By Sibel Tinar, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Carnival in Rio is one of the biggest and the best celebrations on Earth. While the samba schools and their glamorous parade at Sambódromo may be what initially attracts the tourists and newcomers, the Carnaval da Rua (Street Carnival) led by the blocos draws millions of people to the streets, not only during, but also well before and even after the actual Carnival dates.
The blocos are Carnival-style samba bands that parade and play on the streets, usually comprising of a bateria (drum procession), a sound truck, and anything from flags in specific colors to the craziest of costumes that give them their unique characters.
Each bloco originates from a certain neighborhood and parades on a predetermined route, accompanied by a large crowd of people, some in costumes, singing, and dancing.
Rio de Janeiro has 424 blocos officially registered to parade this year, and while this may seem like quite a large number, it is actually about ten percent less than it was in 2010. This is not due to a lack of interest in blocos, on the contrary, a deliberate decision to reduce the number of blocos was taken by the city authorities to curb the chaos and pollution that inevitably comes with large crowds.
Organizing blocos involves closing streets and redirecting traffic, thus, each bloco parades only once or twice a year, and while the Carnival falls on different dates every year, the schedules of the major blocos remain the same with regard to the time of day, and days of the week in relation to the Carnival.
Starting on a Saturday and continuing through Tuesday night each year, the 2011 Carnival will be from March 5th-8th; yet the “non-official opening of the Carnival” has already taken place on January 9th at Praça XV in Centro, with the participation of over thirty blocos and tens of thousands of people.
Rio’s blocos will be hitting the streets in pre-Carnival celebrations throughout January, and increasingly more frequently in February, while some of the most famous blocos such as Monobloco and Cordão do Bola Preta perform shows year-round.
The biannual parades of Cordão do Bola Preta, on the Friday the week before (this year being the February 25th), and on the Saturday during the Carnival, attract hundreds of thousands of people to the streets of Centro. The widely popular bloco is estimated to have drawn over a million people last year.
Banda de Ipanema, one of the oldest and most famous blocos of Zona Sul (South zone), parades once before and twice during the Carnival along the scenic coast of Ipanema — the Saturday two weeks before (February 19th), and on the Saturday and Tuesday during the Carnival (March 5th and 8th).
Escravos da Mauá, on the other hand, is another well-known bloco that parades on the Friday a week before the Carnival (February 27th), however, they also hold a Roda de Samba, a non-parade samba music show at Largo de São Francisco da Prainha in Centro, which can be caught the last Friday of each month.
For those who want to be part of the contagious spirit and start dancing on the streets over a month before the Carnival officially begins, here is a list of the confirmed upcoming blocos for the remainder of January:
Wednesday, January 19th, 8PM
Acadêmicos da Rocinha
Gathering Point: Calçadão Prefeito Mendes de Moraes, São Conrado
Thursday, January 20th, 3PM
Gathering Point: Praça Demétrio Ribeiro/Barata Ribeiro, Copacabana
Sunday, January 30th, 2PM
Acadêmicos do Vidigal
Gathering Point: Av. Delfim Moreira, Leblon