Probably the first thing that comes to one’s mind when thinking of Rio de Janeiro is the Rio Carnival, with it’s beautiful (and highly undressed) dancers, it’s costumes, crowds, energy and SAMBA. Even if you don’t go there during the carnival you can have a taste of it’s incredibleness by visiting one of the many samba schools that take part in the event. Not many people know that the Rio carnival exists because of the people in the favelas; they are the ones carrying the samba music and dance forward and every year get out on the streets of Rio to celebrate and give the world something to look at.
The festival is usually in February or March and the schools start the rehearsals for next year’s carnival almost immediately after the carnival is over. They have weekly rehearsals and my guess is they don’t only do it to prepare for next year, but for the pure joy of having an evening a week of dance, joy and very good time.
Mangueira Samba School on a Saturday
We found out from Morgan about an outing the Couch Surfers were organising on a Saturday night to Mangueira Samba School, said to be one of the best in Rio. We got to the favela around 11pm but the dancing didn’t really start before 12. Once it started though I had to use my hand to keep my jaw from dropping, as some of those people dancing didn’t seem to be people at all – they were more like puppets whose legs were being managed by remote controls. I had never seen anyone’s legs moving like that, in any other kind of dance.
We started by watching quietly from a side. The band was playing up on a stage and in the middle of the huge room were the dancers: people of all ages, sizes and shapes, colors, social statuses and dancing abilities, moving around in a circle and giving it all to the music. They were vastly different, yet they had one thing in common: the huge smile on their faces and the vivid sparkle in their eyes. They looked like they enjoyed what they were doing more than anything else in the world, and they were simply… happy!
We quickly joined in and were inundated by the energy emanated by the music and the dancers. There was no lack of teachers and I got a pretty extensive lesson from an old man who loved getting the gringos (foreigners) to master the samba moves. We danced until we could feel our legs no more, and got home close to 5am. It was another night to remember, and this was the feeling I was left with upon leaving:
A Saturday night in the favela with Mangueira Samba School = an incredible night of great learning! You are never too young or too old for Samba, never too fat or too skinny, too tall or too short. Samba does not need you to be well dressed and doesn’t care how fat your pocket is. In front of Samba everyone is equal and, most importantly, equally happy! And that’s because Samba loves you JUST THE WAY YOU ARE!
To me personally, Mangueira on a Saturday night is definitely in the top 3 things to do in Rio!
We were so grateful we decided to go not only because of the amazing experience we had, but also because that was when we got to meet Jamile, an angel who lit up our days. She was the intitiator of the outing and we got to meet her on many occasions after that night, either in the city or for parties at her home. She’s the best party host we’ve ever seen and has a unique way of making you feel welcomed and taken care of. We had the best vegetarian Feijao at her place and experienced many types of Caipirinhas: maracuja, pineapple, kiwi… all done by her! Jamile’s constant smile and immediate love brought pink clouds in our hearts … We just love her! 🙂
Other ways to experience Samba
There is no lack of ways to experience samba in Rio. Some of the ones we’ve come across are Mondays at Pedra do Sal (in Praça Maya), with a samba party in the streets 8-12 pm, Sundays in Casa Rosa, with a live concert that starts at 7pm and goes until 10pm, and on weekends in Lapa, either in the street or in many of the clubs around. And of course at any of the other samba schools that have weekly rehearsals.
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