Parading at the Sambódromo

By Amy Skalmusky, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Watching the famed Rio Carnival Samba schools promenade on the “Avenue” of Sambódromo is a sight everyone should see, the world’s most extravagant annual pageant of music, dance and costume. There may be just one way to top the experience of being there to watch, and that is to actually join the parade in costume.

Carnival at the Marquês de Sapucaí, photo by Diogo Dubiella/Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

Carnival at the Marquês de Sapucaí, photo by Diogo Dubiella/Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

Though many of the Fantasia (Carnival costumes) have sold out, most of the Samba schools still have a few available for those who want to get in on the action.

All of the Samba schools sell the costumes directly through their website. Each segment, or “wing”, of the parade has a specific theme, costume and coordinator, whose contact information appears next to the picture of the costume.

Calling the coordinator directly is usually the best way to get information on availability and price (which is notably absent on the page), though many do not speak English so it may be best to get a Portuguese-speaking friend to help. Some travel agents and websites, such as Carnival Service and Rio Costumes offer costumes as well.

Costume prices range from R$500 to R$800 (US$480) for the Special Group schools that will be parading on March 6th and 7th, and these prices will continue to go up until Carnival. Costumes for the Access Groups, which parade on March 5th, are less expensive at around R$400 (US$240) each.

Mangueira is one of the most traditional samba schools in the Rio Carnival, photo by Felipe Ferreira/Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

Mangueira is one of the most traditional Samba schools, photo by Felipe Ferreira/Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

Some considerations for choosing a costume are size and comfort. Though costume options are limited, keep an eye out for light outfits that will make facing the sweltering night heat easier. Large headdresses and items projecting from the costume, such as wings, can be heavy and bothersome when dancing.

Most costumes are unisex, equally used by both men and women and the sizes are very forgiving. Height is the main factor when deciding on size, a Medium fits a person of 5’8 inches but when in doubt go one size higher. As for shoes, a U.S. size 6 for men and or 7 1/2 for women is roughly equivalent to a 36.

Each Samba school is judged on many criteria, and how well everyone knows the theme song is one of them. The lyrics and mp3 file is posted on the Samba school’s web site and it is a good idea to look it over and get a feel for the words.

Though knowing how to Samba isn’t required, having a sense of rhythm is helpful. One of the main concerns for those coordinating the wing, who will be nearby shouting orders during the parade, is to make sure there are no “holes” or large, empty spaces between people parading.

Those parading meet on Avenida Presidente Vargas, outside the Sambódromo, better known as the “concentração”. It’s a good idea to get there at least two hours before your school is set to enter the Avenue. The best means of transport to the festivities is by subway, which is set to stay open 24 hours during Carnival.

Fireworks mark the start of each school and the actual time each wing spends on the avenue is around 30 minutes. After exiting the Sambódromo, you can watch the rest of the parade (if you have a ticket) or continue the party in one of the many blocos, or block parties, and events happening around the city.

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