The Brazilian Carnival (Carnaval in Portuguese) is an annual festival held four days before Ash Wednesday, the day of fasting and penance that marks the beginning of Lent. It is held in February every year and starts officially on a Saturday and ends on Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. Billed as "The Greatest Show On Earth" the celebrations began on February 21 this year. In Rio De Janeiro, which is regarded as the Carnival Capital of the World, the festivities began with the crowning of the Carnival King (Rei Momo) and who was also presented with a giant key by the city's mayor, Eduardo Paes. Then it was party time all over the place and which culminated in the Carnival Parade also known as the Samba Parade.
The Samba Parade began in the 1930s in the streets of Rio. In 1984 it found a permanent home at the Sambadrome stadium. The top 12 samba schools which are actually social clubs, parade in the Sambadrome over Sunday and Monday nights to compete for the champion's crown. Each school features up to 6000 drummers, dancers and other participants as well as beautifully decorated floats. Leading the drums corps of each school is a rainha or queen who is usually dressed in little more than a huge plumed headdress and high-heeled shoes. The schools put up various performances with different themes and specially composed samba songs.
Almost all of the music played during the Carnival is samba. It is a uniquely Brazilian music and a dance form that was invented by African slaves during the 18th century. The modern-day Carnival samba dancers often compete with each other to see who can wear the most fabulous, colorful and enormous headdresses which can make all but the most basic foot movements impossible. The Carnival samba is very different from the more stylized Latin American version (sometimes known also as ballroom samba) which we are more accustomed to watching and dancing. How is the Brazilian Carnival samba different from the Latin American samba?
In Rio, the samba is danced solo while the Latin American samba is a dance for couples. The Carnival dancers perform fast three-step weight changes with a slight knee lift, the sections of which are led with alternate feet to a "Quick, Quick, Slow, &" rhythm. The women are adept at showing off their hip movements while the men's action is less exaggerated. The ladies meanwhile also have to keep their heads poised and balanced in order to avoid toppling their magnificent headdresses. There is less bounce action in Brazilian samba compared to the Latin American version. The samba as a social dance is also enjoyed in Brazil and a slower version called the pagode is popular there.