At Rio Carnival, mind your pees and queues

Mon Feb 15, 2010 4:15pm EST
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By Stuart Grudgings and Ana Nicolaci da Costa

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - A tearful 7-year-old Carnival queen led exuberant drummers through the Sambadrome stadium on Sunday, in a distressed state that may add to controversy over whether a tiny child should perform such a high-pressure, sexually-charged role.

Julia Lira emerged blinking into the bright lights and deafening fireworks of the Sambadrome and soon burst into tears as photographers and reporters scrummed around her before her samba group started its parade.

Wearing a short purple dress, a sequined halter and a silver tiara, Lira shyly remained silent in the face of reporters questions and then, clearly upset, had to be comforted by her father and other performers as the tears flowed.

It was unclear to what extent Lira, the youngest drum corps queen in memory, completed the full parade, although her father said that he held her hand as she crossed the finish line.

"She cried because there were a lot of people on top of her," said her father, Marco Lira, who is also president of the Viradouro samba group, or school.

The selection of a third grader in a role usually occupied by high-heeled models and sex-symbol soap opera stars has sparked a heated debate in Brazil and abroad over the role of children in the annual festival of hedonism.

That debate was still rumbling as Carnival kicked into high gear with the top samba schools' first parades watched over by thousands of fans and celebrities including U.S. pop star Madonna.

"I'm against it, she is too young. A seven-year old shouldn't be in front of the drum corps," said 22-year-old Luiz Paulo, bedecked in silver and feathers as he prepared to parade.   Continued...

<p>Drum Queen Julia Lira, 7, of the Viradouro samba school cries as she is carried to her position at the start of their contingent on the first night of the Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome, February 14, 2010. REUTERS/Bruno Domingos</p>