Every year in February, the daily life of Brazilians stops for 3 days: it’s carnival, a celebration bigger than Christmas. And Rio de Janeiro, with 2 million people attending per day, holds the most famous and biggest carnival in the world.
But did you know you can get a glimpse of the world’s biggest carnival even if out of carnival time? Guided visit to one of the most famous samba school of Rio de Janeiro.
Carnival: Brazil at its best!
The samba, that is played all year but gets its climax on carnival day, is a strong symbol of Brazilian identity. This music and dance genre is so predominant in the country that it was actually recognized as world heritage by UNESCO in 2005.
On the D day of the carnival, samba schools parade one by one on the rhythm of drums and string instruments performing national or regional sambas. Under the acclamations of their supporters, they get judged on the dancing, the music, the costumes and the floats.
To prepare for the events, the 200+ samba schools of Rio start practicing months before, and open some of their rehearsal to the public. A night at a samba school will give you a good taste of what carnival is about. But to see the parade and the floats (kept secret until the D day), you will have to come back in February!
During our stay in Rio, we went to see the rehearsal of Salgueiro samba school, one of the best school in town, 9 times winner of Rio’s carnival.
Party like a local
The first thing that catches you when you enter is the vibrations coming from the drums. Grab a drink – caipirinha for RS$8 ($3), anyone?- and sneak in the crowd to get a bit closer to the scene. The group of drummers is as polished as a pop band, with their black skinny jeans, their pink shirt and their black tie. The female dancers perform the traditional samba moves at an incredible speed. The energy coming from the stage is intense, the crowd claps and cheers.
After a short break, the main dancers make a new apparition, now in traditional costumes. Here comes the colors, the feathers and the revealing bikinis!
Between the stage with the singers and the samba performers, the group rehearsing the parade in front of you or the bateria, performing the music live from the balcony, difficult to know what to watch! No time to think too much: the group leader gives away paper with lyrics, it’s your time to add your voice to this happy cacophony.
Don’t worry too much if you don’t know how to dance samba, if the dexterity of the locals will make you shy, you will be soon caught up in a kind of “transe” with this repetitive rythm and your feet will start dancing by themselves.
By 3am, it’s time to leave, your legs will be tired but your head full of samba melodies!
Make it happen
Most of samba schools are located out of town so booking a package with transportation + entrance via your hotel or hostel is the easiest (R$80 / $35).
Avoid to stand out as a tourist: dress up! Ladies, don’t be shy on wearing a short dress but if you are a beginner, leave the high heels at the hostel… It will be easier to dance samba!