It’s best to learn about the masked ball history to understand why the Rio Carnival is as flashy and colorful as it is today. The Carnival is known as the “Greatest Show on Earth” and that distinction took time to develop. Going back in time in Brazil’s masked ball history, the first event was held back in 1641.
It wasn’t as loud and as free compared to modern Carnival. In fact, it was very laidback and stuffy, following after the European social event. Now you can hardly recognize its origins after looking at those costumes that are out of this world; the embellished headdresses and the skimpy costumes worn by dancers.
The Rio Carnival is an once-in-a-lifetime event that epitomize the carioca spirit—a unique blend of European and African customs. You can check it out yourself in the Magic Ball hosted by the Copacabana Palace Hotel to the always lively Gay Costume Ball in downtown Scala Rio club.
The first Rio Carnival was dubious celebration of colonialism. It was initially dedicated in 1641 to King Dom Dom João IV who was instrumental in establishing Portugal’s dominion over Brazil.
The celebration was greeted with hoopla but it was never to be repeated until 1786. Historians propose that there were no masks used yet during both these events. Instead, they point to the party in Hotel Italia on January 22, 1840 where participants wore masks.
The idea only gained prominence sometime later, 30 years in fact. The Carnival then wore two faces: one for the rich and famous and these are largely based on the masked ball history featuring European tradition of elegant dancing and muted conversations; and another for the masses.
And you can immediately see which was more fun. Good thing that everyone agrees and the masks and costumes soon became the hallmark of the Rio Carnival.
The samba has always been associated with the Carnival but this is not always the case. Back in the day, just when the Carnival is gaining ground, hotels and clubs saw the commercial opportunities of the masquerade ball and began to host one.
Among these were the highly attended masked balls and soon word got out around the world about the amazing parties in Rio. The Copacabana Palace Hotel with its Magic Ball, rooted in its masked ball history, has developed a massive following after earning the reputation of throwing the best party in town.
But other establishments joined the bandwagon like the Official City Gala Ball held at Theatre Palacio or the Automobile Club of Brazil. Pretty soon, these events required party-goers to buy tickets. Samba wasn’t the official anthem just yet.
Portugal brought to Brazil music reminiscent of the European style like the waltz, polka and mazurka. But it wasn’t until near the end of the 19th century when the African slaves brought the samba along with them.
The dance first started as a novelty for the European-influenced cariocas who were more used to events based on its masked ball history. When slavery was abolished, the Africans established settlement in central Rio. These settlements have been known as the foundation of samba. During the Second World War, the masquerade balls were stopped only to make a huge comeback two years after the end of WWII in 1945. The competitions also became more intense.
Dancers marched in Avenida Rio Branco, unlike today which is held in Sambadrome.
The popularity of the samba from the Afro-Brazilian settlements soon spilled over Brazil and led to the establishment of samba schools.
The number of parades and street dances multiplied although it wasn’t really clear how the skimpy costumes came about. Although the Magic Ball still survives and grows stronger to this day. Judging from the costumes, the Rio Carnival of today is still paying tribute to its masked ball history.