Understand – Overview of Rio Samba Schools

Rio Carnival is all about the spirit of harmony and community, which is aptly presented by the samba schools that bring together people from all lifestyles. Most schools represent the working class community from the favelas, the vital elements and the backbone of Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival. The lavish costumes, elaborate floats, samba songs, and dance routines are all designed and organized by members of the school. Executing a theme at the samba parade requires precision, which is why it involves months of preparation. Today, the Samba and the Carnival have crossed socio-economic lines. They have won the hearts of all people in both the country and the world.

Samba schools - Rio Carnival parade in Brazil

Samba Schools – Reason for the Carnival’s Existence

Rio is home to over 100 samba schools, with only 12 making it to the Special Group, a place of pride for many. This group is what has made the Rio Carnival the biggest event on the planet with their incredible parades and lavish costumes. Many of the top samba schools have over four thousand participants with each one having a specific role to play at the samba parade.

Samba schools take their name from their community. Names such as Bejia-Flor, Mocidade, Salgueiro, and Mangueira have their feet firmly planted in the Special Group of Rio Carnival. Each samba school shares a special bond with its members, where success is a matter of communal pride, especially considering how hard they work all year long to compete at the Sambadrome during Rio Carnival. A successful samba school raises the level of pride and self-esteem of all its members, rich and poor alike. As a matter of fact, the most popular samba school in the country sprung from the impoverished Favelas of Rio and to this day, continues to captivate the imagination and enchant people worldwide.


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Samba City – Carnival Capital

Support for the samba schools comes from the government as well as sponsors. Money is also raised through special events held at the facilities. Visitors are welcome to take a tour of Samba City which is an area designated for the schools. Each school has their own space to build their floats, create their costumes, and practice their routines. On specific nights of the week, these schools welcome visitors to join in the party and shake a few feathers to the steady beat of the samba drums. Truly, Samba City is the next best thing to the Carnival itself.

Samba Schools and Social Responsibilities

Samba schools take their responsibility towards the community seriously with each one supporting a cause. The youth receive guidance from the elders while regular community programs are developed to ensure that most of Rio’s less fortunate stay away from crime. Education and rehabilitation are among the primary responsibilities that these samba schools undertake. Besides, the schools provide valuable employment to thousands of individuals from the slums too. The majority of the income generated by the Carnival and its related activities is directed toward the poorer communities. Most artists who work year round preparing for the Carnival live in these poorer communities. The Carnival is a means to increase their income leading to a better life for all.

Carnival in Rio de Janeiro Brazil

Visiting Samba Schools

Samba nights and rehearsals at these schools are something that ought not to be missed on a visit to Rio. Salgueiro and Mangueira are among the larger samba schools that welcome visitors to their practice halls and construction facilities all the year round. These schools have their headquarters just outside the center of the city.  On scheduled nights, the community and visitors are invited to join in the fun and take part in the singing and dancing until the wee hours of the morning.

Not only is Samba music played but people can boogie down to Brazilian Funk, Bossa Nova and other national rhythms.  One of the favorites is Salgueiro Samba School, located on Rua Silva Teles in the Tijuca neighborhood.  It is very popular with the local Cariocas who flock there every Saturday night to enjoy the live samba music.  It is safest to take a cab to and from these samba schools as public transportation is unreliable and the neighborhoods are not popular with tourists.

Visiting these samba schools is a great way to experience what it’s really like on Carnival nights when over ten million people are glued to their television sets around the world. All they have to stamp their authority at the Sambadrome is 75 minutes on the runway for which they prepare for many months. That’s the true spirit of determination.

All eyes are on the Sambadrome on the four nights of competition. Tens of thousands of participants strut their stuff down the runway. Once the judges have placed their scores everyone waits with bated breath until the winner is announced. A tense moment for the samba schools, but one they are all used to. A few days later preparations begin for the next year.