You’ve probably heard the mantra: Dance like nobody’s watching. Well, what about: dance like 300,000 people are watching? Bangalow’s Caroline Ralph is about to discover just what that feels like as she heads to Rio de Janeiro to dance in the world-famous Carnival, writes Sally Schofield.

Caroline Ralph Photo supplied

As Melbourne geared up to enter its sixth COVID lockdown in 2021, Caroline Ralph and her husband had had quite enough, and decided to bring forward their long-planned relocation to Bangalow. Like many new arrivals, the pair knew no one in town, but had always dreamed of living in Bangalow.

“We had planned to retire here but realised we could make the move a lot sooner.” Being self-employed (Caroline is an acupuncturist), and ready to take on new experiences, they soon settled into village life.

Caroline connected with community and reignited her love of dancing, taking a class at Newrybar, where she learned the b.class style of dance out of Canada. During one session, she overheard another dancer talking about Samba dancing and joining a Brazilian dance school performance at the world-famous Carnival. Caroline chimed in ‘Oh, that sounds fantastic, but I’ve never done any Samba dancing’.

And that, she thought, was the end of that. But after the class, the teacher approached her and the conversation continued. While Caroline had never danced Samba before, the teacher assured her it was straightforward, demonstrating a few supple hip moves and hand actions. Caroline was entranced and delighted at the idea of learning the dance style but also returning to Rio, where she had honeymooned 20 years earlier. And so, the seed was planted.

“So, are you going to talk to your husband about coming to Brazil to dance?” And I knew then that she was quite serious. “I went home and said to my husband, ‘I’ve just been offered this opportunity to go and dance in Rio in the Carnival. I can’t say no to this.’” Hubby fully supported this once in a lifetime experience.

Samba in Carnival is serious business. You can’t just frock up, rock up and shake your thang. Caroline has committed to months of rehearsals on the Gold Coast each week as well as an intensive fitness training regime in preparation for the big day. “I’m doing a bit of strength training, a bit of cardio and then just dancing.

“The great thing about this experience is that you just have to have a passion for dance and be able to hold a beat. It’s freestyle dancing, and I only started learning Samba last year.The dance training, and Carnival experience is part of an offering from Sambalicious. Dancers from Australia join an existing Brazilian dance school and perform for one hour in a glamorous and energetic parade that runs from 10pm until the early hours. “We’re joining a Brazilian dance school of about 3000 dancers.”

“Our teacher Mishel runs Sambaliscious, a tour that incorporates the dance experience and travel. She has been Samba dancing since she was 20. And she’s been going to Brazil to dance in the carnival for the last ten years. So, she’s got this tour down pat and has organised this really amazing experience for people who want to tick this incredible experience off their bucket list.”

But it’s not just dancing. “Each dance school creates a musical anthem too, so I’m not only dancing but learning a song. In Portuguese. It’s quite catchy. But we have to do lots of practice because I don’t even really understand what I’m singing about,” she laughs.

However, it’s not all glitz and glitter. Dancers have to remain graceful and upright on a moving float for their hour-long slot, wearing high heels, feathers and a permanent smile. Caroline will be concentrating on keeping her balance and maintaining high energy throughout the performance. “It’s the biggest day of the year for people in Rio. It’s going to be very hot. The carnival is at nighttime, but it still can be 40 degrees in the day with 100% humidity,” she says. Dance troupes are scheduled to perform for one hour each running from 10pm until the early hours. “We should be on before midnight, but everything runs on ‘Brazilian time’ so who knows?”