Velha Guarda Portela

Velha Guarda at Portela. Photo copyright © Douglas Engle

You probably have heard about the samba schools in Rio de Janeiro. Since most people don’t have a clear picture what they are I will explain it to you. The name samba school itself is a bit misleading, it’s not as many think where you go to get lessons in Samba, far from it. A samba school is more like a sports team that once a year during Carnival compete in a big parade competition held in Sambódromo (the Samba stadium). The samba school is often connected to a particular favela and functions a bit like a community center. The members of each school work hard for several months building parade cars, making costumes, practicing dancing and drumming. All this is coordinated around a particular theme with skill, finesse and soul.

Rehearsal Parties

All samba schools in Rio have so called rehearsal parties, it is more or less a samba party with part of the school’s drum section (around 50 of them) and a small show displaying the skills of the dancers. These parties are held in big warehouse like buildings who can hold many thousand people, their main function is to raise money but it’s also a way for the community to meet and party. They are open to the public and great fun!

Getting To the Samba Schools in Rio

Many tourists go to these samba rehearsal parties, most of the year it is practically the only way to experience the powerful rhythms of Carnival Samba. Displays by skillful dancers and some serious ass shaking guarantees a good time. Getting to these parties is organized through hostels and hotels, since most of these schools are located out of the way it is a simple way to get there. Going in a cab is also an option, Portuguese and finding a driver who knows the way helps. Mangueira and Salgueiro are two examples of popular schools, they both have a break from when Carnival ends until August when they start and go on all the way until Carnival starts again.