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In Praise of Bate-Bola, Rio’s Seductive, Scary Alternative Carnival

Carnival season is in full swing through this coming Tuesday, which is Mardi Gras. While the world is watching the gaudy, sexy samba dancers in Brazil strut their stuff under towering costumes in Rio de Janiero, there are lesser-known traditional Carnival parades happening in the outer suburbs of the city, known as bate-bola, featuring colorful but scary demons and clowns.  

Metal warehouse doors fling open and everyone dashes to the safety of the sidewalk. The street is quickly taken over by a surge of shouting, swirling clowns, garishly dressed head to toe and topped with eerie masks and plume-like wigs. Delight and terror ensue as they crash down the street, brandishing flags and thrashing balls mounted on sticks against the ground. A few stumble and fall in the confusion. This is the saida, or “exit,” of the groups of bate-bola (“ball-hitters”), Brazil’s secret, seductive, alternative Carnival.

The spectacle of the bate-bola is a dazzling fusion of art, music, and raw energy that puts even Rio’s famously flamboyant samba school parades to shame. Involving thousands, the bate-bola parades are largely ignored by the Brazilian media, and treated with suspicion by Rio’s middle and upper classes. The rainhas da samba (“samba queens”) gyrating a few miles away are replaced by outlandishly beautiful monsters—kings of a Carnival that puts exuberance and violence on equal footing.

The groups that participate in bate-bola (turmas) take their performances very seriously, and spend all year preparing to out-impress the other turmas. Read about bate-bola traditions at Atlas Obscura.

(Image credit: Vincent Rosenblatt)

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