Showgirls (and Boys). Carnival in Madeira 2016: How It Was

It’s February 6, my body is barely covered with pink something, feathers everywhere and I am moving my butt in front of thousands of people.

How did I get here?



Everything started in a spacious room above the municipal market. Lots of girls and some boys are waiting to enroll in a carnival team. Many of them have already participated in the famous event or at least seen it, but for some it’s the first time – and they are with parents. Excited, nervous, expectant – all kinds of emotions here.

Carnival is one of the best events in Madeira, and if my destiny suggests participating, I can’t say no.


According to Wikipedia, it’s possible that Brazilian carnival took origin from this island.

Of course, here it’s not as massive as in Brazil – but they look if not like twins, then very resembling brothers.

Our carnival was visited by thousands of tourists and of course the whole island came to the capital to see the parade.






Preparation starts a month before with learning the choreography and taking measurements for the costumes. We had rehearsals three or four times a week – not because we are idiots and can’t remember the movements, but because we need to get used to long tiring exercise. Behind the glitter of the parade there is a 2-hours intensive cardio, equal to running or playing football, just add smiling and high heels.



The choreography was prepared by Cecilia Atanazio , the leader of “Turma do Funil”, together with a group of experienced carnival participants. Our dance was light-hearted and funny but only with a move of a shoulder or a hip we could add spice to it.

Our group consisted of three dancing wings, a platform, drummers and clowns – about 200 people in total. Every team had their costumes, and while I was pondering over the choice of a more body-covering outfit, I was taken to group one and the world of pink glamour.





The rule was to keep all details about our preparation in secret. Carnival consisted of nine corteges, and the task of every one was to surprise the audience.


Some words about our rehearsals – as it was the longest part. Everything was in Portuguese but I felt comfortable – you don’t need to speak a lot, just repeat after the team.

The only difficulty was with making next appointment – half past six, half past seven, Tuesday, Thursday – not so easy to follow. Cecilia, knowing my level of Portuguese, was crossing the whole ballroom to inform me about the meeting, and was over-articulating and pronouncing everything in syllables: “the mee-ting-is-on-sa-tur-day”.

Soon my Portuguese was a bit better but anyways she spoke with me in this gentle way.

This even became a local joke. “Are-you-oh-kay?” – my teammates would ask.

In general, I was very lucky because the team was friendly and supportive.


Finally, the day. It started early as I needed a professional makeup. First time it was very dark and aggressive, the second – more or less ok.


Funchal’s center is full of corteges, beautiful girls in open costumes, and tons of feathers of different colors. Excitement is in the air, everyone is eager to start. Finally it’s our turn – and we are passing first 50 meters with tribunes and TV cameras which are streaming our defile online. And then there are thousands of people to the right and to the left, taking pictures, smiling and waving hands. Kids are throwing confetti at us – and we are dancing and dancing and dancing.


Fear of the exposure half-naked fades away in about ten minutes – there are many girls in similar costumes, and a lot of skin is actually what’s expected from a carnival.


The defile in Funchal is the main event but next days it continues in other towns. In our Camara de Lobos the carnival came on Monday – same story but along the streets you walk every day: less stress, more fun.



The carnival preparation and defile were really difficult but if you ask whether I want to repeat – definitely!

What’s next? Flower festival in April!


And a bonus 😉


Video: Yevhen Honcharenko

Photos: Art Photography Madeira

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