So, after countless street rehearsals and practices inside the quadra in the steaming summer heat, it was finally time for the ensaio tecnico.
To be honest, I really had no idea how important this technical rehearsal was until I was actually in it.
Each year I had always arrived in Rio a few weeks before Carnival with my tour group, but as I was going to be a Muse this year, I had planned my schedule so that I could take two months ‘off’ from my business to arrive in time for all of the pre-Carnival preparations. But of course that didn’t happen as, at the very same time that I was debuting as the very first International Muse for my samba school, Rio’s oldest school Estacio de Sa, I also launched the very first World Samba Congress and World Samba Queen Competition in Rio, plus escorted a record number of foreigners on tour …. Nothing like doing one thing at a time!
WORLD SAMBA CONGRESS + SAMBA QUEEN COMPETITION – RIO DE JANEIRO, 2017
In the days before the tech rehearsal, which essentially is a full run-through of the school’s parade in the actual Sambadrome, people started asking me what I was planning to wear.
Isn’t it only a tech rehearsal?
In the past, the school would provide its members with a specially designed printed t-shirt with the school’s logo and everyone would wear this, together with a pair of white pants/shorts.
However in recent years, the tech rehearsals have become one more media opportunity for Muses and Queens, especially since photographers and TV camera crews are also there to perfect their shots for the actual parade.
Oh great, so now I need ANOTHER DRESS. In normal life, this would be a source of excitement for any girl, but when you are dealing with Rio’s ateliers, especially during Carnival time and with only a few days notice, this equates to HELL ON EARTH.
I decide to first ask around a few of my Brazilian friends who were also performing as Muses and Queens. Could anyone possibly lend me a red dress (the school’s official colour) for the tech rehearsal?
Amiga! Voce esta seria? (Are you serious?!)
You can’t possibly wear a dress that has already been worn by one of us! Everyone will know and they will laugh at you.
Well ladies, if I hadn’t already spent all of my savings and promised to give up my first-born child to this world of Samba, then I wouldn’t have an issue buying YET another dress. But right now, I have no moolah.
But you are gringa no? You have DOLLAR!
Right. I was about to launch into a tirade that, just because I am a foreigner does not mean that I am a millionaire, but apparently it does when you come from the slums of Rio and see people who arrive from another country on a plane, have the latest Iphone, are staying at a hotel in the Zona Sul (south zone i.e. Ipanema/Leblon) and can pay for a Muse position.
I guess I am rich.
I take a moment to let this feeling sink in. I do come from a first-world country, I have never had to prostitute myself to pay for my bills or my education; I have healthy, nutritious food on my plate daily, a very comfortable chiropractic-approved bed and a solid roof over my head, and can afford to dance as a hobby (and in my case have been able to turn it into a profession to support myself).
I am indeed rich.
But apparently not rich enough to afford one of my atelier’s custom-made dresses 2-days before the parade.
So I resort to begging. Please. Pretty please. Pretty please with a cherry on top.
I will promote your business on social media. I will shout your name at the reporters who interview me. I will pose with whoever you want me to on the avenue. Just please make me ONE DRESS and don’t charge me through the roof for it.
I walk out of my atelier’s with red eyes and no dress.
What am I going to do?
I try not to make a big deal of it. For god’s sake, it’s just a rehearsal. I will just wear one of my existing dresses.
So instead of going to bed and getting a good night’s sleep to deal with the issue calmly in the morning, I troll Youtube for tech rehearsal videos. As I watch each and every school from the previous year, the Muses’ outfits get more and more extravagant.
Jewel-encrusted gladiator boots; hand-sewn, beaded bling dresses; magnificent headpieces, matching sparkly necklaces, earrings, bracelets….I fall asleep dreaming I am Cinderella arriving at the ball….as a pumpkin.
I wake up in a fit. What am I going to do?
Call my Dad?
Daddy, please could you transfer a few hundred (meaning thousand) dollars for a new dress? It’s part of my work uniform here and I simply can’t rehearse without it? Yes, that’s a fair argument! I’m sure my retired father would happily part with his hard-earned cash to support his daughter’s desires of not wearing the same dress twice on a Samba avenue in Rio!
Just as I start to get heart palpitations and visions of Cinderella in her rags, the phone rings.
Alo? Minha musa! Mas claro que eu nao posso te deixar sem um vestido brilhante! (Oh My Muse, I couldn’t possibly leave you hanging without a stunning dress for your rehearsal!)
My atelier has come to the rescue. It seems he has had a case of the guilts and spent the night awake until the early hours working on a special dress just for me, which is now on its way to my hotel.
I skip downstairs gleefully, with the cheesiest of grins, just as the deliveryman arrives and all of the hotel staff are staring at me in confusion. My princess dress is all wrapped up and weighs a tonne. I sign for it and then rush back up to my room to try it on.
It doesn’t fit.
My heart breaks.
The headpiece is too tight and crushes my skull. The skirt is too short and my bum cheeks are poking out (not really such a big deal here in Rio but too much for my frayed nerves to handle) and the bra is so big I could fit 2 pairs of boobs in it.
The phone rings again. It’s my atelier.
Don’t you just love it darling? Isn’t it perfect for you? I made it with your exact measurements and with lots of carinho (love). I couldn’t stop thinking all night about your situation. Of course I had to help you! You need to look like Cinderella out there on the avenue…..
Sim, sim e magnifico. Muito obrigada! (Yes, it’s magnificent – thank you!) NOT!
Oh my god. What am I going to do?
In desperation, I call the Queen of my school. As much as I try, I can’t stop the tears from falling as I sob into the phone recounting my ridiculous dilemma.
She laughs. Oh amiga, calma! Things will work out at the last minute, as they always do here in Rio!
And she was right.
That very evening, with one day looming until the technical rehearsal, I went out to dinner with some Carioca friends to distract myself from the nerves.
Conversation was of course all about Carnival – how most schools weren’t even ready to parade, most costumes hadn’t even been made yet, the floats were still under construction and they were all still waiting on their verbas (grants) from the local city government to pay for materials. And here I was stressing over a dress.
As fate would have it, one of my friends knew a guy who knew a guy (it’s always about who you know in Brazil) who was also a Carnival atelier. He’d just gone into business and was looking for some exposure.
So in the middle of a restaurant in the burbs, an improvised photoshoot suddenly takes place, with me posing left side, right side, centre, from behind, ‘Chin up darling’, ‘Stick your boobs out’, ‘Pop out your booty’….much to the amusement of the onlooking diners. Almost as soon as my friend texts the pics to his mate via Whatsapp, I hear a bunch of ‘pings’ as a flurry of photos arrive back with a selection of beautiful dresses to choose from.
My Cinderella dream is finally coming true….and I’m NOT going to be a pumpkin!
Have you read the other blogs in this series?