This continues the Flashback series about my first experience in Brazil, when I traveled there in 2006.
Like any hostel tourist, I took the advice of the staff about what was a "must do" in Rio, and they suggested going to the legendary Sunday night funk party. So my friends and I signed up, and the next night we found ourselves in a van heading west.
Two hours and a pit stop later, we ended up in a favela somewhere off the highway near Barra. The guide led us into what appeared to be a massive warehouse, while lines stretched down the block. Music throbbed inside.
We were led through an enormous crowd on the ground level up to the upper level, where they herded the tourists and were serving R$1 beers. I made my way to the edge of the balcony. The space was filled with not hundreds, but thousands of people, dancing to a strange type of music, heavy on the bass and percussion, not quite hip hop, not quite American funk, not quite enjoyable on the ears. I gaped.
Eventually, my friends and I decided we'd had enough of the gringos and made our way down to the main dance floor with the locals. I was thrilled when the DJ played some funk songs I actually knew, some very pop-y ones popular at the Brazilian club I'd frequented in Buenos Aires. I was shocked and somewhat confused to see some of the favela boys dancing provocatively -- with one another. "Isn't this a macho country?" I wondered to myself. (I'd just come from living in Argentina, where men kiss to greet each other but would be horrified by grinding with one another.) I marveled at the other groups of guys doing sets of steps together, choreography that seemed almost like a line dance. I laughed during the dance contest, led by a hilarious flamboyant guy I later learned was David Brazil. I spent the night feeling like I was in a weird dream.
My friends and I made our way out around 4am and waited for the rest of the tourists to stumble drunkenly back to the van. In the meantime, my friend asked a guy to teach her some of the "line dance" steps, and I joined in on the dance in the middle of the street. I was disappointed when we were herded into the vans to head back.
Though I'd later go back to the same club several times after moving to Rio, I never had the same experience, that rush of adrenaline and shock of amazement, the wonder and delight of experiencing a culture so vastly foreign for the first time.