Every year in February or March, Rio's 42 samba schools parade at carnival. But it's not just a parade, it's a competition, and a stiff one at that. The schools have been preparing most of the year: picking a theme (usually a social or historical subject, or a tribute to some famous figure), choosing a samba-enredo (story samba) to express the theme, rehearsing complex dances, sewing costumes, and building floats. All of this can cost a half million dollars, but the winner becomes the hero of Rio, and of all Brazil. Here are some of the terms widely used in samba and at carnival:
Abre-alas: The opening wing of the samba school parade, which displays the name of the school and its theme.
Baianas: The older women of the samba school who parade in African-style dresses with wide skirts, and who honor the history of the carnival parade, which was brought to Rio from Salvador, Bahia State, in northeastern Brazil in 1877.
Bateria: The percussion section of a samba school, which includes drums of various sizes, from the low bass-sounding surdo to the higher-pitched repinique; rattles; bells; and tambourines.
Carnavalesco: The organizer, art director, and float designer of a samba school.
Passistas: The best dancers in the carnival parade.
Sambadrome: Enormous cement bleachers that seat 85,000 spectators through which the samba schools parade.
Samba-enredo: A story samba, written especially for carnival, which describes the samba school's theme for that year.
Sambista: A person who writes, sings, plays, or dances samba.
For a fascinating look inside the samba schools, read ``Samba,'' by Mexican journalist Alma Guillermoprieto (Knopf, 1990). Ms. Guillermoprieto, who spent a year at the samba school Mangueira, includes a history of samba and its traditions.