Our planned stop in Rio de Janeiro took us there in early February, just before the official weekend of Carnaval. Traveling with a small boy, we wanted to miss some of the crowds and the raised prices that come with the big party.
We did, however, want to see a bit of the excitement, so we caught a few of the lead up events. These smaller neighborhood events start in January, right after the Christmas season and run right through Carnaval and the beginning of Lent.
Our apartment in Ipanema was on the route for the local street parade. Police stopped traffic for a double decker bus with an open top, decorated for the event. On the top of the bus, a band of musicians played Samba while dozens of costumed people danced through the street to the beach. The boulevard along the beach was closed for a street party, full of vendors, musicians and merrymakers. We cheered the parade, but a very short stroll along the beach party was enough to give us our fill of drunken tourists.
Another night we ventured to the Sambadromo for the official Carnaval technical rehearsal. Each of the Samba schools has a night to do a rehearsal or walk through at the Sambadromo where they will parade for Carnaval. Most of these rehearsals take place in January, but the last Sunday before Carnaval is the night of the light and sound test and a full dress rehearsal for the prior year’s Carnaval champion Samba school. Not only could we see the 2014 champions, but we were told the rehearsal is a family friendly event and the rehearsal is FREE! The rehearsals are done with placeholder floats and costumes, so as not to give away any secrets before the big show the following week, but they include all the dancing, parading, and music of the actual event.
We arrived to a big, but cheerful crowd, with plenty of picnicking local families. We saw two different groups parade and dance through the Sambadromo. The performers in one case wore all white and in the other wore matching blue and yellow t-shirts. For props, they held balloons and pool noodles to take the place of whatever fancy, sparkly items they will carry for the actual event.
I was surprised by the number and variety of people dancing in the parade. I always imagined the parades were full of girls in skimpy, glittered bikinis. Each Samba school has several of these principal dancers, usually leading the parade or on top of the floats. At the rehearsal these girls were there and did have sparkly bikinis, but there were hundreds of regular people of all shapes and sizes dancing in the parade as well. One group of dancers was all grandmothers, while others were children or teens. All were cheered on by relatives sitting in the stands with us.
Returning to the apartment after the rehearsal, we found on YouTube the video of the 2014 champions, so we had a chance to see what it would all look like when the floats and costumes are unveiled.
The street parade in Ipanema
Dress Rehearsal at the Sambadromo