One of the most awe-inspiring and grand gestures of celebration in the world is Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. It’s five days of parading by 14 samba schools through the famous Sambodromo. During Carnival, shops and streets are closed to make way for the celebration: parades, dancing, and parties. This extravagant festival provides entertainment for the local parade goers and introduces the millions of world viewers to the seductive rhythms of the Samba, the soul of Brazil. This year, events start on Friday, February 24, 2017 with the crowning of its king by the mayor of the city and the first parade begins shortly afterwards. Everything ends February 28, 2017 with the Gay Ball in Rio Scala. This day is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent in the Roman Catholic calendar.
It dates back to about 1723 when immigrants from Cado Verde and Azores introduced the festivities with the intention of getting people wet in order to purify the body, known as entrudo. Over the years, people started to dress up, dance, and play music for on lookers. The celebration continued to grow. And, by the 1980s, the Sambodromo was to provide seating for spectators and to give organization to the procession. When the first day arrives, you can feel the celebratory spirit in the air and in every venue on the streets, like clubs and bars. The entire city awaits in anticipation what is known as the Samba Parade. The heighten festivities last only a few days, but take months and months to prepare for. Just looking at all of the colorful and elaborate costumes and the enormous and intricate floats, one would think that this event was put on by a multi-million dollar corporation. But, you would be wrong. It’s actually created, built, and choreographed by the people and neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro.
How do they pull off something so huge? Well, it is done through their membership and participation in local samba schools. With members numbering in the thousands, these schools will spend most of the calendar year preparing for their performance to one song. With an intent of composing the best song possible to bring home the victory, each school employs dancers, percussionists, musicians, singers, and even a team of songwriters. The competition is fierce and the prize is coveted, a release of their song on the immensely popular Sambas de Enredo CD.
Beginning in December, grand rehearsals are scheduled almost every weekend on the samba runway in the Sambodromo without the costumes and floats. Another way that the performers rehearse is through samba nights at what is known as the samba courts, rehearsal spaces. They’re open most weekends to anyone who want to dance, including tourists. These gatherings are informal and open to people of all ages.