Author Archives: traveldancer

About traveldancer

I'm a dancer and travel enthusiast looking to explore the greatest festivals and celebrations this world has to offer! I also love animals, books, music and food.

Cats Macao – Curtain Call

Two and a half weeks away and just 13 performances and my Cats experience was over. Short and sweet and just enough knee pain.

I have to say performing in the show was every bit of magic I remembered minus the South African audience, which did make a difference. Although any audience gives me a buzz, when I did the show last time, on home turf, it was so exciting because I never knew who might be watching so it gave me that bit of extra energy each time. I was reminded of this when my husband and his business partner came to watch on our last matinée. I probably over-performed but it was fun knowing that there were at least one set of eyes on me at all times. What can I say, performers love attention 🙂

Act II

Act II

Another downside to my brief stay was not having enough time to truly bond with the cast. Many of them had toured with the show for a year and you could really see and feel the camaraderie on stage. From working on two international productions, I can say that theatre people, regardless of home country, are some of the craziest and friendliest in the world and I would have relished getting closer to this particular group of people. They were so welcoming and sweet and great with baby Ayla.

Silli and Vicky

Silli and Vicky

Out of costume - Cassandra, Silli, Tanto and Vicky

Out of costume – Cassandra, Silli, Tanto and Vicky

Mistoffelees and Victoria

Mistoffelees and Victoria

Me and Olivia

Me and Olivia

Tumble, Tanto, Vicky and George

Tumble, Tanto, Vicky and George

After the final show we were treated to a closing party at the Bellini Lounge, a casino bar with live music and burlesque-clad waitresses. The music was fantastic and we danced the night away to some great classics and golden oldies. My feet hated me but I pushed through, I mean, how often do moms get to let their hair down!

Earl Gregory AKA Tugger

Earl Gregory AKA Tugger

Closing night party

Closing night party

While the rest of the cast was due to continue to Korea, I had opted out of the tour, which had many of them asking what my plans were for when I got home. It was then that I could finally reveal to the cast the news I had kept secret. The fact that I was 14 weeks pregnant!

The reaction of the cast members was overall shock (“OMG I lifted you pregnant!”) …followed by congratulations. So I guess it was the right decision not to tell them about it during the contract but it was awesome to finally share the news.

I actually knew about my pregnancy before I left South Africa. After taking the necessary contractual precautions I went ahead with the contract because I had danced while pregnant before and the three-week commitment was short enough for me to feel comfortable with the physical demands of the show. And it was all fine. I saw a gyne in Macao for the crucial 12-week scan where they do an ultrasound and take blood to rule out certain complications and in fact, I felt less of the awful morning sickness and fatigue while away than when I was at home. I think being busy and having something big to keep my mind occupied were the best pregnancy blues busters ever.

Media Call - "statistical cats"

Media Call – “statistical cats”

So what is next for me? As I am writing this I am 16 weeks along and already showing slightly, so I guess any big dance contracts are out of the question. Teaching is on the cards and I have joined forces with some exciting people but actually I am thinking about doing something completely different. Maybe it will be choreographing, maybe a 9-5, maybe moving to China with my husband. I don’t know yet but what I would like to do is fill in the blanks on this blog. All those adventures I had while traveling and touring Asia with Phantom of the Opera, those memories need to be captured before I forget about them completely.

Well its goodbye to Cats, maybe forever, maybe just for now. I am so grateful I got to do it again and add to my fond memories, my friends list and my bank account. So until next time, here’s to an exciting 2015, filled with adventure, change and a healthy dose of uncertainty.

Vicky touches Grizabella

Vicky touches Grizabella

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Cats Macao – Curtain Up

There comes a point in every rehearsal period when it’s time to put all the hard work before a live audience. After just 6 rehearsal days, that point was a bit too soon for my liking. It’s not that I wasn’t ready but we only had one dress run and it didn’t go too well, especially the costume quick changes. But in showbiz there is a superstition that if you have a bad dress run it means you will have a good opening and vice versa.

Addressing of Cats

Addressing of Cats

Girls upstage

Girls upstage

Well opening arrived and whether I liked it or not I found myself standing in the auditorium about to run through the audience and scare them with our “green eyes”. It’s actually one of my favourite parts of the show. The audience hears the overture, it’s dark and all of a sudden they see a flash of green cat eyes right up in their faces. On a good night we will get some screams…hehehe.

Vicky's Solo

Vicky’s Solo

Old Deuteronomy

Old Deuteronomy

Back on stage and just before my first entrance from the car boot I usually say a quick prayer asking for a good, safe show and that sort of thing. Being older and wiser, in my prayer this time around I asked for just one thing – to have fun. One thing I have learnt over the years as a performer is that when I get too caught up in the technicalities and worry about achieving perfection, I actually don’t perform well. I’m overly nervous and unfocused. The best thing I can do for myself is just let go and remember why I love performing and then just go with the flow. It’s impossible to have a perfect show so why ask for that?

Vicky's first time at the Jellicle Ball

Vicky’s first time at the Jellicle Ball

Sensual Section

Sensual Section

This is a lesson I vow to pass onto my children with whatever they do in life. They should let their instincts guide them. If they take up something that makes them miserable instead of happy and fulfilled then they should quit it.

Vicky's Solo

Vicky’s Solo

Vicky's Solo

Vicky’s Solo

Vicky's Solo

Vicky’s Solo

The opening performance came and went without a hitch and the double show weekend that followed was tough but, as with everything in life, it passed and the following week was much better.

The Ball

The Ball

The Ball

The Ball

For a start, Monday was a day off and it’s amazing how quickly the body recovers through rest. Aches and pains I thought would grow into injuries disappeared and everything became manageable. Also, I had no understudy calls which meant that even on show days, I only had to be at the theatre at 6:30 for an 8pm show. With an entire day, everyday to relax and explore Macao I certainly couldn’t complain.

Backstage

Backstage

Macao is an interesting place. It’s called the Vegas of the East and for good reason. Huge casino hotels dominate the landscape and while beautiful and opulent, do not really count as sightseeing “attractions” in my mind. I guess at the end of the day if you’ve seen one casino you’ve seen them all so I wasn’t overly keen to explore the famous Taipa strip. Modelled to look like the Vegas strip, Cotai Central joins the famous Venetian, which housed our theatre to the Holiday Inn, our hotel The Conrad and countless other restaurants, gaming centres and designer boutiques so that we literally didn’t have to step foot outside into fresh air for our entire trip. Not really my cup of tea.

On the bridge connecting Cotai Central to the Venetian

On the bridge connecting Cotai Central to the Venetian

Speaking of warm beverages, we did make our way out to Taipa Village, a quaint little section of market-style stores and coffee shops surrounded by some very colourful colonial style buildings. I loved the way Eastern-style stores and Wester-European architecture combined perfectly to create such interesting surroundings.

Colonial Buildings

Colonial Buildings

Taipa Village

Taipa Village

Store Front

Store Front

Farther afield, across the pond, is Old Macao Island. This area was one of the first Portuguese settlements and is over 400 years old so has some great old buildings and landmarks. I didn’t explore them this tour because I came to Macao about a year before and visited the historic Ruins of Saint Paul and the beautiful Senado Square then. Walking through those areas with their cobbled roads, street side cafes and Portuguese signage, you would be forgiven for thinking you were somewhere in Europe.

Senado Square

Senado Square

Ruins of St Paul

Ruins of St Paul

At the end of the day what I really enjoyed was spending time with my husband and baby in a new environment. Sometimes the monotony of home becomes too much, especially with a baby so it was great to have a break from all that but still have something really challenging to get through everyday. I found myself looking forward to each performance and it was great seeing the cast members relax into their roles.

Me and the Rum Tum Tugger

Me and the Rum Tum Tugger

Exhausted after the Ball

Exhausted after the Ball

In my next post I’ll reflect on the overall experience and share some amazing news for the near future…

 

 

 

 

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Cats Macao – The Rehearsals

I can say with absolute confidence that I was not in my best shape when accepting the offer to do Cats again. The last time I performed in Cats was 5 years ago and the last time I performed on stage was almost a year and a half ago. Add a pregnancy into the mix, and, well, need I say more.

But never one to turn down a challenge, I took the bull by the horns and did what needed to be done. My first attempt at re-teaching myself the choreography I had completely forgotten was by watching clips from YouTube. This bright idea was obviously a waste of time so I contacted my earlier Cats dance captain to see if she had a better memory of the moves than I did.

I was in luck and she agreed to work with me a few days a week in an old squash court until I had relearnt most of the show. I decided to focus on just the main dance numbers and leave the rest for the 6 days of rehearsals scheduled for Macao. Until then it was up to me to work by myself to get my fitness levels back to a reasonable level and the felinity of a cat back into my body.

Then suddenly my time was up and I found myself in Macao on my way to day one of rehearsals. From 9am to 6pm. With the Joanne Robinson. Great stuff. To say I was scared is a vast understatement. Then again, there were other new cast members who probably felt the same way. Although they did have 2 days of rehearsals in Sydney learning the entire show in its most up-to-date form.

What happens is each time Cats is launched in a new country a million tiny details are refined and changed so that the version I learnt 5 years ago was completely different to the current one. Where I used to be placed upstage right I was now downstage left and so on. Add to that the non-dance numbers I had decided not the learn and there were moments of me being dragged, quite literally, around the room by fellow performers – a great bonding experience.

After 3 full days we had run the entire show. That’s the whole 2.5 hour production in just 3 days. Surprisingly my body was feeling alright despite a few niggles in the obvious knees, back and hamstrings so I was quite proud of myself.

Then we moved to the stage and the hours got longer. 12 noon to 10pm. Although I had worked by myself, it’s one thing dancing around a squash court by yourself and quite another working on a huge stage with 20 other performers. Watching your spacing and timing, perfecting costume quick changes and maintaining your character throughout the show all take their toll on the body.

I had also forgotten how much time my character, Victoria, spends on her knees. Being a kitten, she is never in a standing position unless it is one of the big dance numbers. Also she never leaves the stage, she is in every number. This is a very different experience to Phantom of the Opera where the ballet dancers are only in 4 numbers so there are up to 45 minutes of off-stage time to relax.

Thankfully we had a fantastic physiotherapist at our disposal and massages at the hotel spa but despite all this, by the end of day 6 I could barely stand up straight. In fact, while I am sure in my 12-year dance career I have experienced extreme pain, I seriously could not remember ever feeling that sore. My knees were broken, my lower back felt like it had a metal rod instead of a spine and my hip flexors woke me in the middle of the night.

But as any performer will tell you, it was worth it! I love rehearsals. It’s so satisfying to feel yourself get fitter and stronger and perfect the work. 5 years ago I had 5 weeks of rehearsals, in Macao, just 6 days. But in those 6 days I had gone from mildly fit with a vague idea of what I was doing to being show ready and feeling very much like my pre-pragnancy self. Well, almost.

After the longest week of my life we were one day away from Opening. For me it was a true test of character. After leaving Phantom I thought I would never set foot on stage again and there I was about to perform in an extremely challenging show so dear to my heart. And I couldn’t wait to feel that magic feeling when you are on stage with an audience…

Next time, Curtain Up!

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Cats Macao – The Arrival

After more than a year away from performing thanks to baby Ayla – the sparkling new addition to my family –  I finally got a chance to return to the stage to perform in Macao in my favourite show of all time, Cats.   I performed in the famous Andrew Lloyd Webber musical five years ago and since then I don’t think a day has passed where I didn’t think about that special time in my life. What can I say, Cats is a show like that boyfriend you just can’t get over.

Cats Musical Logo

So there I was in Macao, or the Vegas of the East, with my baby girl, a nanny friend and later, my husband. It’s quite poetic that Ayla turned one on the very day I arrived to my first “job” in a year. Being a full-time mom this past year has been incredibly rewarding but certainly has had its ups and downs and I was very excited to be heading back into the world of work.

Baby Ayla at 8 months

Baby Ayla at 8 months

From the moment I arrived I felt very spoilt. Firstly, I managed to scrape together every one of my voyager miles and upgraded to business class (which was absolutely necessary as a mom travelling alone with a baby), then the amazing Cats company organised me a car to get me from the ferry to the hotel and then I scored the most incredible hotel room I think I’ve ever been in. I mean, my shower was so big it had its own corner bench!

The shower

The shower

The Conrad Hotel, our home for the 3 week contract, was super accommodating. It’s not easy travelling with a baby and while most hotels provide a crib, there they actually provided a baby bath as well and a complimentary box of baby products. So thoughtful.

Complimentary baby products

Complimentary baby products

Even the room service menu seemed to cater to babies. In the kiddies menu besides the usual fish fingers and hotdogs were pureed vegetables, which came in a plastic baby bowl with baby spoon and knife. These might sound like silly little things but they make a big difference in my books.

So after a 13 hour flight, 2 hours waiting for a ferry and a 1 hour ferry ride from Hong Kong to Macao, I can say that the arrival went as smoothly as I could have hoped for with a 1-year-old. Thankfully I had one more day to relax and get my nanny friend, Avril re-acquainted with Ayla before rehearsals started the following day.

Ayla and I basically chilled that first evening and after a few laps up and down the corridor in her pram, she was asleep, allowing me to indulge in whatever rubbish reality TV was on…ah bliss.

Stay tuned for my next post on The Rehearsals…

 

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Follow me on Hubpages

It’s been a while since I posted anything on my blog and I have decided that, while I will be posting things here every once in a while, most of the time I will be posting via Hubpages.

You can follow me there at http://marisemishan.hubpages.com

 

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Read my research

Two years ago I graduated with an MBA from GIBS, a business school in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two-year journey was one of the toughest and most rewarding experiences of my life.

Spending the better part of a decade on stage performing as a freelance artist, a business degree was something I never envisioned myself doing. The countless lectures, exams, assignments and group work challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and broaden my mind. At times it was difficult to switch of my emotions and “think like a businessperson”, especially when it came to my research project. My thesis was on the dynamics of collaboration among performing arts organisations in South Africa and involved qualitative interviews with leaders in several performing arts organisations. I wanted to find out what they thought of collaboration as a means to stimulate demand for the performing arts in South Africa and why, if at all, they were not collaborating more. Of course after so many years in the industry I had my own opinions on the subject and it was a challenge to keep these aside.

The research process was  the most mentally challenging thing I have ever done because it required collecting massive amounts of subjective info, distilling it down into manageable parts, deciding which parts were relevant and interesting and them making sense of it all using a combination of previous research and my own insights. Ultimately it changed the way I think about information I am exposed to and developed my ability to think critically.

I am truly grateful for having gone through such a rigorous process and that all that hard work culminated with the publishing of my research.

Finally a special thank you goes out to my research supervisor Anthony Prangley who co-authored the published version of my research.

To read the full article click the link below:

http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/ysvkUakP8282yRWWEEap/full

Taylor & Francis Online :: Author Services.

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Lower East Side Eats

Manhattan Island or NYC is divided into 12 areas, each one with its own look and feel, history, food and real estate prices. The Lower East Side was an area I really wanted to see for its rich Jewish history and cultural diversity . An influx of Jewish, Ukrainian, Russian, German and even Puerto Rican immigrants at the turn-of-the-century, who brought with them recipes from the old world, created a melting pot of international cuisine. We decided the best way to experience all the area had to offer was through our stomachs.

Yonah Schimmel's Bakery

We kicked of our food tour with some knishes from Yonah Schimmel’s (located at 137 East Houston Street New York, NY 10002). The bakery has been around since 1910, enough time to perfect the art of the knish. If you’ve never had one it’s a large roll of light, fluffy pastry with either a sweet (ricotta and cherry, chocolate) or savoury (meat, sweet potato or spinach and feta) filling and at $3.50 they are the perfect comfort food for cold weather.

Knishes

Just down the road from YS’s is the famous Katz Deli (205 East Houston Street 
New York, NY 10002). Around since 1880 this eatery is another veteran in classic American dining. They serve everything from soups and salads to sandwiches and steaks but having just eaten two knishes we didn’t buy anything from Katz. Also we try to eat on the healthier side and deli food is notoriously heavy and processed, Katz being no exception. However, if you decide to eat there bring cash because they don’t take card payments and be prepared to wait a while as the place is always packed whether you choose to be served by a waiter or order yourself at the counter.

Pastrami on Rye by Mathew M.

In between all the food we did also learn a thing or two about the area, in particular the tenement style buildings. Tenements were the typical living accommodations of most immigrants in the early 20th century. Often three or four families would live together in one room and the building’s toilets or out-houses were outside at the back of the building. Later a toilet was added to every floor for residents to share. Our tour guide highly recommended the Tenement Museum to learn more about the era but we ran out of time.

Lower East Side Tenements Wikipedia

One of my favourite places to visit back home in Cape Town is a deli called New York Bagel. It is the place for a good brunch and of course, a good bagel. On our food tour we got to experience the real New York bagel at Russ and Daughters (179 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002).

Outside Russ & Daughters

Starting out as nothing more than a pushcart in 1914, Russ and Daughters survived four generations to become one of the best places to eat in the Lower East Side. This eatery is incredible and was listed by Anthony Bourdain as one of 13 places to eat before you die. The variety of salmon and cream cheeses on offer will boggle the mind. They also sell sweets and pastries, caviar, smoked fish, fruits and nuts. We ordered two bagels (which cost the same as a fillet steak in South Africa) and they were honestly the best I’ve ever had so I guess I have to say it was money well spent.

Cream cheese

Smoked salmon

En route to the next stop we passed a number of landmarks like the Orensanz Foundation for the Arts which used to be a synagogue but now serves as a venue for events. On the day we visited they were setting up for some or other event and we got to take a look inside, it was beautiful.

Orensanz Foundation for the Arts

We also stopped at Streit’s Matzoh Factory. Normally I wouldn’t find anything fascinating about a matzoh factory or matzoh itself. In fact I hate the stuff. Forced to eat it for 8 days a year, the cardboard-tasting, fiberless cracker is only palatable smothered in chocolate spread, so by the time Pesach is over you’re at least a kilo heavier and constipated. However, at Streit’s the matzohs we tasted (sans chocolate spread) were quite delish. Each golden piece was nicely toasted and nutty tasting. Even the colour was better than the mass-produced stuff we get at home. What’s more, the factory produces over 7000kg of matzoh per day. That’s enough matzoh to feed around 100 000 people.

Streit's Matzoh Factory

The next stop on the tour was a tiny little place called Prosperity Dumplings (46 Eldridge St #1, New York, NY 10002). Their specialty? Pork fried dumplings, four for a dollar! I don’t eat pork so I can’t personally vouch for these but the rest of the members of our tour seemed to enjoy them.

Dumplings

Next up was Sugar Sweet Sunshine (126 Rivington St, New York, NY 10002), so much more than a bakery. Not only can you find an incredible assortment of cakes, coffees and cupcakes, you can also indulge in pudding. That’s right, little shots of pudding in flavours like banana and chocolate, choc-chip and apple pie for just $2.50 a cup. We tried them all and an oozy-gooey chocolate almond buttercream cupcake. Guess who was not counting calories? I think the idea of serving pudding shots is so clever and unique, I mean who doesn’t love a spot of pud, especially after an afternoon of savoury treats?

Pudding Shots

Our food tour ended unceremoniously with pickles. And why not? If, like me, you love a good sandwich, nothing beats pickles as the perfect accompaniment for almost any type of sandwich. Even on their own I find pickles have a way of hitting a very particular spot when a craving strikes. The Pickle Guys (49 Essex St, New York, NY 10002) sell a range that varies in strength from sweet to hot and includes other pickled and fermented delights like sauerkraut, pickled olives and sliced hot peppers. I loved the half sour pickle although it did give me a massive attack of heartburn. Good thing I had left over pudding shots to ease the burn 🙂

Pickles

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New York Newsies

Newsies

It’s long been a dream of mine to visit New York. Not just because it’s one of those great cities you feel you have to see in real life (as opposed to just in the movies) but also because it’s a performer’s paradise. At any given time there are over 40 musicals and plays showing in the theatre district alone so it’s practically mandatory to see a show in New York.  I couldn’t wait to get my toosh into a seat on Broadway, or more accurately, 42nd street, where most of the bigger shows play.

Newsies modern-dance inspired

In fact I was so keen that I booked our group seats for Newsies on the day we landed. Of course I told them a high-energy performance was the perfect way to stay awake and overcome the jet lag we would all struggle with after a 16 hour flight through 7 times zones. If you are going to catch a Broadway show I suggest you print your tickets out before-hand, make sure you know where the theatre is and get there at least 30 minutes early. We arrived on the dot and discovered a massive queue that circumnavigated the entire block, and this was a queue for people who had already purchased tickets. Thankfully we managed to finagle our way in right at the front by holding up our printed tickets for all to see and putting on our “We’re very confused South Africans” faces, but don’t take my word for it that this will always work.

Newsies all-male cast

Newsies is the story of the newsboy strike of 1899 and has been adapted for stage from the 1992 Disney movie of the same name. After asking friends for advice, reading reviews and scouring different discounted ticket sites I finally settled on Newsies for two reasons. First, it won two Tony Awards in 2012 for best score and best choreography and second, it’s virtually an all-male cast. Now I have no problem watching a mixed cast, especially as a female performer myself. However, being involved in my own choreographic pursuits back home I was really interested to see how choreographer Christopher Gattelli achieved the difficult task of telling a story of social change through original dance while ensuring the male ensemble looked sufficiently manly. I was not disappointed. The athletic choreography was distinctly ballet inspired with elements of modern dance and  jazz. While I didn’t see anything completely unique in terms of the dancing I did love the great use of space and props. The dancers storm the tenement-style set with the same hard-sell tactics they use to sell their papes (newspapers) and each number reads like a blazing, scathing headline. The obvious highlight was the sequence of synchronised dancing on real newspapers. That must have taken hours of rehearsals. All-in-all money well spent.

Newsies newspaper number

New York’s Broadway scene draws thousands of people everyday so you might wonder how the theatres handle interval toilet breaks. Well I’ll tell you how. With army precision and drill-sergeant theatre ushers. First you join a queue that snakes from the bathrooms down two flights of stairs and ends in the stalls (of course the men’s bathroom queue has like five guys). Then you shuffle along in little geisha-like steps, all the while being herded by the ushers to stay close to the railings and keep the stairs clear. The pace of the shuffle is deceiving because within five minutes you are at the bathroom entrance where another usher sergeant takes over and hawk-eyes movement of bathroom doors. The minute one opens another person is hurried into the cubicle to do their business and so it continues until it’s your turn. By that time you are so afraid of the usher sergeant that you practically sprint into the cubicle, avoiding all eye contact, complete your business in record time and sprint out again after washing your hands – on a side note the Nedelander theatre has a lovely variety of hand creams but I didn’t have the time to try any out.

Radio City Christmas Spectacular

Unfortunately we didn’t see any other musicals although we did checkout Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular, which delivers exactly what the name promises – Christmas spectacle. A massive 6000-seater auditorium, huge screen, 3D glasses and thousands of eager children await you so best bring your Christmas cheer.

The Rockettes

The spectacular is really just light-hearted entertainment for kids. The loose story line is played out by a few key actor-singer-dancers with the famous Rockettes making regular appearances to wow the crowd with their precision and uniformity. The show highlights Christmas in New York, is great for getting you into the Christmas spirit and makes you feel incredibly lucky to be in the city for the holidays but in all honesty I would rather have spent the money on another musical or play. I guess there’s always next time…

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Oh Rio, the place I long to be…nighttime naughties

Take a group of 40 MBA students, add upcoming thesis stress, marinate in two years of exams, assignments and group projects and deposit in Rio. Remove from heat and enjoy the wildest party of your life!

So there we were in a plane landing in Rio. Arriving there, the anticipation you feel is incredible, you just know you are gonna have fun. So the question is, what to do on your first night in Rio? Get your wobblies on of course! Now, Rio is an expensive city so we prepared ourselves for the worst but with the Rand/Reais exchange rate factored in, boy a night out don’t come cheap. But we were on a mission and if we could get through two years of lectures, we most certainly could get ourselves sozzled. So decision made, a bunch of us headed down the road from the hotel to the Mud Bug pub, a sports bar in the heart of Copacabana that plays live Jazz, Blues and Rock music. We were in for an  eyeful; when they say Rio brings the heat, they weren’t kidding. The men and women of Rio ooze sex and passion and when the lights go down and the music goes up you will see no one making excuses for being hot-blooded. I found myself staring at couple after couple snogging passionately or groping on the dance floor. The atmosphere was heady and despite the pricey drinks after a while no one cared and the Mud Bug became our regular joint after that famous night… and its accompanying hangover.

Live music

Cocktails!

Besides Copacabana, another area you just have to see in Rio is Ipanema. The beach, just as picturesque as the Copacabana, draws volleyball players, runners and general hunky athletic types that would not look out-of-place on the cover of a Mills and Boon novel. The streets are lined with high-end boutiques, cafes and restaurants and men and women clad in beach-wear patrol the streets looking like they haven’t a care in the world. Once again I caught myself staring at the gorgeous populace and realised they weren’t shy to stare right back, something I am so not used to but rather enjoyed.

Not only is Ipanema famous for its comfy flip-flops and beaches, it was put on the map in the mid 1960s by bossa-nova artist Antonio Carlos Jobim who composed the Grammy award winning song Garota de Ipanema or The Girl from Ipanema. In honour of the song we had dinner at its namesake restaurant. What can I say about this restaurant…it’s menu is..well…great if you don’t mind having a liquid dinner and deep-fried everything is your cup of tea. Despite the unappealing food, just being in Rio made up for the lack of nutrition and by the end of the night a few group members (guys) found themselves decorating the poles at the restaurant entry, much to the delight of the dinners inside.

Dinner at Garota de Ipanema

Our third day in Rio was spent at a favela doing volunteer work with a local community. The intensity of the day left us famished and in need of an evening of light-hearted Brazilian fun so we headed to the bohemian area of Baixo Gavea. The area is packed with al-fresco diners, clubs and pubs playing live music and the most exotic people on earth – there must have been a model convention going down.

Fabio

We had a great meal of the usual rice with black beans, feijoada or meat stew, cooked veggies and the standard caipirinha.

Dinnertime

The area really gets going after dinner time and the vibe was intoxicating…

On our fourth night, despite a long, hard day of beer-tasting at the Cervejaria Bohemia, our group was determined to paint the town red and show Brazilians that South Africans know how to party. I had arranged to meet a friend of mine from home and she agreed to show us Brazilian nightlife in exchange for good old SA magazines and rusks. She took the entire group to Lapa, a neighbourhood in central Rio famous for its nightlife and historical monuments like the Carioca Aqueduct.

Carioca Aqueduct

Lapa

The area is concentrated with restaurants, bars and clubs playing a mix of samba, rock, pop and hip hop music. At night the Carioca Aqueduct is illuminated with magnificent multicoloured lights and, being surrounded by enthusiastic street vendors, serves as the perfect spot for greasy food and warm-up drinks.

Carioca Aqueduct

Lapa

Caipirinhas

Food!

The great thing about Lapa is that all the historical buildings, converted into clubs and restaurants, are maintained on the outside, creating an urban hotspot with old-world charm.

Lapa buildings

Lapa clubs

No Rio experience is complete without a night of Samba, the symbol of Brazil and the Rio Carnival. Thank goodness we had a Carioca (local) in our midst because the choice of samba clubs awaiting us in Lapa was incredible. Add to that the mix of beauties spilling onto the streets and hanging over the balconies and I was completely overwhelmed. We ended up at Rio Scenarium, ranked first in Rio nightlife on TripAdvisor and one of the top ten bars in the world according to the Guardian (London).

Rio Scenarium

The four storey club looks like a vintage museum and is bedecked with antiques and curiosities lining every wall and ceiling and plays everything from live samba bands to Brazilian club music.

Floor to ceiling decor

Rio Scenarium decor

Decor

Antique clocks

Curious

Besides the incredible music the other great thing about this place is the dance floor packed with couples who know how to move and aren’t afraid to show it. There is nothing quite like a man who can dance and  even though I am a married woman I will say this, it’s true what they say about Brazilian men!

Live samba music

Rio Scenarium

The ground floor band plays typical samba music that gets Cariocas to their feet and brings foreigners (also called Gringos) to a standstill. The few ladies brave enough to give the samba a go had no problem attracting an eager male partner. I decided that the men weren’t flirting, they were just being polite and acting in accordance with their cultural norms, really I swear!

After a while we found ourselves gravitating upstairs past the restaurant to the hip hop and dance floors which became packed after midnight. I don’t know what it is about Latino club music but it just keeps you going and going. By the time we got out of there I could barely stand despite wearing responsible latin dancing shoes. If you choose one place to go big in Rio, go to Rio Scenarium!!

Our last night rolled around all too quickly. We headed back to Lapa, our lecturers chose the famous Carioca da Gema samba club to wrap up the elective. The place is also an excellent pizzeria but I was so sad to be leaving Rio I honestly can’t remember what the food was like. I do, however,  remember the music. It was light samba performed by Nelsinho Felix, a Carioca with long dread locks and a smooth voice (I have added in a clip of his at the end of this post, it’s well worth a listen).

For some over achievers in our group the fun wasn’t over. Those who had handed in their final thesis stayed on in Brazil or jetted off to Peru and the Amazon.  But with two weeks to go until hand-in and a mountain of work still to do, for me the fun was over. I count myself lucky that I had the chance to visit this intoxicating place which far exceeds its sultry reputation. Rio is everything it promises on the postcards; sun, sand, sea, sights, music, food and tons of sexiness! Cariocas watch out, this Gringo will be back and armed with feathers, sequins and spray-on tan for Carnival!

Copacabana beach

Ipanema beach at sunset

Ipanema beach

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