„É carnaval, é samba a noite inteira“

Yeeess, I’m taking part in the world’s biggest Carnival <3

What the world sees and knows are Rio’s samba school parades, which in fact are a competition between those schools.

Samba Schools

There are 6 samba school leagues, although only the first two have their parade in the famous Sambódromo. What you see on worldwide TV, is the first league: the “Grupo Especial”.

When I first heard that it’s possible to take part in the samba parade, I immediately put that on my bucket list.

The competition

There are 2 nights of Second League Parades (Friday and Saturday) and 2 nights of First League Parades (Sunday and Monday), with 6 schools presenting themselves each night.

Flag-carrying couple União da Ilha

Parade structure

Each school of the First League has 65 to 75 minutes for their parade, meaning they have to pass through sambódromo with all of their floats, singers and dancers in exactly that time. For every minute less or more, the school looses points.


Each school has about 3000 to 5000 participants, constisting of

  •  A percussion band (with at least 200 participants)
  •  baianas (whirling ladies with huge skirts, at least 70)
  • 5 to  6 floats (beautifully decorated, huge vehicles)
  • a vanguard group opening the school’s parade with a choreography, with 10 to 15 dancers
  • different sectors: groups about 100 people wearing the same costume and showing one aspect of the school’s theme
  • the flag-carrying couple
  • vocalists (singing the samba tune)
  • queen of the drummers (a very beautiful woman, scarcely dressed but with a lot of feathers, symbolically there to motivate the percussionists, but she is usually a famous person and supposed to attract the media)
  • samba dancers


Months before the next Carnival, each school chooses their theme and then their samba song for the following Carnival. The theme can be anything, like a region of the world, one of the elements like water or fire, a famous Brazilian figure etc.

All aspects of the parade have to portray the theme: the samba song, all costumes and floats.

Samba schools are judged in these 10 categories:

1) Percussion Band (portuguese: bateria)

2) Samba Song (samba enredo)

3) Harmony (harmonia)

4) Flow and Spirit (evolução)

5) Theme of the year (enredo)

6) overall impressions (conjunto)

7) Floats and props (alegoria e adereços)

8) costumes (fantasias)

9) vanguard group (comissão de frente)

10) the flag carrying couple (mestre sala e porta bandeira)


Mestre sala e porta bandeira Mocidade

How can you participate?

There are basically 2 ways:

1) The first is to be part of the samba school or be very active and go to rehearsals every week. I wasn’t able to do that as I didn’t spend the months before Carnival in Brazil. So I opted for the second opportunity:

2) You can buy your costume (fantasia)  from a “commercial sector” (ala comercial). Most of the schools open their parades for all people to participate and offer commercial wings. In that case you have to pay for the costume you’re using and can keep it afterwards. Participants are expected to know the school’s samba song and sing along. In some cases, they will make an exception, because they need participants. But the school also gets points (link) for chanting the song.

I’ll post the links to some schools on the bottom of this article, so you can get in touch with them. If you need help with your portuguese, contact me and I’ll be happy to help you! As I took part with Imperio Serrano this year, I have a contact there as well.

Seahorse costumes <3

Which league?

Costumes from first league’s schools are usually more expensive, because the schools are more famous and the costumes are fancier and more detailed. But often you get to see the costume before, so you can decide whether it’s worth to invest 300 or 500R$ (about 90 or 150€) or how much they may charge.

I chose a second league school and paid 450R$ (135€) this year. The costumes I found for first league schools were around 900R$ (270€). So I decided to save that Money and invest it in other activities in Rio J

But I was lucky – I chose Império Serrano, participated with them in the parade of the second league on Saturday night – and they won 😀 so they rose to the first league and will take part in Grupo Especial‘s competition in 2018! Imperio Serrano’s theme was the connection between nature and the poet Manoel de Barros (1916 – 2014), taking place in the Pantanal region.

Toucan me with some participants of the sector in front of mine, the golden-beaked parrots

My experience

It’s amazing to present yourself to so many cheering people who are singing along with your school’s samba tune, waving your school’s flag and dancing. All lights on you and your sector, it’s very light in the sambodrome, so your cheeks start glowing, and there’s a lot of fabric on the costume so it gets hot in this warm summer night. The whole atmosphere is really intoxicating. TV cameras passing by and a lot of photographers taking pictures from the side. You kind of feel like a star, even though you’re just one of many.

Would I do it again? Hell yeah!

Dream realized 😀

What surprised me though was that there were so many school officials on the „runway“, telling us to stay in line and to keep our sector shape (in order not to lose points).

toucan me

in my toucan costume waiting for the parade to start

On Monday night I went to see the First League’s parade from the grandstands. These samba schools are so creative with their theme and costumes, everything is so colourful – it’s lovely to see. If you get a chance – do it!

colourful float: União da Ilha. The fish opened its mouth and out came another fish and another… 🙂

Participate in Rio’s Samba Parade:

Some of the schools show their costumes on their website:

Grupo Especial (1st League):





Imperio Serrano:


Grupo A (2nd league):



Império da Tijuca:


Parade videos

Here is a video of someone participating first time in the parade (in my sector at Imperio Serrano 😀 ) and his experience. Video in portuguese:


If you want to see Imperio Serrano’s full parade:


The winner school Portela’s full parade:

I particularly also loved the parade of Mocidade portraying Morocco and 1001 nights in a magical way <3

Including Aladdin on his magic carpet – check at 13:24 min 😀


ready to leave the house heading to sambodromo with my costume and wings in hand



having a hard time carrying my huuuge costume and wings in the overcrowded metro

last-minute rehearsing of the samba tune

The costume, especially the hat and wings are pretty heavy – participants getting a little rest before the parade


Portela float


We’ve watched the parade from 22:00 hs till like 5 in the morning and the sun is already rising