Sun, Feb 03, 2008 - Page 7 News List

The heat is on as Brazil carnival gets moving

AP , RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL

Dancers of the Brazilian school of Samba United Special Group of Tom Maior perform during a carnival parade at the Sambodromo Anhembi in Sao Paulo, Brazil, yesterday.

PHOTO: EPA

To the sound of blasting samba, men dressed as nuns swilled beer and danced down the cobblestone streets of a Rio hillside on Friday night to kick off five days of uninhibited carnival madness in Brazil.

Drey Urhahn from the Netherlands watched in awe from a sidewalk in the historic Santa Teresa neighborhood as hundreds of members of the Carmelitas street samba group danced by him in flip-flops and black-and-white habits to thundering rhythms from a drum corps backed by a booming brass band.

"It's like a well-oiled machine," said Urhahn, 34, as he downed an ice-cold beer on a balmy Rio night after days of pre-carnival partying. "The sun, the naked women, it's crazy. I was drinking for a few days, so when it started, I was already exhausted, but the Brazilians keep going."

From Salvador and Recife in the north to the southern metropolitan sprawl of Sao Paulo, Brazilians staged elaborate parades led by topless dancing beauties and massive street parties fueled by bands atop tractor-trailer trucks rumbling slowly through city streets.

Rio's big carnival action comes today and tomorrow night, when the city's top 12 samba schools mount 80-minute spectacles at the 88,500-capacity Sambadrome, featuring hundreds of drummers, thousands of dancers and about a dozen over-the-top parade floats.

But until then, street carnival groups -- called blocos -- own Rio's neighborhoods. As 80 drummers decked out in pink and green marched their way through the bohemian neighborhood of Lapa late on Friday, a nearly naked woman danced the samba behind them, emptying bars as men spilled into the street to shimmy behind her.

The madness in the streets has gotten so severe that some blocos have started keeping the time and location of their parades secret, to thin massive crowds.

"Every year, more and more blocos pop up spontaneously, so many that most of the e-mails I receive these days are complaining about how there are too many," Rio de Janeiro Mayor Cesar Maia said.

For some the craziness is too much, and many well-heeled Rio residents flee before it starts. Even Maia officially opened the carnival on Tuesday, while hardly anyone was partying, so he could jet to France for vacation.

The Sambadrome competition seems like anarchy, but it is actually a hard-fought competition as each group vies to be declared the year's champion.

That distinction brings little more than bragging rights, but because a single flaw in costumes, floats or dancing can doom a group's chance of winning, the parade at times seems tense.

At the bloco parties, anything goes, making them more and more popular because fans can join in.

Cordao de Bola Preta, one of the city's most traditional blocos, expected some 600,000 people to turn out for their parade yesterday morning, more than the 400,000 who showed up last year.

"In reality, what we do is more like standing than parading, but we are a very democratic band and we always do our best to please the crowd," said Pedro Ernesto Araujo Marinho, Bola Preta's vice president.

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