If Rio Carnival is the greatest show on earth, the Samba Schools are the greatest Plays. Samba Schools are the very central core of Carnival, an spectacle of gigantic floats, exotic costumes, and sizzling dance moves during the Rio Carnival.
Samba schools are formed in the neighborhoods. Men, women, and children from come together to form a Samba School, irrespective of their social status. They design and construct everything required for the Samba Parade, including composition of their individual samba theme song. Each samba school presents its own set of samba dancers, musicians, and a team of choreographers who along with the school carnavalesco, costume designers and float builders create a unique performance for the famous carnival Samba Parade.
Regardless of the strong competitive spirit of each Samba School, there’s a camaraderie among schools as each samba school vies for championship title at the Rio Sambodromo. The effort and enthusiasm put together but all Samba school members towards building the samba parade to the Carnival is unmatched and rarely experienced at any other event on the planet. The Rio Carnival is really the greatest show on earth.
Samba schools have evolved over the years with state-of-the-art facilities that continue to serve as a base for the school’s production of gigantic floats, exotic costumes, and sizzling dance moves during the Rio Carnival. Samba schools consist of members from particular neighborhoods, often from the shanty towns or ‘favelas’.
The samba schools serve the dual purpose of highlighting Brazilian culture to the world as well as helping the less fortunate with gainful employment. Each school is sponsored by several corporate houses and indulge in various fundraising events held throughout the year at their facilities. Samba City, where the schools have their facilities, is now the cradle of samba from where communities come together to host the biggest event on the planet.
Samba schools keep alive the traditions of the country’s ancestors who brought African art, music, and dance with them in the 17th century. In fact, an exciting blend of ancient and modern culture is what comes to the forefront all through the Carnival. Schools begin preparations with the choosing of a theme. A song is composed based the theme which is sometimes based on controversial issues. All the other elements including costumes, float decorations, and choreography come together as thousands of dancers, singers, and talented performers put up a spectacular show on carnival nights. All the returns from their hard work go into the development of their particular locality.
Samba schools rehearse at their facilities sometimes far from the so-called South Zone of Rio as early as August. Anyone can attend these rehearsals, conducted normally in the weekends.
By January, the excitement reaches its peak with rehearsals at the Sambadrome on the weekends. For visitors this is a great way to enjoy a sneak preview of the real event. You are welcome to join the party with the very best drummers and pasistas, that entertain visitors all night with their foot stomping beats. Rehearsals at schools like Mangueira, Salgueiro and Unidos da Tijuca begin as early as August and offer the best structure for the visitor. During rehearsals, most schools allow visitors to participate.
You can grab all the action at the Sambadrome as samba schools gather to rehearse through December and January. The rehearsals are free, although you will not get to see the elaborately decorated floats or costumes. However, the music is enough to get you into the carnival spirit and the opportunity to dance with the cariocas, who provide stiff competition to any of the well known samba dancers. The final rehearsal at the Sambadrome is the most spectacular with plenty of lights, sound, and action. After the technical rehearsal, some of Rio’s best samba street bands like Banda de Ipanema and Cordao do Bola Preta, turning the stadium into the biggest street party.
Each samba school has its own unique style with over 70 schools participating in events during the Rio Carnival. Among the most popular schools with a huge fan following is Beija Flor, renowned for its colorful and elaborate costumes and equally exuberant samba queens. Other famous schools include Mangueira which has an incredibly large group of supporters and is one of the oldest existing samba schools in Rio. Consistent performances by Mocidade and Portela have made them among the top favorites of spectators at the Sambadrome.
Salgueiro is one of the samba schools with a strong African influence that steal the heart of millions in their red and white colors that portray the school’s cultural diversity. Sao Clemente is another samba school that is popular with the crowds as they continue to highlight issues related to the city of Rio and its social and civic structure. The school was close to winning the 2008 champions’ title, losing out due to a wardrobe malfunction that cost them half a point.