If there’s one thing that continues to spellbind us on our travels, it’s the footwork of Brazilian people of all ages dancing samba.
And the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them, light-footed steps riding the rhythms of the bateria are showcased nowhere better than a night at Rio’s famous Sambadrome.
An explosion of drums, music, colour and theatre, the best of the city’s samba schools dance their hearts out for an hour and a half each down a 700-metre-long parade in a bid to be crowned winner.
Every year the awe-inspiring floats, depicting the ancient, modern, mythological and utterly bizarre, get more and more impressive as the competition hots up.
Of the six schools we see shake their stuff from our position above in the Grandstand steps, the overriding favourite is Tijuca – last year’s champions – who produce a brilliant spectacle based on films.
So instead of the usual glitter and feathers we are treated to Transformers, Ghostbusters and Jurassic Park.
Headless zombies wreak havoc while a swimmer is gobbled up by Jaws, Harry Potter flies before a huge tilted revolving dinner table in the middle of Hogwarts, and the crowds go wild as Indiana Jones narrowly escapes being crushed by a giant rolling boulder.
Phil is especially impressed by the historical efforts of another school, Vila, who feature a flesh-flashing Lady Godiva riding through the streets of Coventry, for their theme of ‘hair’. I would agree, though I’m not sure whether Lady G would have had quite such deep tan lines…
Ronaldinho and Gisele Bündchen are among the celebrities watching the schools, who are awarded points on their dancing, music, floats, costumes and theme.
A friend tells us many lose points for members not singing the words to the school’s specially created song – which often happens due to the number of tourists who fork out to join in the parade for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Between each float, shapely Brazilian dancers or the school’s King and Queen smile and glide along gracefully, dressed in elaborate feather-and-glitter costumes that must weigh a tonne.
It is ironic that despite now being such a Carnaval institution with its vibrance and energy, the Marquês de Sapucaí Sambadrome was only built in the 1980s and its throne is in one of the poorest areas of Rio.
A friendly local who has been trying to teach us some samba moves eventually flakes out on the concrete step, exhausted, and as drizzly rain starts to fall we decide to head home.
As we walk back to the metro in the cold morning light, music still ringing in our ears, we pass the huge used floats now lining the streets, characters’ faces still smiling down from above.