This page provides information about the Rio Samba Parade in the Sambodromo also known as the Rio Carnival Parade.
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The highlight of Rio Carnival is undoubtedly the Rio Carnival Parade called the Samba Parade or Samba Schools Parade, a totally unique event in the world!
The Rio Samba Parade is the review of a fierce competition between the Rio samba schools. The judges and spectators watch the principal parades in the Sambodromo, which was especially built for this event. See how it is judged.
The Samba Parade in Rio de Janeiro is something everybody should experience at least once in their lives. The event is broadcast live to several countries. Watching on TV is comfortable but not any close to the fun that is being there. Definitely mingle with the crowds and watch the Brazilians and Cariocas (the people of Rio). For the best and full blown experience, you can even march with a samba school.
The Rio Samba Parade is very distinct from all other street parades held at some other places in the world. It started as street festivities with groups of people parading through the streets playing music and dancing. The Carnival parades in Rio developed into something special, a competition between the samba schools. The main competition was originally held downtown. Until the mid-80s, bleachers for the spectators were simply assembled and disassembled every year on Av. Presidente Vargas, one of Rio's major arteries. Then the main parades were moved to the Sambodromo, specially built for this event.
The preparation for the Samba Parade starts months in advance, as each samba school mobilizes thousands of supporters who will create the various parts of the school's display.
First, the theme of the year is chosen. Then the school's samba song of the year is selected through competition, while the school's Carnival Designer creates the costumes and the floats. When ready, the sketches move into production. By December the rehearsals begin. In time for Christmas, the schools' annual samba songs are recorded and released to the record shops.
The Rio Samba Parade is not a street event where people move chaotically about as they like, but more of a highly orchestrated show of vast proportions. Every parader has a specific role and place according to his costume in a particular wing, of a particular section of the samba school he/she is parading in support of.
Each year the schools chooses a different theme for the Samba Parade. It can be a celebration of a particular period, or, famous figures of Brazilian history. It may highlight a special event or speak of anything that might move the spirit and imagination; like a special animal, or one of the elements; water or fire, etc. The school has to illustrate the chosen theme through all its work:
Every school's parade is highly organized and designed. They line up in a unique way to present their pageant. The schools are divided into a number of sections and each section has a number of wings of about 100 people wearing the same costume. Sometimes even 2 wings (approx. 200 people) have the same costume. You will find more details about the role and name of some special sections of the Parade on the other side of this page.
In between the wings, there are about 8 Carnival floats, separating the sections and illustrating the school's theme. Most of them are pushed along by men from the School's community but some are motorized and have mechanical parts. The floats carry special guests along with some young and mesmerizing samba dancers in very elaborate, awe-inspiring costume creations.
The costumes are extremely imaginative, colorful, elaborate and detailed. They are truly original, designed and made from scratch each year. They have mirrors, feathers, metallic cloth, silk and sometimes gems or coins. These costumes take months to make. The work starts roughly 8 months in advance.
Each samba school has its own distinctive colors (of its flag) and costume style. The color scheme is reflected in many parts of their parade.
The biggest and most elaborate costumes are worn by the main floatees (destaques), members chosen with honor by the samba schools to wear these special costumes.
Even though complete nudity is not officially allowed, sometimes floats carry topless or almost-naked beauties, male and female, wearing only body paint, lots of glitter and a smile.
You may think of the whole event as a tropical opera or rather like several operas happening on one night. It is beautiful to watch and the experience for the paraders themselves is so intense that the memories last for a lifetime.
The Samba Parade is a really glorious competition for which the scores are given by the judges. Just like sports, it offers entertainment while it has its rigid rules.
The schools are judged in 10 categories. There are 4 judges of every category (altogether 40 of them). Every judge gives his scores on a scale of 5-10 (with fractions), 10 being the best. They are counted and announced on Ash Wednesday, just after Carnival. The judges' booths are spread along the Samba Avenue (most of them in Sector 2, opposite Sector 7) and are clearly marked with a banner reading "Julgadores".
The percussions should keep up the rhythm during the entire parade. All paraders should be singing and dancing in the rhythm set by the group. The 4 judges are looking for regularity and continuity of the beat, a consistently firm and precise beat from the big surdo drums, and an effective overall and well balanced sound of all the instruments. The rhythm should be varied and diverse but should be maintained perfectly, especially when the instruments restart after a break. The tempo should be maintained at all times. The group's versatility is vital. It is forbidden to use wind or brass instruments.
It must contain the essence of the central theme which the School is presenting through their parade that year. The lyrics must fit the music, as it is also judged by its artistic credentials. This is the only category where the judges subdivide their marks, giving some marks for the lyrics and some for the melody.
It is judged by the musical, acoustical and visual harmony of the School's parade. To score high in this category, the music, rhythm and singing should meld seamlessly with the choreography and dance of the School's members. Marks can be lost through feeble singing.
Flow and spirit of the participants
Consistency and compatibility are appraised on the participants' movements and dance with the rhythm. The procession must keep a steady flow while being spontaneous and creative at the same time, expressing passion, agility and vigor of the participants. Penalty points are incurred if gaps open up between the paraders or the wings.
of the year
This is the central theme the school has chosen and written and is represented through all parts of its entire parade. It is an artistic literary creation, in written form. The judges consider, amongst other factors, the strength of the idea as a whole and the development of this idea through the various wings and floats. It should be possible to easily understand the theme and the central idea behind the show. The theme could also have some foreign references. Penalty points are incurred however if any form of advertising is involved.
This is judged freely without any technical criteria where the general impact of the school's parade is considered. It is the most subjective category and as such very controversial.
Floats and props
This category judges the visual expression of the theme, the originality and quality of the artistic work such as; the movements, colors and visual effects involved. The judges look at the floats and all props being used in the parade. The judges consider how effective the floats and props deliver the theme and how their design supports the theme's ideas. The costumes of the destaques (the most lavish costumes on top of the floats and elsewhere in the parade) are also judged in this category.
The costumes' creativity, originality, an overall 'good taste' and their color schemes are evaluated in this category. Judges look at the individual costumes and their overall effect as a whole. Diversity is important just as much as the costumes' suitability to deliver the idea they stand for. Most costumes are considered in this category including all the commercial wings, the samba dancers, the percussionists and the Whirling Ladies.
In this category all aspects are judged of the School's opening wing. Judges consider the choreography and costumes and how the show serves the main purpose of introducing the School to the the public.
The flag carrying couple
The first dancing master and his partner, the flag carrier lady, are considered in this category. The judges look at their dance, elegance, grace and agility; at the flexibility and variety of their movements, and judge the symbolic protection of the Flag. Coordination in between the two as a couple is also important.
"Momo" is the name of the god of mockery in the Greek mythology, and according to Carnival tradition, King Momo should be jolly and as big as a house. Legend suggests that he was expelled from the Olympus to come and settle down in Rio, the City of Carnival. The Rio Carnival officially opens with the delivery of the key of the city to King Momo. When King Momo sambas, everything and everyone - sequins, feathers, flesh and all people around should also samba with him. He opens all major Carnival events including the Samba Parades.
Queen and Princesses of Carnival
The Queen of Carnival is chosen by a contest based on her beauty, self-assurance, sociability, ease of expression, congeniality and samba abilities but all in all she must have the "carnival spirit". The 2nd and the 3rd place candidates in the contest are named the Princesses of Carnival.
He is responsible for the artistic work of designing, producing and directing the school's parade. Sometimes they chose and write the schools' theme of the year, too. They design every costume and float, choose and supervise the purchasing of materials, administer the construction and manufacturing of floats, costumes, and accessories. They can earn a lot of money in a top school. The names of the top carnival designers are as well known in Rio as the names of top film directors. They have their own idiosyncratic style, some being known for being very futuristic (Salgueiro), baroque/rococo (Imperatriz, Mangueira), or have a special preference for a particular topic (like Beija-Flor´s for anything native Brazilian-Indian).
They are the building blocks of a school's parade - the school is split into several of them. A group of 20-100 people wearing the same costume and having the same purpose. The costume will illustrate a particular aspect of the school's theme. Every wing has a president who is responsible for the costumes (production and sales) and coordination of all the wing´s members' parade.
This is the opening wing of a school. A group of 12-15 dancers with a highly choreographed routine, who parade at the front of the school, "introducing" it to the crowd. Their costumes do not have to reflect the school´s theme. Originally they were only well-dressed men. Recently they have become a spectacle on their own with splendid choreography. A float is part of this wing, too carrying the School's symbols along with some celebrities wearing the most elaborate costumes.
The Flag Carrying Couple
She is carrying and presenting the school's flag, as the symbol of the School, while the couple is dancing down the Avenue. He is there to protect her (originally he had a knife to make sure that the other schools are not damaging the flag, making them lose the competition). Their dance is the most elaborate and elegant. The schools have more than a couple of flag bearers but only the front bearer (in front of the drummer group) is important and can gain scores.
Whirling Ladies (Baianas)
Older women are dressed in glitzy variations of the traditional costume of Bahia state, with huge skirts with tubes inserted inside so that they lend themselves for some beautiful whirling. Whirling down the Avenue, they represent the soul of the samba schools, their African roots. There is a minimum number that must parade or the school gets penalty points (at least 80 in the First League (Special Group)). They are old ladies of the community, who have already been with the same School for many years like the samba dancers. This is an absolute honor and the samba school pays for their costumes. They are much respected and often get a round of applause when passing by. Today only women can have this role while in earlier years men dressed in those costumes, too.
Some schools (like Beija-Flor, Grande Rio, Salgueiro, etc.) also have wings of little Baianas, young girls in their teens.
Percussion Band (Bateria)
This is the beating heart of the School comprised of 250-350 percussionists, mainly drummers. It lends energy and life to the whole parade. This is a community wing, thus the costumes are paid for by the school. The Head of the Drummer Group chooses who is going to play in the group via continuous auditions at rehearsals many months before Carnival. The group's costumes that reflect the themes are sometimes so big that it's hard to play. There are overhead mikes carried alongside the group and a sound truck with the samba singers.
Some are traditional ones, using the same elements for decades (like Mangueira, Portela and Imperio Serrano). In the 80s, Mocidade however brought along some new elements for their drummers in the rhythm they played. Inevitably, other schools (like Viradouro, Grande Rio, Porto da Pedra and Beija-Flor) started using further innovation incorporating totally new genres (going as far as using funk and. high choreography). It seems to be very successful.
They are well-known male lead vocalists who are accompanied by many others. They are usually on top of the sound truck right behind the percussionists, or they march along the samba runway.
Queen of the Drummers
This is a beautiful female samba dancer standing in front while introducing the Percussionists to the crowd. She is supposed to motivate and inspire the hundreds of male drummers behind her.
A small wing of the finest samba dancers of the school is no more than 15-20. It's very hard to dance the samba at Rio´s speed whilst moving forward at a near walking pace for 700m (1/2 mile). These samba dancers are a star turn. They are chosen through competition each year and it is certainly high honor to take this role.
Stewards of the Flow
Each float and each wing has a number of dedicated stewards to ensure that the flow is kept up. They will wear the T shirt of their wing or float. There are penalty points if the school takes too long to parade. Points are also lost in the Rio Samba Parade if there are any gaps between or inside the wings.
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