Samba School

What is a Samba School?

by Karin Klein

A samba school combines the dancing and party fun of a night club with the gathering place of a social club and the community feeling of a volunteer group. Unlike a night club, the people who show up get to know each other as a group; yet the school lacks the exclusive clubbiness of U.S. social clubs. It is a place where many different people feel comfortable entering, dancing, contributing. For example, you need not have a dancing partner to dance; it is completely common and acceptable for people to join the dancing alone or with a group or with a partner of the same sex. Because of the school's more communal nature, the gatherings, while lively, are not boisterous or destructive in any way; all members feel a sense of belonging and protectiveness.

One thing the samba school is not is an actual school; the name came about because the earliest samba groups did their practicing on school grounds.

Having fun is something very important at a Samba School


Samba schools, which began in Rio de Janeiro in 1928, have evolved into the centerpiece event of the Rio Carnaval. The schools parade down a street lined with grandstands, thousands of members per school dressed in coordinated costumes, dancing a rehearsed samba routine to original music. Each school's presentation must have a central theme, such as a historical event or a Brazilian Indian legend. The samba song must recount the theme and the huge floats that accompany each school must detail the theme through paintings or papier-mache sculpture.

Brazilian Street Carnaval in Long Beach
Each samba school rehearses all year long for this event and members, whether expert or not, all participate in making it happen. It is a place where people who always wanted to write a song or play a percussion instrument or choreograph a routine have their opportunity; unlike the Rose Parade, which has largely been taken over by high-budget professionals, the samba parade is the work of communities working together.
Helping out
In smaller form, the samba parade has made its way to the United States, with a yearly parade in San Francisco that features U.S. samba schools. These are obviously much less elaborate affairs than in Rio, but they represent the same sense of fun and community spirit.

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