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. The vast majority of samba groups outside of Brazil are not considered to be samba schools in the traditional sense.

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

Competition

It is even more rare outside of Brazil to hold samba school competitions given there are so few samba schools. The only two places where samba school competitions exist today are in Japan and Finland.

Competitions can be made up of samba school groups which will parade and compete separately, with the top of a lower group being elevated to the next group while last place in a higher group, descends to the group below. The only lace this practice is happening outside of Brazil is in Japan.

The groups are normally ordered as they are in Brazil:

  • Special Group (top group)
  • Access Group or Group A (second group)
  • Group B
  • Group C
  • Group D

It should be noted since group "A" starts with a the first letter of "Accesso" or "Access", "Group A" and "Access Group" are interchangeable.