Passistas: Their Passion, Mystery and Charisma at Samba Parade Avenues
Ok, we all know Brazil is famous for its Carnival. But famous too, for its talented Carnival samba dancers, who have a specific name in Portuguese: the “passistas”. But does everybody know who are these beautiful girls and women of all ages who devote their lives to the culture of carnival and samba dancing? Do you know where they come from, where they are born and raised? Do you know their specific functions within a samba-school? And where they end up? Do you know anything about their costumes? And what do they do at the Brazilian samba schools after their period of glory is over. This article will try to explain in basic terms who after all who are Brazilian Carnival Samba dancers: The “Passistas” who enchant samba and dance lovers all over the world.
Above we see a great photo from Raisa Santiago of samba dancer Diana Prado Barroso photographed in on of Rio´s most famous landmarks, the Sugar Loaf.
Diana is a Top Passista from São Clemente Samba-School and was prized in Rio de Janeiro 2011 Carnival by the an important Carnival News agency as the SECOND BEST SAMBA DANCER OF 2011. Could you imagine the responsibility?!!
Passistas typical start dancing at their community, or the samba school they are attached to, at very early ages. Of course, then they are not called “passistas”, just little girls dancing and having fun, like any place on the planet. But they already try to imitate the “big girls” as they call them, and specially, the “samba queens”. Some of these girls of 6-8 years old, then move up a step. At the samba-schools, older “passistas” provide “formal” classes to these girls, as part of a series of social activities that some of the larger samba-schools in Rio provide.
Later, according to their interest, they are invited to participate at a “childrens´wing” either at the samba-schools parade, like Beija-Flor, Mangueira, Imperatriz, Unidos da Tijuca, which have wing just for kids ( with a special permit & presence by their parents ) or they present themselves at the infant parade, which happen Friday, the real first day of Carnival in Rio.
Below, full Passitas Wing Sao Clemente Samba School at 2011 Technical Rehearsal:
( These “infant” samba-schools are “child” schools of the traditional samba-schools. To mention a few: Estrelinha da Mocidade, Tijuquinha do Borel, Aprendizes do Salgueiro, and Mangueira do Amanhã.)
The subject of the “passistas” became so important lately, not only within Carnival but abroad Brazilian society that a thesis paper was written in 2006, by SIMONE SAYURI TAKAHASHI TOJI student for a Master Degree in Anthropology. In this thesis paper, the first official reference to the term “passista” – the individual that does the samba move - came out in newspapers around the 1950´s, even though, other terms like “cabrocha”, which is a woman that possesses the samba dance art mastery skills appears way before, in the 1930´s, with the development of samba and carnival itself.
Still according to her studies, the first official “passistas wing”, was formed at Mangueira Samba-School, in 1972 by Drums Section Master Djalma Santos, and was called “Vê Se Entende” – “Se if You Understand” – in a free translation. But still, did not parade or dance separately. Only by the 1980´s the “passistas” started to dance and present themselves at the Rio official parade in a fully separated wing.
Below, one of the most charming & beautiful passistas I know: Monique Rangel Ribeiro , also known as Monique Chocolate. She dances for Unidos da Tijuca, Porto da Pedra and other Samba Shows. I am a fan of her too! This photo is interesting since it depicts the moment when the passista is getting ready for a show.
Passistas today are very different then they were in the past: Both at the samba-school, but also out of the samba-school. It is a consensus that very few passistas are able to support themselves just with samba. Most of the samba-schools have what it´s called “Grupo Show”, which are Samba Dance Group shows and spectacles offered by the samba-schools to corporate events, parties, weddings, etc.. Only the top samba dancers make it to this elite team, even within the samba-school. But even though, being part of a samba group show, many are still unable to live exclusively by the samba dance, and have to establish themselves in professions as executive assistants, saleswomen, aestheticians, etc. Many too, because of this unfortunate scenario, “flee” to other countries of the world and establish themselves there because of financial opportunities. So, it has been proven passistas still can´t live just upon their passion, which is sad.
As said before, most of them live / raised next to the samba-school they are closest to, in terms of location. The great majority until today´s time in Brazil come from middle class social stata. Many see the dance, apart from the passion and love for the carnival, a chance to move up the social status and be recognized as true artists, as we really think they are. We kind of see this movement, but unfortunately only during the carnival period. Later, most of them lead their regular lives and dance for pure pleasure, health and love for the carnival culture, without much glamour. Very few of them “make it to the top” of the social strata, unfortunately, and seen as true artists. We really think this must change, and society should recognize them and VALUE them.
Most passistas´s age in a real top samba school average between 16 and 35. This is the age where naturally the bodily structures and movements are in tune with the energy and samba dance skill requirements. As we all know, samba dance is extremely calories spending and requires a lot of energy. Practice sections last for 5-6 months, normally 2 or 3 times a week. Each session takes about 2 to 3 hours. So evidently it´s a very physical and energy consuming exercise. The passistas rehearsals are located at the samba-school headquarters, the “quadra”, and directed by a specific person, the passistas wing Director. As some passistas become older, a natural renovation process takes place each year at the samba-school, a new girls substitute older ones, or the one who abandoned for one reason or other. Many of the passistas then assume new roles within the samba-school structure, as samba teachers themselves, art coordinators, assistants and “harmonia” functions.
Here we see a Passista at a "Quadra Rehearsal" at Vila Isabel: Mayra Lopes
Samba Dancing Costumes
Regarding the passistas costumes, this topic too has dramatically changed along the carnival history. Passistas normally had in the past, more of what foreigners know as the “show girl look”, with bikinis and less clothing generally speaking. In the last 30 years, due to the new carnival parade aesthetics and dynamics, more clothing was “imposed” on the passistas wing, as to leave them with a greater similarity of the traditional wings. Lots of feathers, shoulder pads, heavy boots and adornments were added at the top schools, which left them in the majority of cases very disappointed. All of them who I have spoken with admitted their desire samba dance “as free as possible”, in order to facilitate movements and body language. Only recently carnival art designers are reviewing this demand and again trying to settle a compromise with the luxury of clothing and the “lack of clothing”, but always adding of course some spice to this treasured wing.
All in all, hope and passion is what maintains passistas in their lives! The greatest carnival show on Earth would never happen without the passistas “magic”. They make a total difference on the parade, rehearsals, street carnival, and other events.
Below we see another prized Passista: Georgia Gomes. Last year she won one of the most important prizes called "Estrela do Carnaval" in 2010, promoted by SRZD. This year she parade for Salgueiro. Apart from the superb samba dancing, Georgia has always a beautiful smile!
Nobody today could avoid associating Brazilian Carnival without their ubiquitous presence. Passistas, just like Hollywood celebrities in the United States, are able to provoke dreams, folklore, passion to even the most skeptic minds and souls. Let´s take the opportunity to celebrate their existence and mystery and hope they are finally recognized in Brazil, for the sensational contribution they make to its culture and society. For www.brazilcarnival.com.br, the passistas are at the core essence of carnival, just like the drums section, the Baianas, the flag bearer ( Porta-Bandeira ) and the samba-host ( Mestre Sala ). Now the times has come for the passistas to be relocated to the post they should had never had left
Glory for the soul hearted passistas!