Rio de Janeiro, Feb.14: Brazil’s five-day Carnival got into high gear on Thursday with its famous parades in Rio de Janeiro adding choreographed extravagance on top of lusty street parties and fancy-dress balls already underway.
Locals, tourists and television audiences around the world were to be treated to thousands of dancers and the drum bands from the city’s samba schools marching behind topless, sequined beauties for two nights of colourful processions.
The parades, a carefully timed competition that comes at the mid-point of Carnival, mark the climax of what all of Rio calls "the greatest show on Earth."
Rio de Janeiro Carnival
Held prior to Lent each year, the festival is a great fun and an extravaganza of color and festivities to which many thousands of people flock each and every year. The make-up of the carnival is quite extraordinary, with luxury balls and galas being held across the city and many carnival festivities taking place in the Sambadrome in downtown Rio de Janeiro.
With influences from African dance and the roots of carnivals in Roman mythology, the mix of cultures on display at the Rio de Janeiro carnival is extraordinary and is certainly a sight to behold for everyone who is involved with it.
The Rio de Janeiro Carnival celebration dates back to 1723 when it started out as a pre-Lent festival – much like many carnivals around the world. Carnivals were initially intended as religious celebrations and contained offerings to Roman gods. Modern day carnivals, however, are far removed from their initial roots and have become vast celebrations of enjoyment for local people to embrace the rich mixture of cultures which influence each and every carnival worldwide.
Today, the Rio de Janeiro carnival is perhaps best known for its famous carnival parade, which first took place in the 1930s. Since samba dance is the essence of the Rio de Janerio carnival, the parade is also called samba parade. Samba comes from an Afro-Brazilian dance. Some steps and motions were added to the dance for samba parade of the carnival and became what is known as Brazilian samba dance which is not a dance of couples.
The carnival parade starts on the Sunday evening and goes through until the Monday morning, with the majority of the carnival celebration taking place in the Sambadrome in downtown Rio de Janeiro.
The main purpose and attraction of the Rio de Janeiro carnival procession is the participation of many people from various samba schools – groups of people who have come together to participate in the carnival celebration for their “team”. Each samba school selects a theme to portray at the samba parade and designs their own carnival costumes, choreography, and story. A typical samba school’s procession will begin with the “commis’ de frente” – between ten and fifteen people whose job it is to introduce the samba school and to set the theme or mood for that school’s particular procession. The commis’o de frente consists of extremely well-choreographed dances in magnifient carnival costumes, designed to tell a specific story. Preparations of the carnival parade begin months before the carnival as it is a well designed show.
The commis’o de frente is followed by the “mestra sala”, who draws attention to his queen – the “porta bandeira” – similar to the Carnival Queens who are elected in American and European carnivals worldwide. Official carnival queens are elected annually according to some critieria such as Brazilian samba dance skills, beauty, representation of the carnival spirit, etc. In addition, each samba school must contain the “ala das baianas” – a wing of the school which includes at least one hundred females and no males. The women do not ride on the floats, but march alongside the floats and are referred to as “passistas”. Although the principal carnival parade takes place in Sambadrome, Brazilian samba dance, music festivities and a great fun goes on in the streets.
In addition to the world famous procession, galas and balls are held all over the vast city of Rio de Janeiro. A luxury gala is held at the Copacabana Palace, a magnificent hotel with neoclassic design – the only one of its kind – and is attended by the cream of Brazilian celebrities including football stars, models and television stars. Bookings for accommodation in this luxurious hotel, Copacabana Palace are taken six months prior to carnival celebration. Many different types of balls and galas are held, with the gay galas being particularly popular at the festival.
The Rio de Janeiro carnival is also famous for its musical festivities. Many bands play regularly at the carnival including the ever popular Banda de Ipanema, who have been playing at the Rio de Janeiro carnival since 1965. It is evident to any visitor that the procession and music is heavily influenced by African dance and musical culture, as are many carnival celebrations in South America, the Caribbean and worldwide.