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Rio Carnival Samba Parade

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The most famous Samba Parade takes place in Rio's Sambadrome. Samba schools represent various communities or social groups, and compete with one another in categories of music, costumes, themes, dancers, and performances. This simply translates into an overwhelming attack of sound and colour. Samba schools practice year round and receive huge financial support from its members, local government, or sponsoring companies. Each school's budget range from an estimate of $3-$5 million.

There are several major Samba schools in Rio, organized in 5 divisions. The first three divisions perform their parades in the Sambódromo (a Samba stadium). The best school from the inferior division performs on Thursday. Group 1, formed by 16 schools, parades on Friday and Saturday and then the 16 schools from the Special Group perform on Sunday and Monday, 8 of them during the evening. The order of appearance is determined by a draw, so both days are equally good to watch the parades.

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Every school chooses a theme, composes a Samba song, and designs costumes and floats related to the theme. The judges have critiria to assess each school and the best get promoted to a higher division and the poorest are relegated to a lower position, just like in a football league. The competition is rather intense and fierce. There is a money prize for the winners, financed by entry funds. It is possible to join a Samba school if you get to Río before the Carnival.

The Carnival's Parade is the result of the community´s year-long efforts, largely from the city´s poorest districts. In order to understand the traditions of every school, the significance of the different performances during the parade and the carnival as a whole, it is recommended to visit the Carnival Museum in the Sambódromo, though small it features a great deal of photographs and the English-speaking personnel there are highly informative. Access is on Frei Caneca Street,  Tuesday to Sunday from 11am-5pm; free of charge.

The Sambódromo is located on Marqués de Sapucaí Street, Cidade Nova, not far from downtown. It is 600 m long and has a seating capacity to accommodate 60.000 people. Designed by Oscar Niemeyer, it is not only a venue for sports events, conferences and concerts during the rest of the year, but it also hosts a public education center for nearly 5000 children.

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The parades in the Sambódromo begin at 7pm and last around 12 hours. The doors, not clearly marked, open at 6pm. The closest subway is "Praça 11", normally used by Samba school members already clad in their colorful costumes. The main bus and sub routes work for the entire carnival night but on an irregular schedule.

The majority of the Samba schools admit a certain number of foreigners, who usually pay double price for their costumes (starting at US 100); this money contributes to fund the school's poorest members. It is necessary to be in Río at least 2 weeks before the Carnival for the purpose of joining a Samba school. If you speak Portuguese, you may phone the schools directly or you may be introduced by someone from the hotel or a tour guide.

It is important to be on time for the rehearsals, show respect for the section leader and get soaked in the event's competitive spirit. For those with the energy and dedication, it will surely be an unforgettable experience. The "Concentration Area", where the schools line up before the parade, is an excellent spot to watch the chaotic preparations for the night ahead; people who can't afford paying a ticket, come here to see the costumes on President Vargas Avenue.

All the schools show a preview of their performance in their own neighborhoods, usually a week before the carnival. It is worth seeing this, and photos are allowed. Carrying valuables is not recommended!

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