Duarte and students from the 2011 trip in Rio de Janeiro
By Lauren Katalinich
UI Professor Armando Duarte has been a choreographer at the University of Iowa since 1993, but a trip back to his native Brazil in 2008 is what inspired him to research the culture of Carnival. In his on-campus course he shares with students the culture of Brazil’s Carnival with its music, elaborate floats, vivid displays of dancing and costume, and the rich influence of the African-Brazilian Diaspora. But Carnival is, at its core, an interactive experience of art; so in December of 2009, after months of collaboration with UI Study Abroad, Duarte and six students headed for Brazil on a new, three-week study abroad program to witness the building of “the biggest spectacle on Earth.”
Professor Duarte dressed in Carnival costume
“I want them to feel the excitement of Carnival," Duarte said. "I want them to immerse themselves in this new culture that is so colorful and so proud and in doing so reflect on themselves and their own life in the United States.” Duarte strives to provide an authentic experience for students by organizing lectures led not only by professors and scholars, but also local people who have been raised in the culture of Carnival. For convenience, seminars and workshops might be held on the beach or in a courtyard rather than in a classroom while evenings spent watching and dancing the mesmerizing Samba.
This non-traditional setting for education requires students to be open-minded but also focused. To help guide students in this, Duarte holds four mandatory seminars before the trip in which students learn requirements and expectations, are given required reading, meet with past program participants, and often engage in thoughtful discussions on the differences they might witness between American and Brazilian cultures.
For many students, it is their first experience abroad, and each year Duarte looks for student feedback to improve on the program for future years.
Thanks to its interdisciplinary scope, students from any major can take the course and it counts towards their UI General Education requirement. With so much to see and do in such a short time, creating an action-packed but feasible itinerary is always a challenge.
Professor Duarte continues to improve on the program as he strengthens and creates new ties with partners in Brazil and fine tunes the logistics of transportation and safety. He hopes to adapt the structure of the course in the future to accommodate the growing number of students signing up for the program.
This month, three years after the program’s debut, 20 students will travel to Brazil where they will dance the Samba, interact with Brazilians of many backgrounds, study the unique culture born of the African-Brazilian Diaspora, and get a glimpse into the preparation of the wonderful world of Carnival.