Rio Carnival

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The Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro is a world famous festival held before Lent every year and considered the biggest carnival in the world with two million people per day on the streets. The first festivals of Rio date back to 1723.[1]

GRES Imperatriz Leopoldinense at the carnival, in 1999
Mangueira samba school parades in the Sambadrome in the 1998 Carnival.
A Samba school parades in the Sambadrome in the 2004 Carnival.

The typical Rio carnival parade is filled with revelers, floats and adornments from numerous samba schools which are located in Rio (more than 200 approximately, divided into 5 leagues/ divisions). A samba school is composed of a collaboration of local neighbours that want to attend carnival together, with some kind of regional, geographical common background.

One of the many main purposes of the Rio carnival parade is for samba schools to compete with their sisters samba-schools; this competition is the climax of the whole carnival festival in this city, related to the samba-schools environment.[2] Each school chooses a theme to try to portray with their entry.[3] The samba schools work to build the best floats, costumes, lyrics, aesthetics, to represent their themes (in Carnival terminology called "enredo"), and to include the best music they can from their drumming band called the bateria.[4] There are many parts to each school's entry including the six to eight floats and up to 4,000 ( four thousand ) revelers per Samba-school of the so-called Special group.[5]

There is a special order that every school has to follow with their parade entries. Each school begins with the "comissão de frente" ( literally "Commission of the Front" in English), that is the "wing" or group of people from the school that appear first. Made up of ten to fifteen people, the "comissão de frente" introduces the school and sets the mood and style of their presentation. These people have choreographed dances in fancy costumes that usually tell a short story. Following the "comissão de frente" is the first float of the samba school, called "abre-alas" ( "Opening Wing" in English ).

Some of the important roles include the porta-bandeira and mestre-sala. The porta-bandeira is a very important lady who is in charge of the samba school flag, including making sure to not allow the flag to roll. She is accompanied by the mestre-sala, who is supposed to draw everyone’s attention to "his queen", the porta-bandeira. Floatees, who are also important, are the people who populate the floats, also known as destaques. The floatees have the most luxurious and expensive costumes that can be extremely heavy. Along with all the floatees is one main floatee that is located at the top of each float. The main destaque dances and sings for the entire time that the float is on the runway.

One other aspect that is mandatory is the presence of the ala das baianas. This is a wing of the samba school entry that includes at least 100 females only and honours the 'aunts' of the dance. Also important are the glamorous passistas, solo female samba performers dancing between the wings and often stars in their own right (they need considerable stamina for their dancing displays).

Street carnival[edit]

As the parade is taking place in the Sambodromo and the balls are being held in the Copacabana Palace and beach, many carnival participants are at other locations. Street festivals are very common during carnival and are highly populated by the locals.[6] Elegance and extravagance are usually left behind, but music and dancing are still extremely common. Anyone is allowed to participate in the street festivals. Bandas and bondos are very familiar with the street carnival especially because it takes nothing to join in on the fun except to jump in. One of the most well known bandas of Rio is Banda de Ipanema. Banda de Ipanema was first created in 1965 and is known as Rio’s most irreverent street band.[7]

Dancers at the 2005 carnival

Incorporated into every aspect of the Rio carnival are dancing and music. The most famous dance is carnival samba, a Brazilian dance with African influences. The samba remains a popular dance not only in carnival but in the ghettos outside of the main cities. These villages keep alive the historical aspect of the dance without the influence of the western cultures.[8] Other dances include the lundu, the polka, and the maxixe.

Music is another major aspect of all parts of carnival. As stated by Samba City, “Samba Carnival Instruments are an important part of Brazil and the Rio de Janeiro Carnevale, sending out the irresistible beats and rhythms making the crowd explode in a colourful dance revolution fantasy fest!”[9] The samba that is found in Rio is batucada, referring to the dance and music being based on percussion instruments. It “is born of a rhythmic necessity that it allows you to sing, to dance, and to parade at the same time.”[10] This is why the batucada style is found in most all of Rio’s street carnivals.

Street parades, blocos and bandas take place throughout the city of Rio during Carnival. There can be more than 300 bandas taking place at any given point in time. While the biggest street party takes place right outside the Sambadrome, the largest organized street dance is typically found on Cinelândia Square in Rio’s Centro. In 2012, more than 2 million revelers took to the streets of Rio de Janeiro to participate in the Cordão do Bola Preta bloco. According to police estimates, more than 5 million people attended a bloco during Rio Carnival 2012 and there was not one reported incident of crime.[11] When the Sambadrome was built in 1984, it had the side-effect of taking street parades from the downtown area to a specific, ticketed performance area. Some samba schools have since been motivated by an agenda that focuses on regaining public space, and using the carnival tradition to occupy the streets with parades or blocos. Many of these represent a local community of the area but are open to all.[12]

Carnival Dates[edit]

The Carnival begins on Friday and ends on Ash Wednesday. But the Winner's Parade happen on Saturday after the carnival end.[13]

Rio Carnival tickets[edit]

In 1984 the government decided to give Rio Carnival its new home in the Sambadrome.[14] Today, some of the most famous events of Rio Carnival are ticketed events. There are different types of Sambodromo tickets that are available for purchase. Grandstand tickets are general admissions tickets that are available on a first come-first serve basis and are not allocated ahead of time. Frisas are open air box seats located along the samba runway. Camarotes are luxury boxes situated between the frisas and the grandstands. Sector 9 is the tourist sector which are the same as grandstand tickets, with the difference being that they are allocated so people have assigned seats.[15]

Carnival ticket prices can vary from US$ 55 to US$ 3000,[16] depending on the ticket type, sector and season. The cheapest sectors are 12 and 13.[17] Tickets can be bought in advance through international brokers, or through local travel agents in Rio de Janeiro. 'Purchase of a ticket' normally means purchase of a voucher which is then exchangeable for the ticket close to the date. Ticket sales are organised by LIESA, who will often also make tickets available at late notice via a venue (often a bank) announced the day before. LIESA prices for grandstand tickets vary from Rs5 to Rs500 for the Tourist Sector (2014 prices).[18] LIESA publish the base price of the tickets, and agents and brokers charge more (sometimes significantly more) but offer considerable convenience and other benefits.

Samba Parade in the Sambódromo (Sambadrome).
Sambadrome Sectors Diagram


  1. ^ Virtual-Brazil, Brazil Tourism: Rio de Janeiro Carnival History, 2010.
  2. ^ Roger Robinson, Brazil, Oxford, Heinemann Educational Publishers, 1997, p. 12.
  3. ^ "About Samba Schools". 
  4. ^ William Alves, Music of the Peoples of the World, California, Thomson Schirmer, 2006, p. 295.
  5. ^ Video Example of Samba-School Entrance in Rio ´s Sambadrome
  6. ^ Pagnoncelli, Eduardo,, Sounds and Colours, March 2, 2011
  7. ^ Ipanema, Banda,, April 1, 2007.
  8. ^ Shanachie Entertainment Corp, The Spirit of Samba: Black Music of Brazil, VHS, 1990, April 1, 2007.
  9. ^ Samba City, Samba Instruments, April 1, 2007.
  10. ^ Samba City, Samba Carnival Instruments,, April 1, 2007.
  11. ^ "Rio Carnival Street Parties". 
  12. ^ Jaguaribe B, Images of the crowd: carnival and media Accessed 13 May 2014.
  13. ^
  14. ^ "About Sambadrome". 
  15. ^ "Rio Carnival Tickets Guide". 
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ Accessed 13 May 2014. Rs500 = approx. US$250

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