There are three rhythms of forró: xote (a slower-paced rhythm), baião (the original forró) and arrasta-pé (the fastest of the three), and amongst these, many styles of dancing, which varies from region to region, and may be known by different names according to the location. Forró is danced in pairs, usually very close together, with the man's left hand holding the woman's right hand as in the Waltz, his right arm around her back and her left arm around his neck; Other styles may require to stay partially away, or in a considerable distance, only holding their hands up the shoulders. Influences from salsa and other Caribbean dances has given mobility to forró, with the woman - and occasionally the man - being spun in various ways, although it's not essential to spin at all, and more complex movements may prove impossible to be executed in the usually crowded dancing area of forrós. Follows below a list of the most popular styles of forró in Brazil:
Xote originally has its roots in the schottische dance.
Miudinho and puladinho can also be danced to baião music and even to arrasta-pé, but in the latter the leg work is so intense that it's impracticable. Some people also like to include brega/calypso in the forró category, because this dance has suffered much influence of forró throughout the decades, but it's danced to its own rhythm (not to be mistaken with Calypso music).
Forro dancing styles are informally often grouped into two main "families", simply for practical reasons: The older Nordestino (North-eastern) type of Forro and the Universitário (University) Forro that developed later in the South.
Nordestino forro is danced with the couple much closer together, with their legs often inter-twined and a characteristic sideways shuffle movement. Because of the intimacy, there are not as many step variations in this style.
Universitário forro, with its origins in the big southern cities of Brazil, is the more popular style outside of the north-east. Its basic step is forward-backwards - slightly similar to traditional Bolero or Salsa. With more space between the pair, many more moves, steps and turns are possible than in Nordestino styles. The more common steps include:
Universitário forro supposedly evolved from (and is still very similar to) the pé-de-serra/baião styles, while Nordestino is used to refer to the styles more like the original xote.
Forró, referring to the music and not the dance, encompasses today various musical styles. The musical style, which is at the origin of, and from which have grown out most musical styles today denoted as Forró, is the Forró of Luiz Gonzaga (and others such as Jackson do Pandeiro and Marinês).
This musical style, commonly called also Forró Pé-de-Serra, is usually based on a trio combination of
This combination of instruments was defined as the base of Forró by Luiz Gonzaga. Before Gonzaga other combinations have been commonly used. The combination of triangle with accordion is a combination that has already existed in European folk music before and is also used in Cajun music in the United States. Forró thus conserves a format of a small ensemble with multiple (in this case two) percussionists, something that also used be common in Europe and the United States before the invention of the growth of the popularity of the drum set.
This combination of instruments serves rather as a base and is not fixed, incorporating sometimes other instruments such as fiddle, flute, pandeiro, bass, cavaquinho and acoustic guitar.
The combination of zabumba and triangle is almost always part of the rhythm section of any Forró group.
The triangle keeps an ongoing pulse on all the four times of the (4/4) beat, while accentuating the third beat. In this sense, the function can be compared to the rhythm guitar or the hi-hat of the drum set in rock music, although the triangle accentuates the third beat more strongly with its high pitched metallic sound, being damped to give a fainter and drier sound on the other beats. The zabumba, which is played on both sides, on one side giving a grave sound and on the other a sharp whip-like sound, plays the syncopated rhythms essential to Forró.
From the melodic and harmonic point of view, Forró makes heavy use of the Escala nordestina (literally North-eastern scale), which could be characterised as being a mixture of the Lydian and Mixo-lydian modes. The North-eastern scale represents the basis of a large part of the more traditional Forró and the Forro Pé-de-Serra, in similar way as the blues scale is the basis for the music of the Mississippi Delta. The Escala nordestina is most evident in pieces such as Vem Morena, Baião of Luiz Gonzaga. The accordion is the typical melody instrument used in Forró, and is sometimes called the "Soul of Forró" or the "Soul of the Sertão", referring the region where Forró has originated.
As Forró diversified away from its roots, it has incorporated other influences, and more significantly, diversified into quite distinct musical styles