Tuesday, February 25, 2014

It's time for carnavaaaal!

Carnival! The most colourful, indulgent and rambunctious time of the year! Carnival is a festive season which occurs according to the Catholic calendar before lent, setting this year at around 28 February - 4 March. Depending where you go you may see different types of events - but you can expect massive street parties and spectacular parades. Costumes and masks are worn, and in fact historically they served a purpose: behind those you could hide your true identity, race and gender.

The Brazilian carnival (or carnaval in Portuguese) is perhaps the most famous of all carnivals. Millions of people travel to Brazil for this crazy week - Rio de Janeiro has undoubtedly the number one carnival in the world. The carnival preparations can start even a year before and the celebrations can go on a couple weeks. It all culminates on the samba parade where the best samba schools in Rio sing, dance and party their way through the Sambadrome, Sambódromo (the samba exhibition area designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer) in front of over 50.000 spectators. Samba schools spend thousands of hours and reais (even millions) to produce the massive floats and detailed costumes each year. BBC just last week posted an interesting video of how the Mangueira samba school in Rio de Janeiro is preparing for the carnival: see the video here.

The parade schedule in Rio de Janeiro Sambódromo in 2014:

  • Fri 28 Feb and Sat 1 Mar: Samba schools in the Access Group compete to get a spot on the Special Group on the following year.
  • Sun 2 Mar and Mon 3 Mar: Samba schools in the Special Group - the twelve (six on each night) most famous samba schools - parade with thousands of dancers, outrageous costumes and massive floats. This is an intense competition for fame, glory and position as the best samba school of Rio de Janeiro.
  • Sat 8 Mar: Winners' Parade - the best samba schools from the Special Group parade once more.

I got to see the 2012 Winner's Parade in Florianopolis - it looked something like this:

But it's not just the parade with tons of glitter that makes the carnaval. The true heart and soul of the week lies in the working class neighborhoods and favelas, Rio's hillside 'slums' (a number of them have been "cleaned up" and made safer for the residents and tourists alike). Many favelas house their own samba school and the people there are proud supporters and members of that school. A visit to a local samba school before the carnaval is recommended! You can find also street parties all around the city, organised by the blocos. These are casual & crazy events packed with people partying with their friends, some wearing costumes and performing smaller street parades.

While I was in South America in 2012 I made sure I was in Brazil for the carnaval. I decided to head to a smaller city, Florianopolis, avoiding the most expensive and most packed events in places like Salvador or Rio. And I wasn't disappointed! Read about my entire carnival week in Florianopolis - it was quite an experience!

Street party in Florianopolis!

The stylish Tallinn Salsa Festival

It has been a busy start of the year - but I'm not complaining!

Last weekend I made a detour to the Tallinn Salsa Festival, to see my friends in Estonia, and to see if I could still dance any salsa!? The artist line-up was an interesting mix; Terry & Cecile (LA salsa), African Jet (LA salsa), Erodys & Tenna (Cuban salsa), Mark-Anthony (NY salsa), Felicien & Isabelle (kizomba), Andre & Arina (salsa & tango), Nemanja & Asya (salsa & kizomba), Joseph Davids (salsa & bachata), Xandy & Evelyn (zouk), Marco Zanella (salsa & bachata), San Miguel (Cuban salsa)... So I was expecting a nice combination of different Latin, African and Brazilian dance styles!

Party time! ¡Bailamos!

I was in fact going to the festival just to party (- am I getting lazy?). The organisers had managed to get an impressive venue for Friday & Saturday nights: The Estonian National Opera House! There were two dance floors: the lofty main room was for salsa - it was spacious and in my opinion one of the most beautiful party spaces I've seen at dance festivals. But very very hot! Despite the heat I had a really fun time dancing there. The bar had lots of very reasonably priced drinks so the crowd was well served.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Warsaw: Shine bright like a diamond...

I spent a January weekend in Warsaw, dancing at the Zouk Libre Festival. But that's not all, I had some nice moments enjoying the winter Warsaw!

One thing is quite evident is that they must love Christmas. Or decorations. Because still in the middle of January the city was full of holiday light fixtures and ornaments. I think you may see Warsaw up from space from all the lights they've used to illuminate the old town! It was quite cute though, and I guess it helps you not notice how cold and dark it is this time of the year.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Zouk Libre Festival 2014 - Polish zouk makes a big impression

On the spur of the moment I booked tickets to Warsaw for the 2nd Zouk Libre Festival. From the looks of it, the event seemed like a nice zouk festival on the small side: five international teacher couples (Pasty & Josta, Alisson & Audrey, Daniel & Leticia, Freddy & Andressa and Xandy & Evelyn) and a rather new zouk nation, Poland.

Boy was I wrong.

Yes, it was nice. But it sure wasn't small! Zoukers from all over Poland and all over Europe found their way to Warsaw on this rather cold & dark mid-January weekend. Coupled with the central location (easy connections within Europe), good artist line-up and crazy cheap prices this was a win-win-win for many.

Poland is still quite a young member on the zouk world, in its toddler phase (less than three years old). But the scene is growing - strong! There's lots of great - even spectacular - dancers, groomed by a team of local talent as well as regular international visitors. I didn't get to go to any of the weekly regular parties but I would be surprised (after this) if they were anything but fantastic!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Best of travel 2014 - top destinations from around the web, and around the world!

Google & I made a virtual trip around the world past weeks, scouring a number of "best in travel 2014" lists by various news outlets and travel experts. My first thoughts of the lists were something like:
"Oh, so you took a map and some darts..."
"What ever happened to cool places New York, Tokyo, Barcelona...?"

But I do get it, the idea is to recommend (mostly) fresh or less known places, since  people who travel a lot and read these lists want to see something new. And what looked like a whole bunch of randomly picked places did eventually lead me to find some clear trends in the top picks!
Scroll to the end for the complete set of travel destination lists!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Zouk classes in Helsinki - spring 2014

It's now the start of another new dance season in Helsinki! Below a summary of classes and regular parties you'll find in Helsinki this spring.

Dates are subject to change and more classes & parties will be added during the season - always check with the respective organisers for their latest schedule.

But, what is zouk? Read more here!