Life not all a Carnival for Rio's drum queens
By Stuart Grudgings
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - For 18-year-old Raissa de Oliveira, there are only two seasons in a year -- Carnival, and the rest.
For most of the year, the pretty, diminutive teenager is a journalism student from a rough part of town. In the weeks leading up Brazil's annual festival of Bacchanalia, she becomes a cross between a pin-up girl and a star athlete as the drum queen of one of Rio's top Samba schools.
The schedule is exhausting -- gym workouts, endless media demands, and late-night "ensaios", or rehearsals, for the big competition parade through the Sambadrome -- and it shows as Oliveira enters the room in her family's small apartment.
Wearing a baggy T-shirt, sniffling and constantly yawning, she is unrecognizable from the drum queen who wowed thousands of fans at a Sambadrome practice on Sunday with a blur of Samba moves and a costume that left little to the imagination.
"When Carnival is over, I have to confess that something is missing," she said. "I have to get up early and go to sleep really late. I have to divide myself in 10. But it's really good, cool and lovely."
As she spoke, a drumming band pounded out a Samba beat from underneath her apartment -- just down the road from her Samba school Beija-Flor's training ground -- underlining that there really is no escape from Carnival at this time of year.
Chosen for their looks, Samba skills and charisma, the job of a drum queen is to dance non-stop in front of hundreds of drummers, wearing little more than a minuscule costume, a feathered headdress and high heels.
Traditionally the most beautiful woman in a community, these days most queens are actresses or models chosen by Samba schools to get maximum publicity in the run-up to the three-day Carnival, which this year starts on Saturday. Continued...