The origin and traditions of the Masked Balls in Rio de Janeiro.
The Rio Carnival in Brazil is known for its fantastic parades with exotic dancers dressed in flamboyant costumes and tall feathered headdresses. After the parades, the streets are filled with party goers some of whom choose to attend the marvelous costumed Carnival Balls like the Magic Ball at the Copacabana Palace. These balls have become a staple fixture in any Rio Carnival calendar but it is worth examining how they became so popular.
The first Rio Carnival dates back to 1641, according to most historians when the then governor, Salvator Correia de Sá e Benvides used it as a dedication to King Dom João IV, who had just restored Portugal’s throne in Brazil. The next historic celebration took place some 140 years later in 1786. Neither of these events had a masked ball. On January 22nd, 1840 the first known masked ball was held in the Hotel Italia. The ticket included dinner and cost two thousand reis.
Although the first Carnival Ball in Brazil took place in 1840, the concept only began gaining popularity some thirty years later with popular entertainment establishments conducting lavish events. Most of these were not restricted to the elite and upper class but always included a separate section for the wealthy and well to do. As the balls became more popular, they started to find a place in the Rio Carnivals.
Soon families and other local establishments began holding balls during the Rio Carnival when celebratory spirit was at its highest. Well known hotels and clubs took the trend forward by conducting their own Carnival Balls and before long there were a string of high profile balls during the Carnival and many of them garnering international attention.
Before long world renowned balls were being held at prestigious locations like The Copacabana Palace Hotel, The Theatre Palacio and the Automobile Club of Brazil. A few years later a municipal Carnival Hall was created which was shaped like a ship docked at a castle entrance. This location hosted a number of enjoyable celebrations. It became even more popular when costume contests were introduced. Men and women both turned out in large numbers vying for the top spot in flamboyant and colorful costumes.
As time passed, trends in fashion changed. The Rio Carnival takes place during the hottest time of the year in Brazil and so the costumes became more and more skimpy. This made the grand balls more and more irrelevant. Only a few survived like the Magic Ball at the Copacabana which continues to be the most elite, expensive and opulent event of the Brazil Carnival. The Scala night club has a new address in downtown Rio and plays a major part in the Carnival Balls by hosting six balls, one for each night of the Carnival. There is a ball suited for everyone, every budget and every lifestyle choice.
Today, the Carnival Balls are deeply imbibed in the spirit of the Rio Carnival. It just wouldn’t be the same without them.