Visiting Samba Schools in Rio 2012

By Hakan Almerfors, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Carnival 2012 is only six weeks away and the energy in the Cidade Maravilhosa is already building, especially now that the New Year celebrations have passed. All the samba schools are preparing for the final performance in the Sambódromo stadium, and a great way to experience what Carnival is about, is to go to some of the open rehearsals.

Salgueiro samba school is one of the easier rehearsal parties to get to in RIo, Brazil News

Salgueiro samba school is one of the easier rehearsal parties to get to in Rio, image recreation.

They are not exactly “schools” in the sense that you go there to take classes, but rather communities most often associated with one or more neighborhoods, often favelas.

The schools in the Grupo Especial (Special Group) typically have big halls (or Quadras) where they meet up to practice and rehearse before the big Carnival parades, which this year are February 19th and 20th.

The members of each school work for months building floats, sowing costumes, coordinating the drum section and much more. The only payment most people receive is to participate in the parade, an intense competition and source of pride.

These preparations cost a lot of money though, and one of the ways used to raise funding is to throw so called “rehearsal parties”. These are open to everyone and are great fun, and also an important cultural point of interest.

They start as early as in August and go on until Carnival, with every week the atmosphere is getting more energetic. The parties attract large crowds from all levels of society, with the large majority being Brazilians who get together to dance, flirt and have fun.

Salgueiro samba school party fills up with every Saturday night, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News

Salgueiro samba school party fills up with every Saturday night, image recreation.

At these parties the experience of powerful drumming and hip shaking may baffle the first time visitor, and naturally samba dancing is the center of attention. If you won’t be here during Carnival it is a great way to get an idea about what it is like in the Sambódromo.

Some schools are quite easy and safe to get to, with organized transports runs from hotels and hostels for affordable prices. Since these events take place at night other local transport than taxi is not to recommend.

Even when going by taxi, it is important to make sure that the driver actually knows the location since they are a bit off the beaten track and far from Zona Sul (South Zone). To be safest, it is best to only go by taxi if someone in the group speaks Portuguese.

Below are three examples that are quite easy to access.

Mangueira is the oldest and most popular samba school in Rio. You are guaranteed to see some celebrities, sometimes international.
Address: R. Visconde de Niterói 1072, Mangueira.
Samba nights: Saturdays at 10PM (kicks off at midnight).
Colors: Green and pink.
This years theme: “Vou festejar! Sou Cacique, sou Mangueira” – A tribute to a traditional Carnival band.

Salgueiro is famous for a good drum section and excellent samba dancers.
Address: R. Silva Teles 104, Tijuca.
Samba nights: Saturdays at 10PM (kicks off at midnight).
Colours: Red and white.
This year’s theme: “Cordel Branco e Encarnado” – A celebration to a tradition of selling stories by singing with origins in the Northeast.

Unidos da Tijuca is a school famous for its creativity and very popular in the gay community. Since most organized transports don’t go here taxi is the only option.
Address: Clube dos Portuários, Av. Francisco Bicalho 47, São Cristóvão.
Samba nights: Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM (kicks off at 10PM)
Colors: Yellow and blue.
Theme: “O Dia em Que Toda a Realeza Desembarcou na Avenida para Coroar o Rei Luiz do Sertão” – A tribute to the musician Luiz Gonzaga.

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Hakan Almerfors is the founder of Gringo-Rio.com; a site that provide inside travel information about Rio de Janeiro.

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