That evening when he finally came home, he had no idea of the wrath of anger that was awaiting him behind our front door.

After being assaulted by a crazy pregnant woman earlier in the evening and still in a state of shell shock from the crossfire at the base of our apartment complex, I suddenly transformed into someone I hope I will never ever become again in my life.

Screaming, sobbing and rambling in both English in Portuguese while he looked on in disbelief and confusion, I couldn’t help but project onto him not only my fury from the recent evening’s events, but also the immense frustration, insecurity, displacement, loneliness and homesickness I had been feeling for months whilst trying so hard to be strong, brave and independent in this completely foreign city I had chosen to move to with the single dream of learning to Samba.

When I was done, he simply walked up to me – his big brown eyes shining and smile sparkling – and wrapped me in his arms.

Amor, how about we go out tonight to celebrate?

Celebrate what?

 Moving in together! There’s an ensaio (rehearsal) at Portela and I think you’ll love it! Vamos?

Despite him not having answered any of my questions (perhaps he hadn’t understood a thing either?!), and me feeling utterly exhausted from the magnitude of emotions I had experienced earlier, I couldn’t resist his charm.

I also needed to be reminded of the real reasons why I still continued to live in this unpredictable city that pushed me to my absolute limits.

So we headed out to the berco do samba (the original home of samba) – Madureira. This suburb, located in Rio’s dusty and dirty north zone, features predominantly in the lyrics of many of Rio’s renowned Samba songs. Composers describe how so many of Rio’s famous bambas (highly respected Samba singers) were raised on its streets and credit their inspiration and passion from the neighbourhood’s charm and interesting characters.

Here’s one of my favourites:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TC3BhhraHgc

It is also home to one of Rio’s most famous samba schools, the reigning Carnival champion, Portela.

In typical Carioca style, the samba school rehearsal didn’t begin until midnight (on a week night!), so we decided to first stop in to a baile charme, a suburban social event that uses ‘black music’ (i.e. RNB) to dance sensual choreographies together as a group.

Baile Charme in Madureira

I couldn’t believe that hundreds of people were in the street at midnight, under a dingy bridge, and they all knew every dance routine by heart. My boyfriend signalled for me to join in but it was all I could do not to stare at this vast array of beautiful people – with skin ranging from pitch black to translucent white and everything in between, with both guys and girls in vibrant, skin-tight clothes and wearing their hair in a variety of braids, afros, dreadlocks or curls wrapped up in colourful head scarves.

There was a group of young, fit dancers leading the routines, but also older couples swaying softly together, teenagers gyrating their hips and little kids bopping along to the intoxicating beats, with no concern that it was way past their bedtimes.

I loved that Brazil was such a melting pot of not only skin colours, but also a mixing of generations who come together for the love of music/dance/culture. You would be hard pressed in Australia to see such a diversity of ages all hanging out together, unless it was for a family birthday or special celebration.

After a few street caipirinhas (the ones where they pour directly from the bottle of cachaca instead of into a shot glass first!), I discovered my Dutch courage and finally joined in with the dancing.

That night I learnt that it really didn’t matter if you knew the routines or how to dance properly – it was simply all about grooving to the beats in your own way and letting your hair down with the community as a whole.

I was having such a great time that I didn’t realise hours had passed, and suddenly people were dispersing – heading back home for a few hours of sleep before heading to their day jobs.

Dancers lead the baile charme choreographies

I turned to my boyfriend, ready to hail a cab and call it a night.

No amor! The night has just begun! That was just a warm up – now it’s time for the samba rehearsal!

Cariocas sure do know how to party!

Entering the quadra of Portela is literally like entering the gates to Samba heaven.


Their emblem, the majestic eagle, spreads his enormous white wings over the archway, and as soon as you enter, you are hit with the electrifying rhythms of the bateria, which unexpectedly sends goosebumps all over your body and invites your feet to immediately start to dance, even if you don’t know how to.

The locals, so passionate about their school that they turn up to each ensaio wearing its colours of royal blue and white, sing the school’s enredos from the past with such pride, that it honestly brings tears to your eyes. Even kids know the words to the famous Carnival songs of the school from the 1960s until today, which tell of the might and triumphant victories of their cherished school.

In Brazil they say that there are 3 national religions – Catholicism, futebol and Samba.

At Portela I witnessed the sheer power of Samba, and how it binds the community of Madureira much like a church would, weaving its magic into people’s everyday lives and enchanting everyone who visits.