Nothing wets the appetite for adventure and new experiences like the promise of fresh exploration. Have you explored a destination using only a backpack, a low budget and the spirit of Brazil in your mind? Well, this is what Shani Meyer; an Israeli living in Los Angeles did in October 2005. Since she was a child, Shani had an adventurous spirit. Her affinity for Brazilian culture and language began as a pre-teen. She considered it to be so beautiful that she stated, “I first became a lover of this country through the beautiful melodies and beat when I started listening to Samba and Bossa Nova in my early teen years.”
When Shani came to U.S in 2000 she decided to live in L.A and started to work in a cell’s phone retail store, where by coincidence her boss’ wife was an Israeli that has lived in Brazil and spoke Portuguese fluently. She became her friend and was the first person to introduce to her the culture of Brazil. “I started taking some Portuguese classes with her to know more about the intense Brazilian culture in L.A”.
As Shani was already a dancer when she met Marco Vaz – a Brazilian samba instructor, started taking samba classes with him. She became updated with Brazilian events through her samba instructor Marcos. She later started dance classes with Katia Moraes and fell more and more in love with the Brazilian culture.
After a while she was in Esti Ashkenazi’s samba class and Esti asked Shani to come for auditions. She enjoys a group called the Sunflower Dancers and that’s when Shani became a professional dancer performing Samba, Belly Dance, Jazz and many more styles. In October 2005 she decided to travel to South America, but not decided if starting her backpacking trip in Peru, Bolivia, Chile or Argentina. One thing for sure she had in mind. “My final destination would be in Brazil because I knew will take longer there!” She went with a friend from Israel from L.A to Chile.
After four months traveling with her friend around different counties in South America she did follow alone to Brazil through Foz de Iguaçu by bus. “The famous waterfall is the most amazing, just breathe taking”. She then went by bus to Florianopolis, Ilha do Mel, and then the big metropolis Sao Paulo. “A cosmopolitan city with a big Jewish and Muslim community, all them living in harmony”.
After one week she was in Rio after stop for some days in Ilha Grande/Angra dos Reis. In Rio de Janeiro she trained with a real samba school community for a month. She says “It was a dream come true, a fantastic experience in my life!” Shani followed her journey in the North direction and stopped in Arraial da Ajuda in Bahia.
Regarding her experience in this small town – one of the most important spots for international backpackers travelers like her, she mentions “The city that matches most with my personality and life style because it was the perfect combination of all my passions: a big capoeira group called Sul da Bahia and a dance studio that I was in day and night dancing samba, axé, forró and Afro-Brazilian rhythms. The city also offered amazing beaches and great dancing parties that let me express myself the most”. Shani also traveled to Salvador, Recife and Olinda following her Brazilian northeast route before back to L.A after 7 months – 3 months around Brazil.
She complements our conversation by saying that her philosophy is the same where she stayed, ‘I try to learn the language, which is the most important idea of traveling and a very powerful tool for connecting with people; as well trying to learn the typical dances to those countries.” For this charismatic Israeli, with a Brazilian heart every traveler should take time to learn a bit about the culture and the people they are visiting. For her, it is especially important to try to meet as many locals as possible to learn something different from each person.
* Shani lives in Los Angeles, California. She fell in love with Brazil through Capoeira and than Brazilian music. She has been participating in several Zoak Dance Contest as a competitor with her partner Ivo around the world. She is also a samba and belly dancer instructor.