Traditional Samba School

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A traditional samba school is a community organization made up of mostly non-professionals who work year round on parading their members in a annual carnaval parade with a percussion unit, singers and musicians, dancers, floats, and many colorful costumes, largely based on the samba school in Brazil.

Origin of the Term

There are various conflicting versions of just how the world samba "school" came about. One version is that the first samba club met near a school and directions to that club included the world "school" or "escola" in Portuguese. The words "samba" and "school" as the story goes then became synonymous with the samba club itself which did teach its members to dance and play samba. But this story is not substantiated.

Today, the term "samba school" is often misused by groups or instructors who teach samba dance and or percussion, but are not "samba schools" in the "traditional" sense.

Points of Contention

Many groups outside of Brazil label themselves as samba schools although they are not samba schools in the tradition of what Brazilians define to be samba schools. This practice is not isolated to groups themselves, but is often used by show promoters. Promoters will often gather musicians, dancers, and costumes to make up the components of a samba school and then promote them as such. The reason groups and promoters outside of Brazil use the word "samba school" for their shows, events, or groups, is to "entice" the audience into thinking they are going to see a performance like those in Brazil. These performances however necessarily lack the cohesiveness, unity, and energy of samba schools. One of the most important facts about samba schools are the fierce loyalty and love one feels for their school. This only happens after many years of participation, dedication, and work put into the production of year samba parades which is a requirement for any traditional samba school.

There are very few samba groups outside of Brazil that can truly be called a samba school, with the majority of them in Japan and Finland where there exists leagues or organized groups of traditional samba schools.

Minimum Requirements

Most samba groups outside of Brazil are either dance groups, percussion groups, or blocos. Blocos are less organized groups that are missing crucial components of a samba school but in Brazil, can often group to become samba schools.

The minimum requirements for a traditional samba school must be done annually and are as follows:

  • Pick a theme
  • Write samba enredo (samba theme song) about that theme
  • Create costumes in accordance with the theme
  • Must contain the following groups: bateria, cavaquinho and puxadores (samba singers), baianas, porta-bandeira and mestre-sala (flag bearer and ballroom master), commissao de frente, numerous alas or costumes groups open to public e community participation.
  • Construct and parade floats (this is not an absolute requirement given the limited resources of samba schools outside of Brazil but is aspired by all traditional samba school)
  • Parade publicly