My first Notting Hill Carnival Experience
by Ben Wilson
The Notting Hill Carnival is the biggest party in the world outside of Brazil. Over 2 million people come to watch as London comes alive. To be dancing in this is something I would never imagine doing as it didn’t seem to be my thing and I assumed it was just for the Afro-Caribbean community.
After living in Brazil I knew about carnival which was where I first sampled the primal almost trance-like effect of dancing behind live drums. It is hard to describe the feeling and what you experience when you lose yourself in the beats but as tribal groups across the world all have drumming and dance it suggests it must be something deep down within our psyche. It was only when I discovered the London School of Samba that I found out you can get that same vibe right here in the heart of London.
Samba schools in Rio De Janeiro are the centres of the local community. The high point of their year is when they parade in the carnival. They can take 5000+ people to perform. It is the same set up here with the London School of Samba but slightly smaller with 150-200 performers 🙂
The build up to carnival was a great experience. First you must make your costume over a series of workshops which was great socially but also really rewarding when at the end you had a rather spectacular outfit to keep for any future fancy dress parties 🙂 . To this there were weekly rehearsals with the section of dancers you were going to perform with. This really reminded me of playing rugby where the different parts of the team would break off to practice their moves etc.
Before the carnival itself there were also smaller carnivals you could parade at, I did four to get myself up to speed which were amazing. Dancing in front of 20,000 people in Leicester as well as going to the Boom Town festival for free were great buzzes. It was also a flashback to my rugby playing days of bus trips and banter… just what I like!
The Notting Hill Carnival weekend was one epic experience. The school parades on the Bank Holiday Monday and they rent a whole secondary school near by to use as a base. This is a hive of activity, excitement and people with every member on hand. Each day there is a full rehearsal with the live band and all the dancers in a sports hall. The noise and atmosphere in there was breath taking, it was similar to the cauldron of noise you would find in Cardiff’s Millennium stadium for the rugby or at a football match. As visitors are allowed down to watch, one lady was telling me how she was in tears from the experience. I could understand where she was coming from… raw emotion through music 🙂
Carnival day itself was a buzz of energy. As I had done the previous smaller carnivals I was not nervous at all, I was bouncing with excitement. As the whole procession moves into position to enter the route everyone keeps saying to stay calm or you will burn yourself out. Easier said than done! Entering the route the performance begins as you come before the crowds. The dance itself is a mixture of the rehearsed samba choreography followed by freestyle samba and then time for some photos with spectators in between.
The carnival itself is actually a competition so the 100m section in front of the judges is intense and focused. Thereafter the party continues as you pass through street after street and interact with the crowds and dance away. Time flies yet the body does begin to feel it, this year the sun was out with record numbers and it took 6 hours to complete the course. But you give all that you have as every few metres you are in front of new people. I couldn’t believe how many people I saw on the route who I knew and we stopped for photos where possible.
By the end of the route we had performed in front of between 80,000 – 100,000 people. That is a crazy thought, while the biggest Pop stars have done that, they have dedicated their life to it, for me I am just doing a hobby and having some fun. It raises a great question I keep asking myself though, why do I even do it? I am still not sure but sometimes a feeling within you just says that you should do something. If having fun then why not?
Behind performing though I am passionate about people experiencing dance. When I stopped drinking in 2006, dancing sober was one of the hardest parts to get around. After that I tried different dances and methods but nothing has ever come close to the power of being behind live drums which happens every month in the London School of Samba.
The social media reaction after I posted my carnival pics was crazy. The most likes I have ever had on a Facebook pic 🙂 …which is of course what modern life is about 🙂 🙂 🙂 . While some friends were totally baffled by it all, I have always lived my life looking for new experiences. It inspired me to travel to 50 countries, to live abroad, write books, film for TV, compete in fitness shows and more. This experience will be right up there alongside those when I come to look upon my life in time to come.
If you’re reading this for the first time and know nothing about samba – why not come down? Sunday workshops in Waterloo cater to ALL levels of dance and drumming, so even if you have no experience you won’t feel out of place – it’s all very welcoming and nobody takes themselves too seriously. If you’re already dancing or drumming and want to get more involved in carnival then why not come down and talk to us? We can answer all your questions and explain how to get more involved.
Ben Wilson is a Personal Trainer, Nutritionist and Author. He wrote the book Change Your Thinking, Change Your Shape. He has been helping people transform their bodies for 15 years. A regular on TV, Ben has a reputation for helping people get results where all else has failed. You can find him at www.one2onenutrition.co.uk or follow him on any social media at – Benwilsonuk (Facebook / Instagram / Twitter / Snap chat).