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AP Explains: Rio's Carnival, a high-stakes samba parade

Associated Press logo Associated Press 2/26/2017 By MAURICIO SAVARESE, Associated Press
Dancers from the Mancha Verde samba school perform on a float during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner) © The Associated Press Dancers from the Mancha Verde samba school perform on a float during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Rio de Janeiro's Carnival parade is world famous for the samba dancing, costumes that leave little to the imagination and the magnificent floats that roll down Avenida Marques de Sapucai, also known as the "sambadrome." For the competitors, getting to the big show is months in the making.

A dancer from the Mancha Verde samba school performs during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner) © The Associated Press A dancer from the Mancha Verde samba school performs during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Here are questions and answers about what goes into the big show that is Carnival:

A dancer from the Mancha Verde samba school performs during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner) © The Associated Press A dancer from the Mancha Verde samba school performs during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

HOW DOES IT WORK?

A boy jumps into a pool of mud during the traditional "Bloco da Lama" or "Mud Street" carnival party, in Paraty, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. Legend has it the "bloco" was born in 1986 after local teens hiking in a nearby mangrove forest smeared themselves with mud to discourage mosquitoes and then wandered through Paraty. The party grew year after year, but revelers eventually were banned from parading in the colonial downtown after shopkeepers complained pristine white walls were stained with the hard-to-remove mud. (AP Photo/Mauro Pimentel) © The Associated Press A boy jumps into a pool of mud during the traditional "Bloco da Lama" or "Mud Street" carnival party, in Paraty, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. Legend has it the "bloco" was born in 1986 after local teens hiking in a nearby mangrove forest smeared themselves with mud to discourage mosquitoes and then wandered through Paraty. The party grew year after year, but revelers eventually were banned from parading in the colonial downtown after shopkeepers complained pristine white walls were stained with the hard-to-remove mud. (AP Photo/Mauro Pimentel)

Competing schools of samba spend much of the year preparing for a 75-minute presentation that must include at least six floats to tell a story in an innovative way — while participants dance and sing, of course. The competitions begin on Sunday night and go into Tuesday morning.

A mud-covered partygoer strikes a pose during the traditional "Bloco da Lama" or "Mud Street" carnival party, in Paraty, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. Legend has it the "bloco" was born in 1986 after local teens hiking in a nearby mangrove forest smeared themselves with mud to discourage mosquitoes and then wandered through Paraty. The party grew year after year, but revelers eventually were banned from parading in the colonial downtown after shopkeepers complained pristine white walls were stained with the hard-to-remove mud. (AP Photo/Mauro Pimentel) © The Associated Press A mud-covered partygoer strikes a pose during the traditional "Bloco da Lama" or "Mud Street" carnival party, in Paraty, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. Legend has it the "bloco" was born in 1986 after local teens hiking in a nearby mangrove forest smeared themselves with mud to discourage mosquitoes and then wandered through Paraty. The party grew year after year, but revelers eventually were banned from parading in the colonial downtown after shopkeepers complained pristine white walls were stained with the hard-to-remove mud. (AP Photo/Mauro Pimentel)

The winners get a trophy, national bragging rights for a year and a party on Ash Wednesday. Samba schools that fail to place high are relegated to a second-tier league the following year.

Revelers wearing costumes depicting "The Simpsons" comic characters pose for the photo during the "Ceu na Terra" or Heaven on Earth street party in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. Merrymakers take to the streets in hundreds of open-air "bloco" parties during Rio's over-the-top Carnival, the highlight of the year for many. (AP Photo/Leo Correa) © The Associated Press Revelers wearing costumes depicting "The Simpsons" comic characters pose for the photo during the "Ceu na Terra" or Heaven on Earth street party in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. Merrymakers take to the streets in hundreds of open-air "bloco" parties during Rio's over-the-top Carnival, the highlight of the year for many. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Carnival parades are such a serious business in Rio that one university even has a graduation program for samba school managers.

A drummer from the Mancha Verde samba school performs during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner) © The Associated Press A drummer from the Mancha Verde samba school performs during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

HOW DID THE PARADES COME ABOUT?

"Mike" dressed in a boxer costume, takes part in the "Blocao" dog carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. Carnival goes to the dogs as pet owners take to the streets for their own party, with their four-legged friends in ornate costumes. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo) © The Associated Press "Mike" dressed in a boxer costume, takes part in the "Blocao" dog carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. Carnival goes to the dogs as pet owners take to the streets for their own party, with their four-legged friends in ornate costumes. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

In the second half of the 19th century, posh clubs of Rio organized Carnival parties. Little by little, these gatherings gave up the elegant ballrooms and took to the streets. The poor also had their parties far from the city's elite south zone. Costumes were often used to satirize politicians.

A clown-faced reveler smiles wide as he takes part in the "Galo da Madrugada" or the Morning Rooster carnival parade, in downtown Recife, in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. The "Galo da Madrugada" took to the streets for the first time in 1975 with the aim of rescuing the traditional carnival of Recife. It is now considered one of the largest carnival parades. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres) © The Associated Press A clown-faced reveler smiles wide as he takes part in the "Galo da Madrugada" or the Morning Rooster carnival parade, in downtown Recife, in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. The "Galo da Madrugada" took to the streets for the first time in 1975 with the aim of rescuing the traditional carnival of Recife. It is now considered one of the largest carnival parades. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

As the 20th century began, many of these celebrations included "confetti wars" in which groups would throw paper decorations in the air and at each other. Still, they were non-moving events that featured wind instruments and horns, not the drums and dancing of today.

Revelers celebrate at the end of the traditional "Bloco da Lama" or "Mud Street" carnival party, in Paraty, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. Legend has it the "bloco" was born in 1986 after local teens hiking in a nearby mangrove forest smeared themselves with mud to discourage mosquitoes and then wandered through Paraty. The party grew year after year, but revelers eventually were banned from parading in the colonial downtown after shopkeepers complained pristine white walls were stained with the hard-to-remove mud. (AP Photo/Mauro Pimentel) © The Associated Press Revelers celebrate at the end of the traditional "Bloco da Lama" or "Mud Street" carnival party, in Paraty, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. Legend has it the "bloco" was born in 1986 after local teens hiking in a nearby mangrove forest smeared themselves with mud to discourage mosquitoes and then wandered through Paraty. The party grew year after year, but revelers eventually were banned from parading in the colonial downtown after shopkeepers complained pristine white walls were stained with the hard-to-remove mud. (AP Photo/Mauro Pimentel)

The first samba school appeared in 1928 downtown Rio. The concept behind "Deixa Falar" (Let them Speak) was to parade to the sound of samba, and it was a hit. In 1932, journalist Mario Filho organized the first competition of samba schools. A tradition was born that would inspire cities across Brazil.

Two men beer toast while wading in mud during the traditional "Bloco da Lama" or "Mud Street" carnival party, in Paraty, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. Legend has it the "bloco" was born in 1986 after local teens hiking in a nearby mangrove forest smeared themselves with mud to discourage mosquitoes and then wandered through Paraty. The party grew year after year, but revelers eventually were banned from parading in the colonial downtown after shopkeepers complained pristine white walls were stained with the hard-to-remove mud. (AP Photo/Mauro Pimentel) © The Associated Press Two men beer toast while wading in mud during the traditional "Bloco da Lama" or "Mud Street" carnival party, in Paraty, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. Legend has it the "bloco" was born in 1986 after local teens hiking in a nearby mangrove forest smeared themselves with mud to discourage mosquitoes and then wandered through Paraty. The party grew year after year, but revelers eventually were banned from parading in the colonial downtown after shopkeepers complained pristine white walls were stained with the hard-to-remove mud. (AP Photo/Mauro Pimentel)

WHO MAKES UP THE SCHOOLS?

A reveler spreads grass on his mud-covered body during the traditional "Bloco da Lama" or "Mud Street" carnival party, in Paraty, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. Legend has it the "bloco" was born in 1986 after local teens hiking in a nearby mangrove forest smeared themselves with mud to discourage mosquitoes and then wandered through Paraty. The party grew year after year, but revelers eventually were banned from parading in the colonial downtown after shopkeepers complained pristine white walls were stained with the hard-to-remove mud. (AP Photo/Mauro Pimentel) © The Associated Press A reveler spreads grass on his mud-covered body during the traditional "Bloco da Lama" or "Mud Street" carnival party, in Paraty, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. Legend has it the "bloco" was born in 1986 after local teens hiking in a nearby mangrove forest smeared themselves with mud to discourage mosquitoes and then wandered through Paraty. The party grew year after year, but revelers eventually were banned from parading in the colonial downtown after shopkeepers complained pristine white walls were stained with the hard-to-remove mud. (AP Photo/Mauro Pimentel)

Each of the samba schools of Rio represents a specific region of the city, often a favela. However, fans of particular schools usually have fans all over Rio and even some nationally.

A dancer from the Mancha Verde samba school performs on a float during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner) © The Associated Press A dancer from the Mancha Verde samba school performs on a float during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Up to 4,000 members can take part in the parade of each of the 12 top-flight samba schools in Rio. The heart of the samba school is the drums section, with at least 200 people. As a form of reverence, the oldest members bring up the rear of an ensemble.

Dancers from the Mancha Verde samba school perform during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner) © The Associated Press Dancers from the Mancha Verde samba school perform during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Up to 80,000 people watch the parades at Rio's sambadrome on Sunday night, all Monday and into Tuesday morning. Millions more watch on television. Tourists are allowed to participate in samba schools, but their costumes usually cost more than those for locals.

Dancers from the Mancha Verde samba school perform on a float during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner) © The Associated Press Dancers from the Mancha Verde samba school perform on a float during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

HOW DOES JUDGING WORK?

Dancers from the Mancha Verde samba school perform during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner) © The Associated Press Dancers from the Mancha Verde samba school perform during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Rio's samba school league picks 54 judges who spread out across the sambadrome. There are six judges for each of nine criteria, including drums section, costumes and samba dancing.

A dancer from the Mancha Verde samba school performs during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner) © The Associated Press A dancer from the Mancha Verde samba school performs during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Hours before the first parade, a lottery chooses four judges for each category. They will have their scores counted. The other two judges will only be counted if one of the other four is absent during the parade. The group that gets the best scores wins.

A dancer from the Mancha Verde samba school performs during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner) © The Associated Press A dancer from the Mancha Verde samba school performs during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Sometimes winners and runner-ups are separated by 0.1 points. There were also several occasions in which two or three have tied as winners.

Children from the Mancha Verde samba school perform on a float during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner) © The Associated Press Children from the Mancha Verde samba school perform on a float during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

WHO SHOULD YOU KEEP AN EYE ON?

Dancers from the Mancha Verde samba school perform on a float during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner) © The Associated Press Dancers from the Mancha Verde samba school perform on a float during a carnival parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

The green- and rose-colored Mangueira group often draws the biggest crowds at the sambadrome and fans across Brazil. They have won the parade 19 times, including last year's.

Blue and white Portela is historically the biggest winner, with 21 titles. Both Portela and Mangueira are home to some of Brazil's most popular samba artists.

The red- and white-colored Salgueiro is seen as the most popular among celebrities. It has won the parade nine times and it often has the most popular samba songs that fans in the sambadrome sing along to.

WHO PAYS FOR IT?

Rio's city hall is investing 24 million Brazilian reals this year (about $8 million). The rest comes from sponsors, sambadrome ticket sales, samba school parties throughout the year that raise funds and a group of shady gambling businessmen called "bicheiros."

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"Bicheiros" run a widely popular but illegal gambling game called "jogo do bicho," or "animal game" in Portuguese. They are sometimes linked to criminal organizations, and many sponsor local samba schools to improve their image.

WHAT WAS THIS YEAR'S CONTROVERSY?

After a day in silence, Rio's evangelical Mayor Marcelo Crivella delayed the traditionally opulent starting ceremony until 8:30 p.m. Friday only to skip it with the excuse that his wife was sick. Rio city hall eventually put out an email saying that Carnival was "officially open."

Revelers had been waiting hours at the sambadrome for the traditional handing over of the city's key to "Rei Momo," or the king of carnal delights. This has been always done with great fanfare in the past. But Crivella sent the head of Rio's tourism agency to do the honors. Rei Momo did not give interviews as usual and instead was quickly escorted out of the sambadrome by security guards.

It isn't clear whether Crivella, a retired Pentecostal bishop who took office on Jan. 1, will attend any of the five days of parades at the sambadrome. Rio's city council has already authorized him to travel abroad on the next few days, but he has not announced where he might go.

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