Rio’s Carnaval: A Celebration of Culture, Music, and Dance

Raucous merry-making, wild colours, extravagant costumes, and people who just love to party -- these are the ingredients that make up the Rio Carnaval, an event not to be missed on a Rio de Janeiro holiday.

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Believed to have originated from a pagan celebration in ancient Rome, the four-day Carnaval kicks off at the height of the summer season, attracting thousands of party animals from all over the world. The event’s main attraction is the Samba Parade, a competition of Samba schools flaunting grandiose floats, luxuriant costumes, and vigorous bands. Energy just bursts out from each of these presentations as comissão de frente, (10 to 15 people in fancy costumes) start the parade through a dance that tells a short story. The porta-bandeira, also known as the “queen,” carries the school flag, accompanied by a man called mestre-sala. The detasques (people on the float) dance aboard the floats wearing their extraordinary costumes, and the main detasque, a floatee on top, sings and dances while the float rolls on down the street.

While the party heats up in Samba Parade, other festivities are being held around the city. Socialites, athletes, models, and international stars join the fun in the lavish gala balls, which require black tie for men and fancy costumes for everyone. Singles mingle on Copacabana Beach and Scala club. The gay community parties at the Gala Gay at Scala.

Street carnivals are also popular among the locals. Lavish costumes are not a requirement here, but music and dancing are. Bands play as people sashay through the streets, wearing anything they fancy — from plain clothes, to bathing suits, special shirts, and even drag. Since 1965, Banda de Ipanema has been spicing up the street carnival with Carnival classics and Carmen Miranda hits.

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