs a break from the rigors of academia; when she just needs an escape, she dances.

“Dancing is a natural antidepressant, or so I have heard,” Snyder says. “It's a place where people are enjoying themselves, not competing, learning to do something with your whole body instead of just your brain.”

Snyder was also in a Brazilian batucada group called Sambatuque where she sang and played the agogo, tamborim, surdo, and sometimes chocalhu. She also sang in a jazz group called "The Flat Fives."

Sarah Snyder dances with Sambatuque in 2012 during Flagstaff, AZ's July 4th parade. / Courtesy photoWhile she loves the dance itself, she admits the best part of samba is making and designing her own costumes.

“I learned how to weld to make my Samba costume!” says Snyder. “Weld you say? Why would you need to weld? Well, what weighs more—100 pounds of sparkles or 100 pounds of feathers? It’s a very creative process. It almost makes me think that I should have been an engineer.” 

When she’s not dancing herself, Snyder enjoys watching her rabbits do the hip hop. She and her husband have two bunnies who just celebrated their 13th birthdays with homemade little bunny cupcakes. Snyder also volunteers at a rabbit rescue with her mom. Bunnies provide her with a sense of nurturing and comfort—and she gets to spend time with her mom.

Sarah Snyder and husband with bunnies. / Courtesy photoThe hippity hop element is apropos because her nickname from her ballroom dancing years was,…surdo drum roll… Mama Bunny! As president of ASU’s Devil DanceSport, Snyder attracted much attention by telling funny stories about her bunnies.

“I might have been a little too good at telling students what to do,” she adds. That’s when her crew dubbed her Mama Bunny. “I took 100 undergraduate students to Las Vegas for a dance competition one weekend. I still consider this group one of my greatest achievements in life because EVERYBODY CAME BACK ALIVE—and in all of the pieces that they were originally in.”

Sheila Luna

Image 1: Sarah Snyder in samba gear, 2013. Courtesy photo.

Image 2: Snyder and partner at the Northwest Dancesport Championships in 2008. Courtesy photo.

Image 3: Snyder (center, in red feathers) and fellow samba dancers at the Rainha e Rei do Samba 2015 at The Pressroom in Phoenix. Photo by Nightfuse.

Image 4: Snyder dances with the Sambatuque group in 2012 during Flagstaff, AZ's July 4th parade. Courtesy photo.

Image 5: Snyder with her husband and their bunny family.