RIO DE JANEIRO —
The crowds dance to the rhythm of the samba in a variety of costumes, from the everyday to the exhibitionist.
Even before the official Rio carnival begins, tens of thousands of people begin partying in the streets of Rio de Janeiro.
'Noone knows each other but we love each other. Thats the joy of carnival," one man said.
The first street carnivals started at the end of the 19th century.
Frowned upon by the elite at the time, their popularity has grown and grown ever since.
But the street carnival has also known dark times like when it was outlawed by the military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985.
"The street carnival reappeared as soon as the military dictatorship fell,"said author and journalist Joao Pimentel. "In the new open political landscape Cariocas reappropriated public space. They took to the streets to sing, samba, and celebrate life and liberty"
And they party with gusto. There are now almost 500 official and unofficial parades and up to six million people who join the party.
There can be 73,000 people packed into the dedicated sambodrome arena every evening to watch the samba schools strut their stuff.
But many locals prefer the more relaxed street carnival, which is free and where they can dance too.
"It's crazy, but that's why it's so good," said one woman.
The carnival is supposed to run for three weeks but it often goes into overtime as the party goes on and on.