Any Wednesday night that you walk into the recreation center at Austin State Hospital, you better bring earplugs. The drum beats by the Austin Samba School reverberate off the walls and ceiling and make you feel like you’re actually inside a surdo drum, instead of watching one being pounded with a mallet. The Brazilian rhythms are punctuated by over 60 dancers rehearsing in the space – kicking their feet, gyrating their hips, moving like a giant wave across the padded floor. Founder and director Robert Patterson stands on top of a chair throwing hand signals to the 40 or so percussionists below him.

Carla Bossenbroek wears part of her costume while playing a chocalho during a rehearsal with Austin Samba School on Friday, February 18, 2015. With only a couple of weeks left until their big Carnaval performance, the group was working out last minute details of the show. More photos.

“Samba is the happiest music in the world,” says Patterson, a retired physician who started Austin Samba School in 2001. ”It’s an irresistible rhythm.”

There is obviously something irresistible about Austin Samba School, as it’s the largest Rio-style escola de samba in the U.S. The entirely volunteer based group attracts a diverse community of dancers and percussionists from across Central Texas. They work all year to perfect their showpiece performance for Carnaval Brasileiro, a festival of revelry and sequined stretch pants held annually at the Palmer Events Center in Austin, Texas. You can see the school perform their mystic-circus-themed opus on Saturday, February 28, at 9 pm. Don’t forget your earplugs.

The video, photos and text for this post are by Austin American-Staff member Kelly West.