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Every February, half a million people flock to Rio de Janeiro for Carnival, Brazil’s annual new year celebration, to see Samba dancers in all their over-the-top-stylish, feathered, bedazzled, shoulder-padded glory. But Friday evening, you won’t have to make the trip south of the equator to catch a glimpse of the glitzy gals. Hundreds of dancers will join Brazilian national treasure Gisele Bundchen onstage for the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Olympics.
Dancers (called passistas) wear elaborate costumes based on a theme chosen by their Samba school; looks are made up of jewel-encrusted bikinis, colorful sky-high headdresses, feathered wings and heeled boots for looks that make the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show look like amateur hour.
But believe it or not, the costumes actually used to be sexier.
While modern looks are still very provocative, outfits in the ‘80s were a bit more risque, with women introducing pasties, body paint and thongs to their festival getups. (Though some participants would go full nude given the chance, there are official rules against baring it all for the parade.) Present-day looks — not unlike the ensemble Rihanna wore to last year’s Crop Over festival in her native Barbados, which she liberallly documented on Instagram — are just a bit more covered up.
According to Brazil’s official culture site, Samba costume designers have upped the quantity of fabric they use, much to the dismay of some dancers who prefer to be uninhibited. Authentic costumes, which take hours of labor to make by hand, can run upwards of $10,000.
Weighing an average of 30 pounds (with some as heavy as 45 pounds), the over-the-top looks can also be difficult to actually dance in, which is why professional passistas practice year round and actually have to audition before their Samba school instructors each year to try to secure a coveted spot in the Carnival.
Considering the magnitude of tonight’s ceremony, which organizers hope will drown out negative press surrounding the country’s recent troubles (Zika plus political turmoil), we expect the costumes to be as loud, sparkly and vivacious as ever.
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