The Maxixe

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 was introduced in Paris in 1905 by Derminy and Morly to the tune La Sorella, but it didn't catch on.  It was successfully re-introduced in 1912 by Monsieur L. 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.

There were two distinctively different versions of maxixe in 1912 — fast and slow.  The original maxixe, like the next-generation samba, was Africanized polka — relatively quick and cheerful.  However 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 a Brazilian 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.  Here is a maxixe published as a tango:

The authentic maxixe was brighter and rhythmic, as captured on film by Vernon and Irene Castle in The Whirl of Life (below).  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."

Easier ragtime era dances like the one-step and fox-trot were danced freestyle, but the maxixe was so difficult that it was often practiced in choreographed sequences.  Both of these sequences were choreographed by Richard Powers, based on steps described in ragtime era dance manuals, a 1915 silent film of Vernon and Irene Castle dancing the maxixe, and Fred Astaire's interpretation in The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle.  Fred Astaire is considered to be a primary source for the maxixe because he watched the Castles perform it many times in 1914, when Fred and his sister Adele were young dancers in vaudeville.

After the maxixe:  Wistful of his 1912 success, Duque traveled back to Brazil ten years later to see what the latest version of the dance looked like and he found that it was now bouncier, no longer traveled line of dance, had some new variations, and was sometimes called samba.


During the season of 1922-23, he introduced the Brazilian samba, next evolutionary stage of the maxixe, at his Montmartre dance hall Shéhérazade.  The famed Afro-Brazilian orchestra Les Batutas (Os Oito Batutas) provided music for the premier.  At that time the samba was still unknown in England and the U.S., but it didn't take long for it to spread through the ballrooms of western Europe and America.  The samba continued to evolve in Brazil, but European and American social dancers were happy with the version they learned, and kept it essentially the same for decades, not realizing that it's a snapshot of 1923 samba, and resembles today's Brazilian samba about as much as adults resemble their childhood photos 80 years later.

The shortest reminder, for those who know most of it:

Maxixe 1 has the heel-and-toe figure and changes hands behind the woman's back during the galop home. Once you're in skater's position, you'll remember the rest.

Maxixe 2 has the zig-zag galop and the sunburst hands during the galop home. Once you've done that, you'll remember the face-to-face, back-to-back. Maxixe 2 has the better ending (the step-kicks) so plan to finish with that sequence.

Easiest Maxixe:  Do Maxixe 2 but substitute in the first 8 bars of Maxixe 1, heel-and-toe figure instead of the zig-zag galop.

A more complete reminder version:


Note: One bar of music equals the time of two walking steps or one polka step.

4 bars of swaying CW (clockwise) turning two-step traveling LOD. Hands begin low then rise to the top during the first three counts.

Heel-and-toe figure. Remember to cross to the outside of the room first, with him doing the heel and her doing the toe. After 6 counts of heel-and-toe, side step toward LOD (line of direction) on 7, raising arm into Scorpion Position. Hold on count 8, looking down at the rear foot and raising that toe.

Beginning with his R and her L foot, 4 bars of swaying CW turning two-step traveling AGAINST LOD. Hands begin high from Scorpion then lower during the first three counts.

Galop against LOD bringing her R hand comfortably low behind her back, with him taking it with his R hand behind her back, raising L arms to the side then up to take L hands overhead. She stops side L foot on count 7 then turns to her right and falls back R foot on count 8, dropping L hands into Skaters position, facing LOD. Meanwhile he takes an extra galop side step R on count 8 to join her in Skaters position.

Step side-close LR three times diagonally forward to the left, taking weight on the leading heel, closing the third time with two R stamps. Repeat to the right. Step side-close LR two times diagonally fwd, closing with a single R stamp. Repeat to the right. Smooth two-step L. Then as you do a smooth two-step R, raise L hands in a CW circle over her head and she does a full turn into Back Two-Step position. His free R hand comes up from below to take her R hand in front of her. All palms are down.

7 bars of swaying CW turning two-step done on the spot, not traveling and not rotating much. Lean left first. Make sure you're both facing out of the hall by the 7th bar. On the 8th bar he does a normal RLR two-step but she half-turns to her right with two steps RL to face him.


4 bars of swaying CW turning two-step traveling LOD.

Zig-Zag Galop: Charge with 4 slides of a galop (7 quick weight changes) diagonally LOD toward the center. Do almost a half-turn CCW flip to galop 2 slides (3 quick weight changes) beginning on the opposite foot, diagonally LOD away from the center. Then on count 7 he steps back L LOD as she takes a long step fwd R LOD toward him, arching her back a little into a tango corte. Hold on 8.

Beginning with his R and her L foot, 4 bars of swaying CW turning two-step traveling against LOD. Hands begin high then lower during the first three counts.

Galop against LOD 4 bars. Then do the Sunburst hands on the next 3 bars of galop, stopping with feet apart on 7 and raising his L/her R toe toward LOD.

Two-step toward LOD while facing partner on all 3 counts, taking rear hand only. Then swing held hands fwd toward LOD and two-step back-to-back. Repeat the first two-step facing. Then roll away from partner in a full turn of a two-step (not pivot steps) traveling LOD.

Smoothly connect with partners to do 4 bars of swaying CW turning two-step traveling LOD. The smooth connecting is her lowering her R arm in front of her when she rolls away, and he "bats" her R palm with the back of his L hand to raise those hands.

Opening up to side-by-side position (still holding hands), step-kick fwd then two-step in place with her backing up more, to turn CW. Repeat 3 more times. If this is the finale, hold the 4th kick an extra count then drop forward kneeling.

Choreography and description by Richard Powers
© 1983, 2005 Richard Powers

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