Authors: Meghan, Avery, Jody
The Parade of Champions was absolutely incredible! There were so many different costumes and floats. My favourite part was the floats. They were unbelievable.
The very first day we were in Rio, we saw some floats that were preparing for the Parade that night. They were moving them through the streets to get to the Sambadrome. The floats were probably as long as 2 school buses! They moved the unfinished parts on a semi truck. They had to close some of the main roads in downtown so they could get around.
On the evening of the Parade of Champions, when I saw the first float, my jaw dropped. Our friends told us that because the floats are so tall, the people on the top have to get lifted by a crane. The floats are just stunning, some of the floats had feathers, puppets and one even had electric currents.
Each school had at least 6 or 7 floats, and about 50 to 80 people dancing on them. Another 50 to 80 people were pushing them! Each float was unique and told a different part of a bigger story. I kept trying to guess what the stories were telling us. It was hard because so many of them had to do with Brazilian history which we didn’t know much about.
Each samba school has a flag to represent it. All the costumes and floats matched the flag colours. So if one of the school’s flags was orange, all the floats and costumes were orange. I really enjoyed Carnaval and the Parade of Champions because I got to experience Brazilian culture and learn how they celebrate the time before Lent.
Costumes and Dancing
Back at home I had visions of what Carnaval would be like. I thought we would be in an outdoor stadium with something overhead in case it rained. When we got there though, it was totally different. The Sambadromo did not have a cover overhead. The cement seats were on either side of a track through the middle for the floats to pass by.
The costumes were my type. They were sparkly, colourful, bright and creative. Most of the materials I saw were Lycra, beads, feathers, sequins and glitter. Some were smaller, but not as many as I thought. The Passistas (the lead dancers of each samba school) and the Destaques (star performers on the floats) usually wear these types. They wear smaller costumes so when they move very fast, they can move faster. If they were wearing big, baggy ones, they wouldn’t be able to move as fast.
There were 6 samba schools. Each one had a flag bearer and her escort. The escorts had tuxedos with feathers on them and the flag bearers had big skirts made out of feathers. They wore big skirts because they often spun and the skirt would keep rotating. The best part was that the costumes matched the themes of the floats.
I LOVE dance so I was really excited to see all the dancing. The dancing is called samba. It is nothing but very quick feet. So quick that sometimes I couldn’t even see their feet move! Their arms were out like an octopus’ tentacles and their torsos they tried to keep still. It would be very hard to learn. I am really interested in samba now and really want to try it.
Carnaval: A Parent's Perspective
So, we took the girls to Rio during Carnaval. Some people will probably raise an eyebrow to this but hey, it’s a once in a lifetime trip so why not?! We won’t lie, we had our reservations too. However, the way we did Carnaval worked out to be a very family friendly affair.
We were so fortunate to have Kamal and Raph guide our Carnaval adventure. While planning our adventure Kamal approached us about going to the Parade of Champions, the final evening performance of the winning samba schools. Looking at a website before we accepted made our decision easy. The music, costumes, floats, cultural experience and opportunity to go was too great to pass up. Also, Kamal, a parent himself, assured us that it would be a family friendly event. So, YES to tickets please!
We arrived in Rio in the midst of Carnaval and were quickly introduced to The festivities the first day when we wandered to the aquarium. People in their early 20s were dressed in unicorn headbands, captain hats, leotards and tutus. They looked a little worse for wear but were powering through for another day. It reminded Dave and I a lot of Stampede. At first glimpse though, I began to wonder, did we do the right thing by getting tickets?
Dave described our Ipanema Carnaval experience in the previous post. I just wanted to add that while our walk along the beach was a bit disconcerting - being suddenly exposed to a million people - the atmosphere was incredibly festive and upbeat with a sense of borderline chaos. Again, we wondered what have we done by getting tickets? What were we about to get ourselves, and more importantly our kids, into?
Dave and I had done our research and had seen the explanations of the Parade of Champions, read the history of the event, and trusted Kamal and Raphaelle when they again assured us that all would be fine the day of the event. Blocos are different than events within the Sambadromo and many have themes (i.e. family oriented; Beatle-themed; small etc). Ipanema was one of the bigger ones and wasn’t particularly family-friendly but we were assured that the Parade of Champions was something our kids would be safe and welcome at.
We also tried to prepare the girls for our big night out. We had talked about what we were going to see and the cultural significance of it. We prepped them for the revealing costumes, possible behaviour within the crowds and our expectations of their maturity so we knew they could handle it. We also had contingency plans if we felt it wasn’t as ‘family friendly’ as we were hoping for.
The day of the big event we were all excited for different aspects of the evening. The girls were pumped because they had gotten new unicorn headbands for Valentine’s Day to wear for the big night out. Also, the prospect of heading out to an event that would begin at 9:30 pm and end somewhere close to 4:30 am beat all previous sleep-over records (for the record we only lasted until 2 am.). Dave and I were just excited to take it all in. I mean, IT WAS CARNAVAL!!!
So, what was the evening like?
In a word - incredible! For all 4 members of our family.
A crowd of 90 000 people filled the Sambadromo and although we were in general seating within a section, we had plenty of room as a family to spread out, see and dance ourselves. The crowd was electric with positive energy. Audience members celebrated the successes of the winning samba schools by wearing t-shirts of their favourite school (each sported pictures from the theme of the individual school’s parade). As well, the audience danced and sang loudly to the music of the passing schools.
We had seats about 2/3 of the way down the parade which was fortunate for us. At this point, the schools tended to stop and perform their routines. In addition, the latter half of the school often had to stop as they waited for floats and dancers ahead of them to exit the Sambadromo. A great opportunity for us to further soak in the floats, music, costumes and dancing!
We were also fortunate to be attending with Kamal and Raphaelle who explained the nuances of the event to us, answered our many questions and helped us interpret the parades and Portuguese song lyrics, when applicable. This year’s theme for Carnaval was politically based and although we got a lot of it, civically based floats were more challenging for us to interpret.
So, was Carnaval ‘family friendly’? Absolutely!!! All of us LOVED it! Of course, the dancing, music, floats and costumes blew us away (the Stampede Parade might just be ruined for us for a bit of time). More importantly though, we all appreciated what we saw of Brazilian culture. Brazilians are fun loving people. They welcome down times and celebrations. They celebrate their history, yet aren’t afraid to poke fun at themselves. They have a zest for life, giving off an air of not caring what others think, letting it all hang out and have a great pride in who they are as individual communities but also within a larger Rio and Brazilian community.
There are great lessons for us within this. Thank goodness we were reminded of them within the incredible atmosphere of Carnaval!
We're the Danchuks - follow our explorations and family adventures in a wide world (2018).