Fantasy Time : They’ll Be Dancing in the Streets in Long Beach Saturday as the First ‘Carnaval’ Gets Under Way

Times Staff Writer

For months, the unlikely group has been practicing its dance routine on the downtown Promenade in Long Beach in preparation for Saturday’s Carnaval--what promoters are billing as the first outdoor festival of its kind in Southern California.

Take Milton Critchfield: He is 61 and “you should see him dance.” That’s his wife talking. Now, Mary Critchfield is 52, and she’s not bad herself.

Then there is Catherine Nemes, who says she likes to show off a little. When she performs in the festivities, the 27-year-old insurance consultant says she will be living out a fantasy.

The Critchfields, of Lakewood, and Nemes, of Los Angeles, belong to a motley group that makes up the first “Escola de Samba Tropical” in the area. After practicing twice a week for almost three months outside the Off-Broadway Restaurant and Bar downtown, the “Tropical Samba School” dancers will be one of the more diverse groups to sway to the Brazilian music that echoes the carnival theme.


Organizers spell it carnaval , by the way, because that’s how carnival is spelled in Portuguese, the dominant language in Brazil, where an identically named festival annually snakes through the streets of Rio de Janeiro.

Dressed in colorful garb, the Long Beach-based dancers will join other dance troupes, musicians and floats in a parade that will kick off the daylong festivities at 11 a.m.

Free entertainment throughout the day will feature Latin, Caribbean and samba rhythms with Poncho Sanchez, Combo Rio, Rudy Regalado & Chevere, Sambin, Embrasamba, The Pandemonium Steel Band and Eric Bobo. Headlining the entertainment is internationally known singer and guitarist Jose Feliciano, who will perform at 6 and 8 p.m. In addition, children’s groups will perform on a special stage.

Promoters see the 12-block festival as another version of the carnival in Rio, the Mardi gras in New Orleans and other similar celebrations across the world.


In Rio, the lavish carnival that precedes Lent cuts across social and class barriers as communities--including the poorest slums--prepare their floats, glittery costumes and dance routines for an entire year in anticipation of the celebration.

“It’s their fantasy for the year,” explains Apua Garbeaux, the Santa Monica-based dance instructor who leads the hometown samba school.

In Long Beach, the carnival also aims to bring together people of different cultures.

“You can get up on a podium and talk about different cultures until you are blue in the face. But what is better than coming and seeing,” says Lou Moreno, the local businessman who heads the street festival.


Moreno plans to be decked out for the carnival, and encourages others to put aside their business suits and turn to “plumes and beads and a fantastic outfit that can transform you to a different type of person.”

Anyone wearing a costume can join the parade by first registering with coordinators at 6th Street and Long Beach Boulevard. Trophies will be awarded for the best entries.

Moreno, co-owner of Off-Broadway and owner of a realty firm, came up with the idea of a carnival two years ago. But it wasn’t easy persuading the business community to sponsor the event, he said.

“One of the problems we’ve had is that everybody is so skeptical of a first-time event,” Moreno said. Talk of a carnival , and “they think in terms of popcorn and rides and a Ferris wheel.”


But with support from the Downtown Long Beach Associates and other major sponsors, Moreno said, he hopes more than 50,000 people will attend the celebration, which he expects to become an annual event. Attendance at the Long Beach carnival may eventually reach 1 million, rivaling Miami’s Calle Ocho Festival, he said.

And, downtown business owners will not be as skeptical once they see “how fantastic it is to have a parade like this, and people enjoying themselves, and--more importantly--spending money,” Moreno said.

One of the main goals of the carnival is to bring more business to downtown, which is undergoing a revitalization with the construction of high-rises and the opening of several trendy restaurants. The carnival will cost about $80,000 and promoters expect to break even.

For revelers, however, the carnival has little if anything to do with revenue. It’s just a time to bring people of all ages and walks of life together to have fun, listen to exotic beats and, as many participants insist, to fantasize.