On a beautiful but cold morning I went to Napa Valley not to talk wine but, ironically, to talk Samba fashion, culture and of course Samba costumes....Ok, I confess, I happily had a "few" glasses of wine too.
My guest, Maria Cristina Skowronski Flynn and her beautiful daughter Maria Luiza received me for an interview in their home. They were both very gracious and welcoming hosts as we filmed this episode of Sexy Samba Soul™. Luiza even modeled a pair of shoes for us. Thank you beautiful Luiza!
Maria Cristina is a very dynamic woman and the founder of Brazil Carnival Shop Online(www.brazilcarnivalshop.com). She brings to the table, besides her "Brazilianness", a background in marketing and fashion (Yes, I mean she worked with Oscar de La Renta)!
As an artist I love the historic context of things and I truly appreciate when someone can give me cultural insights. As the interview progressed it was obvious that she shares this passion for culture with me. We talked about Brazil, Carnaval and Samba and she would always refer to the traditional framework of the styles and pieces. Even when we talked shoes she referenced it back to one of my idols- the great Carmen Miranda, since the professional Sambista shoes today are based on Miranda's famous platform style.
On this interview she shows us beautiful dresses and passistas (Samba dancers) pieces, Samba shoes to die for and Brazilian active wear to inspire us to hit the gym and the dance studio for classes.
At BrazilCarnivalShop we are asked by our customers what is the authentic samba shoes to be bought, so we decided to write this brief summary on the samba platform history for samba. We hope you enjoy it!
A Brief History of Brazil Samba Platforms !
So when you look at a professional samba dancer in Brazil, i am sure your eyes are all over the costume and the dancer, but did you ever noticed a platform sandals, gladiators or platform boots? No? Well, take a closer look now.
Platform samba shoes are the trademark of a Brazilian samba dancer.
Samba dancers in Brazil use a platform sandals, and that platform usually starts at 12 cm thick heel. The lower heels will not have a platform and you will not achieve that "Brazilian samba look", however you can still dance in smaller heels. Ballroom dancing shoes for "Latin", rumba or samba does not have platforms or thicker heels. Ballroom shoes typically has suede insert sole and dancer who dance samba on them will often complain that their feet will slide down when dancing. Those shoe have a more glamour look, smaller thinner heels and many side straps. They typically resemble a more romantic 40's style party shoes.
Original platforms shoes were made of cork and wood, and until this date, the core of samba shoes are hand made, sculpted on wood. During the 2nd world war, wood or cork was easy to purchase so most later popular styles was fabricated with primarily wood.
So when did this "look" started, who spread the fashion into samba? Who placed the platform sandals in the spotlight? In Brazil samba history, actress Carmen Miranda not only became a synonymous for her plastic fruit accessories, but she popularizes around 1930's the platform sandals.
To every fashion history there is always a reason...Well, to Carmen there was a reason why she used platform shoes. Carmen was short, very short, so she had a Rio de Janeiro cobbler make an orthopedic sandals for her. These were not any shoes, these were thick-soled to boost her height. Remember, she was just 5 ft tall. Around the same time Moshe Kimmel was designing a pair of platforms for Marlene Dietrich that later was considered the "first" official platform shoes. Carmen was the highest paid actress in Hollywood, and her platform shoes became her trademark. With movie, magazine and celebrity life style, her shoes were the translation to Brazil look.
Carmen used Brazil inspired costumes, dances and accessories to have a look or trademark of her own. She even made the hem of her dresses shorter so that she would look taller with her platform heels. Those platform shoes were very noticed and everyone wanted to have one.
She introduced to the US a different look, inspired by Afro-Brazilian female street vendors inspired by Brazil Colonial times. Brazil thanked her and she became an inspiration for the local samba dancers at the time. If she was dancing the "Brazilian dance", then the samba community wanted to bring to their feet exactly what Carmen was using when she was dancing: the platforms. If she could dance on those heels, the samba dancers would dance in them too!
Miranda's rise to Brazilian stardom was directly linked to the growing popularity of a her Brazilian style of music: the samba. So Carmen Miranda became popular, Brazil's nationalism was on it's peak during President Getulio Vargas, and of course samba platforms became an instant hit not only as a new addition to the samba dancers but among the ladies around the world. She put Brazil on the map and introduced samba to the consciousness of the world.
So what kind of shoes did samba dancers and revelers use before Carmen introduced them? This is a very good question and after looking at many old photos, videos and movies, we could notice some similar styles among the samba ladies. Prior to the 1930 we noticed French and Italian inspired shoes on the "samba floor". Shoes mainly inspired by the movie divas...The predominant colors pre-war was black, brown and white. These styles would be some high heels, thin narrow closed front, pump styles, "Mary Jane" styles are also seen in the samba or carnival parties. A "proper lady" would use outside their homes a shoe that would cover her feet, and more masculine collection was readily available for the ladies, like oxfords and Edwardian boots. In 1923, the Ferragamo shop called "The Boot Shop" was already the to go store for local and international artists. Also around that time, around the world the "flappers" -young liberal woman - would introduce shorter dresses and shoes were adorned with brooches, embellishments and sequins. This same style was seen on the more upscale carnival parties in Rio and São Paulo.
Black patent leathers or synthetic material was seen with most costumes around the streets of Rio. Flip flop styles and ballerina slip on where also seen on the carnival parades of Rio and São Paulo.
The Great Depression of 1930 created the lack of basic materials at cobbler's box. Italian shoe designer Ferragamo discovered that steel of a lesser quality would not work for his heels, so he brought back to fashion a type of heel used back in Ancient Greece: the anabela heel. This was a heel made of cork! Around 1939, 86% of Ferragamo's shoes were made of anabela heel. In Rio specially smal family owned cobbler shops started to copy Carmen's style and until this date our Brazilcarnivalshop still uses this second generation cobblers for our samba shoes maintaining the same tradition as in Carmen Miranda's time! We are proud to say we sell authentic hand made samba shoes!
Anabela Heel, designed by Ferragamo for Carmen Miranda
Carmen with a Ferragamo platform
Brasil Colonial street carnival
Carnival at a club in Brazil, for the elite. Notice the ladies using Mary Jane style shoes.
Revelers using flip-flops
Samba ladies using pump heels
A samba dancer using flat ballerina shoes
Carmen with a anabela style shoes
Sequined shoes made for Carmen Miranda.
So how what is the essential Braziliansamba shoes look when we are referring to samba shoes? We list some points below:
Samba shoes will have a basic 30-40-50's look pretty much just like Carmen Miranda's sandals.
They are hand made by a local cobbler that serves the samba community. Samba shoes are made mainly in Rio.
Each pair, or each side will have an artisanal look, you will see small differences pertaining to a hand made pair of shoes. One side is never 100% like the other.
Heels are generally 12-15 cm (or more) with a front tall platform.
The high platform will not allow your feet to be so arched up, in that case your feet feels more comfortable.
Heels are thick and straight, however some styles are seen with thinner, curvier (coned) heels.
Sandals will have side straps, ankle straps, cross over straps.
Toe closure will be small, this is specially designed so that your toes will not fall out when you dance.
Most sandals will have a cross front over the toes closure, classic samba look.
Shoes are basically gold or silver
At our shop you will see over 80 pairs of samba shoes. Some are classic styles and other are an updated version of samba shoes with heels a bit thinner, or even small heels for tall dancers. All of our shoes are made in Brazil, by local cobblers, hand made by these professional shoe makers that serve the samba community in Rio. We must say it's a profession that is harder to find, and less and less "cobbler" is a profession...usually it's a family business. Their dedication to each pair is seen on the customer's reviews and happy faces of our sambistas around the world.
On this section you will see photos, two rare carnival videos, and the chronology of events of this historic and unique Brazilian festival. The description of the Brazilian Carnival origins and history is not an easy task, even for us Brazilians. The main reasons for this observation are twofold: first, the Carnaval was not formally defined until the 20th century. The big question was what exactly could be considered a true activity or expression of the Brazilian Carnival, (and not for example a European or African ritual). What was the Carnival of Brazil composed of? Which popular events and rituals could be classified or minimally labeled as part of our Carnaval.
Below, a 1963 video of Brazilian Carnival parade already in color. At this time, samba-schools and the main parade itself started to gain popularity and followers. Manuy people, even Brazilians, don´t know that until 1940´s most of the Carnival activities and events happened outside the "parade limits". Please see below second carnival videos to see early 20th century Carnaval´s expressions.
Here we see one of the first Warnercolor Documentaries on Rio Carnival, in English, around the 50´s.
The second reason naturally derives from the first one. Historians who have described Brazil´s early days, simply couldn´t associate at the time, those events to which we today identify as part of the Brazilian Carnaval. To make this easier, Brazil Carnival Ooah! will chronologically list episodes and events which contributed to the organization of the Brazilian Carnival as we know today. We hope you will have fun in this reading as we did during our research!
Below, one of the first depictions about the Brazilian Carnival made by a famous painting in Brazil, Debret.
O entrudo no Rio de Janeiro, 1823 Jean-Baptiste Debret ( França 1768-1848) Aquarela sobre papel Museu da Chácara do Céu Rio de Janeiro
Brazil Carnival Chronology
1600 For the first time, a playful popular party is registered in Brazil, with the development of the Entrudo, imported from Portugal. In this violent, rough, yet playful activity, foliões (name given to people who have fun during carnival days) threw water and lemon at each other using buckets, barrels and cans. Some more fanatics threw stones and wastes…!
1604 Due to the aggressive manner the foliões were having fun, the local government decided to prohibit the Entrudo for the first time.
1608 After 1605, several groups insisted on going out to streets “playing” at the Entrudo. Again, the government disallowed these manifestations.
1641 D. João IV’s coronation to Portugal´s throne celebrated in Rio de Janeiro. The préstitos, a type of musical procession go to public streets. According to historians, this was considered the first carnival expression in Rio de Janeiro. Thus, many Carnaval scholars consider the year of 1641 the starting point for Brazilian Carnival.
1680 Entrudo partying is once again prohibited by authorities.
1689 For the first time in Rio do Janeiro, police forces make illegal masquerades and hooded people on the streets.
1691 Once again, Entrudo was banned although it could still be seen in Rio de Janeiro streets.
1700 A new governmental decree prohibits hooded and the masquerades in Rio de Janeiro.
1711 A masquerade group killed Francisco Duclerc, French Commander who was living in Rio de Janeiro after a failed invasion attempt in Brazil. He was killed in one of the most important streets in town: Quitanda Street.
1720 Martinho Vieira, commonly referred to as the “hated magistrate” in Brazil, was killed by a group of carnival fans at Morro Velho – Old Mount in Rio de Janeiro.
1734 Once again, local authorities ban the Entrudo partying. The main reason continued to be its violent character.
1748 The Folia Negra da Coroação dos Reis do Congo (Black Festival of Congo’s King Crowning Ceremony), performed at Rosario and Saint Benedict Fraternity, established and now officially recognized as typical festivity. Congos and Cocumbis originated thereof.
1763 A festival celebrating the birth of D. José, (D. Maria’s first son), was performed, presenting floats (carros alegóricos) at the parade.
1786 Celebrations in homage of D. João and Dª. Carlota’s wedding in Lisbon, lasted for the first time for 3 consecutive days, in Rio de Janeiro. At this commemoration, “parade type” processions were organized with music, dances and different kinds ofFloats. These first parades were called préstitos. These specific parades could be considered the true origin, inception of modern day carnival parades in Rio Janeiro. Merry makers marched in festivity for hours, from city´s center all the way to the old Gipsy Park (today Santana Park). The floats were designed and crafted by an army Lieutenant called Antonio Francisco Soares.
1790 During the pre-Lent days in Rio do Janeiro, a group of people started to practice “Serração da Velha” (a playful activity and expression where people literally saw a doll, representing rejuvenation and renovation). Some considered this event the beginning of carnival due to its music and dance, but most of all, because of the period when it was organized.
1800 Religious processions grew in size and popularity and became regular festivals. The most representative ones, marched through Rio do Janeiro´s streets with carnival personas and performances.
1808 New Vice-King decree prohibits the Entrudo manifestations in Rio.
1810 Again, a new law forbade the Entrudo, even though police force was used to curb these events.
1816 Ferdinand Denis, famous traveler, historian and French writer specialized in Brazil, writes a full Opera during carnival based on the Entrudo theme.
- In Rio de Janeiro, Frenchmen Debret (painter), Taunay (painter) and Grandjean de Montigny (architect) arrive in Brazil in a French mission to spread European art. Brazil was still a Portuguese colony, but soon to become independent in 1822.
1825 Balls given by traditional families like Carneiro Leão’s and Baron of Rio Seco’s become extremely coveted and well known.
1831 Brazilian newspapers announce once again Entrudos as a main popular entertainment.
1836 Before the Lent period, several shops begin to market carnival masks and costumes for the upcoming carnaval celebrations.
1840 Singing and Jongo (African derived type of dance) start to be performed in Rio de Janeiro. In fancy carnival celebrations, the use of carnival costumes and masks substitute the rough Entrudo activity.
- In a famous hotel in Rio called Hotel Itália, the first carnival ball for the general public is performed. The music played on this event was the waltz, habanera, quadrille, and the schottische.
1845 The ‘polka’ is introduced in Rio de Janeiro and played at local ballrooms. The Brazilian Polka Society is created.
1846 Actress Clara Delmastro organizes a carnival ball in the São Januário Theater in Rio. Many historians call this event as the first private carnival ball in Brazil. Masks, costumes and even a supper were provided to the invitees.
1848 José Nogueira de Azevedo Paredes, a common Portuguese shoemaker, walks off Rio de Janeiro streets with a bass drum and creates a fictional character called “Zé Pereira”.
Some historians affirm this carnival manifestation gave origin to blocos de rua (street groups), since many people “would follow” Zé Pereira; wherever he was.
Below, a Brazilian Carnival video edited in "Black and White" photos!!
The origins of Brazilian Carnaval are remote and uncertain. Some say they took place 10.000 years before Christ in rural celebrations, when men, women, and children wearing masks, and having their bodies painted and dolled up got together in summer, performing ritual dances to chase away the bad harvest demons or to celebrate the returning to work. At winter, the fear of darkness and cold kept them inside their shelters all the time. Others say carnaval history started later in the celebrations for Goddess Isis and Apis, the holy bull, amongst Egyptians, Goddess Hertsa amongst the Teutons, or even in the Bacchanals, Saturnalias and Lupercalias, amongst Greek and Romans.
Roman Saturnalias decpcited above
Celebrations linked to natural time cycles have taken place since ancient times and they are linked to agriculture and graze, but as societies were getting more organized under strict laws, debauchery and profligacy were incorporated to festivals, they worked as escape valves when social conventions became more liberal. Such characteristics are evident amongst Egyptians and Hebrews and particularly more evident amongst Greeks and Romans.
Please check more than 30 Videos Carnival Rio Brazil in our Video section clicking on the link.
Thus, from December 16th through 18th when the return of the Sun allowed people to work the land again, Saturnalias were again celebrated in honor to god Saturn. It is said Saturn had taught the art of agriculture to Romans. During the Saturnalias, the social differences had an end, slaves were manumitted, schools and courts were closed. Everybody danced and sang on the streets making loud noise. These were three days in total anarchy.
Roman Saturnalias main characteristic was the opening parade with big cars imitating ships – the carrum navalis – presenting naked men and women dancing wildly and obscenely. It seems the real origin of carnival is Roman Saturnalias. Some say that the Italian expression “carnivale” originated from carrum navalis, and it would originate expressions in several other places (see etymology of the word below). Brazilian Researcher Osmar Frazão concludes: “this colored and uncontrolled Roman Carnival would be adopted by Christianity with no continuity solution, notwithstanding the holy teachings. There is truth in saying that carrum navalis was forbidden and there are no more obscene allegories, but Church finds difficulty in controlling the traditional sense of equality amongst people, permissive of some wildness.”
As a rule, during Middle Age, carnival happened with performances and liturgical senses, hunchback races, knights fights and urban “wars” with objects like eggs, in general; everything happened at night, under candle stubs fairy lights.
Back to carnival history, during Roman festivals, Lupercalias were celebrated after Saturnalias as a kind of purification, celebrating fertility. The festivals were organized on February 15th, worshipping God Pan, who killed the wolf which nursed Romulus and Remus, Roma founders. Lupercans, Pan’s priests, used to leave the temples wearing no clothes and soaked in goat blood, and after being milk-washed and covered with male goat-leather, they ran after people on the streets beating them with a belt. Virgin women, when touched, believed they would be fertile, and the pregnant ones, if touched believed they would have a painless labor. Bacchus-Dionysian festivals, called bacchanals, also profligate festivals, occurred in February and March, celebrating the return of the Sun and the beginning of spring. According to Greek mythology, Komo and Momus used also to participate in such festival orgies.
Regarding to these festivals, Francisco Duarte, Carnaval historian explains, “Saturn, Bacchus and Dionysius, from the first echelon of Greek-Roman Gods, used the “virtues” from these two Sub-Olympus Gods to “activate” their “priests and priestesses in said festivals, festivals that gave origin to our present and fond carnival. Komo and Momus promoted different aspects from the same festivals. Komo protected and stimulated body and flesh manifests, which have been perverted throughout times and have felt into lascivious Greek-Roman festivals, which landed in Entrudo: brutal and malevolent, at Komo’s image, full of wet, sensual and pantagruelic games. Momo was in charge of skilful and intelligent, clever, wise, and hilarious joy: The “decent” joy. From such aspect, which Momo motivated the elegant and fancy Carnival came up. It was first celebrated in 1855 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. From Komo, Carioca/Brazilian carnival inherited his libertine and sensual aspect. From Momo, it inherited the laugh from Lycurgus, the God of Laughter, who held fancy festivals from Middle Age and from the first phase of our ancestor carnivals.
The word Carnival:
The most objective definition is the one in Adolfo Coelho’s entry who wrote in Frei Domingos Vieira’s Dictionary: “Carnival – noun – from Italian “carno” and “vale”. The Milanese dialect has Carnelevale from latim carnevalen, from face, meat and levalen, act of taking out; thus, time when stop consuming meat, since carnival is the night before Ash Wednesday.
This etymology, which is given by Littré, leaves the oldest one out, according to which the word came from cane and vale, goodbye to meat, since there is no word for vale in Italian, and the Milanese carne levale has no doubts regarding to sound. Time for fun (the number of days varies according to countries) that ranges between the first day of the year and the day before Ash Wednesday”.
Ellen Roche is another beautiful Brazilian actress and model also present at the Brazilian festivity. We will see on this article photos, video and history and the muse. Ellen started to parade in 2000 at the Sao Paulo Sambadrome, and believes this grandiose festivity is an excellent way to maintain her body, soul and spirit energized. The Brazilian muse established herself in the entertainment business in Sao Paulo, and for this reason decided to join Rosas de Ouro Samba School. At first, she would parade just like any regular merry-maker, at the Sambadrome runaway. Later, the astonishing actress would become the Queen of Drums for Rosas de Ouro Samba-School, one of the most traditional samba-schools in Sao Paulo.
Please see her video at the end of this page!
Below a fanstastic photo of the muse by JB Neto, when Ellen was getting ready for the technical rehearsal in 2009.
Ellen was always enchanted by the luxurious costumesseen at the parades, the vibes and emotional thrill of the Brazilian Carnaval. Ellen states: "It is important to enjoy and give the deserved value to the good things in life. Of course it is essential to have responsibility, but it is also important to live for today without thinking too much about tomorrow.” As the Drum Queen, one of the most disputed posts in Carnaval, Ellen emphasizes the importance of having a true connection with the percussionists and the samba-school community she is representing.
Ellen constantly participates at the samba-rehearsals, and all other backstage events scheduled by Rosas de Ouro Samba School.
Below we can see why the beauty was confirmed in 2010 again as Queen of Drums Section: She has energy and samba passion. A great photo by Eduardo Lopes from Sao Paulo.
When asked to disclose some of her tricks to shine during Carnaval, she recommends a “balanced diet and exercises”. The beauty says the entire carnival routine is ideal to lose weight, since samba-dancing is very energy consuming. She also told us another secret to help maintain her dazzling beauty and avoid toxins: She drinks two cups of purple grape juice every day, one in the morning and one at night. This marvelous Brazilian beauty is a perfect example as to how Carnaval can also be of great help when establishing a healthy life.
In 2010, Ellen Roche was confirmed again as the Queen of Drum for Rosas de Ouro Samba-School! Congratulations Ellen for your great samba skills and carnaval passion! Your presence brings light to this marvelous show! Keep on with Carnaval!
Below, the astonishing Ellen Roche in Video from the 2007 carnival. Her persistence has payed off: in 2010 Rosas de Ouro was champion of the São Paulo Carnival and she enjoyed a tremendous success.