The music, the energy , the excitement, the costumes, it all happens the second week in February. Carnival is the “biggest party on earth” lasting 4-days, starting on Saturday and ending on Fat Tuesday, or Mardi-Gras.
The first samba school was founded by the black residents of Rio 's Estacio District in 1928. It was called Deixa Falar (Let them Talk) and their first parade debut in 1929. There was no fixed route or organization, but the sheer size and cleverness of their routines made them different.
Later, other black districts set up rival organizations. In 1930 there were so many spectators for the five groups that the police had to clear a special area around Praca Onze (Plaza Eleven) for their parade. The term samba school originated from these early groups who practiced on school playgrounds.
Today, Carnival has a more commercial appeal. In 1984, Oscar Neimeyer designed a massive concrete stadium-like structure to fit 70,000 spectators . The Sambódromo, as the structure is called, was designed to create a runway for the schools to parade down until they reach the Apotheosis Square . Each samba school is judged by 10 judges on their dance for the distance of the Sambódromo on the following criteria:
- Bateria (the band)
- Samba enredo (the song)
- Harmonia (harmony, co-ordination and unity)
- Evolucao (spirit of the participants)
- Enredo (the School's theme)
- Alegorias e Adereços (Floats and props)
- Fantasias (Costumes)
- Comissão de Frente (Vanguard dancers)
- Mestre-Sala e Porta-Bandeira (Dancing Master and Flag Carrier)
All schools are on the quest to be the best samba school for the year hoping to win the upcoming Carnival. Most samba schools spend about two thirds of the year preparing for Carnival practicing the song and dance of the parade. Winners of the parade are announced on Wednesday after Carnival. The winning school will continue their celebration until Saturday when the top school gets to parade again.
Our visit in Rio entailed a visit to Mangueria, the oldest samba school. I imagined a samba school to be
learning experience (i.e. one person teaching the steps everyone else learning the steps.) It turns out samba school is nothing like I had imagined. Instead of a calm relaxing dance lesson we experienced something else. Pulling up to Mangueira, we were surrounded by people hanging out around the samba school. The party going on outside was only part of what we would experience inside. Music and smells filled the air. Once we entered the samba school we were surrounded by people. The ceiling opened and the cheers began. For someone who never experienced it, I could only assume that Carnival would be ten times crazier.