SAO PAULO (Reuters Life!) - The light from three blazing torches plays on the juggler’s face, picking out the beads of sweat running down his sooty forehead.
It is nighttime and he is sitting on a tall unicycle, leaning against a traffic light and watching the cars rumble through the center of Sao Paulo. As the lights change to red he launches himself into the road.
Fabiano Cordeiro, 26, describes himself as an artist. He makes a living juggling flaming torches.
“I do it because I enjoy it,” Cordeiro said. “Juggling makes me feel good.”
He is one of millions in Brazil’s thriving informal economy in which most of the country’s workforce is not registered with the labor ministry.
With 6.85 million vehicles in Sao Paulo and an average of 650 new ones on the road every day in the first six months of the year, according to figures from the state transport authority Detran, Cordeiro has a vast and growing audience.
In front of halted traffic, Cordeiro stays in one spot and whirls his burning torches in perfect circles in the dark. Then he leaps off the cycle in time to run between the lines of vehicles with his outstretched hat.
Some drivers reach for their small change. Others stare intently ahead, ignoring the wiry juggler in a striped T-shirt, shorts and black braces.
“I was once given 50 reais ($28.34) in Brasilia,” he said with a grin at the memory, “but 2 reais is more common.”
Another street performer, Aldo Levi, 26, said he delivered pizza before working the streets as a juggler.
“I used to have more money, but no time,” he explained. “Now I have time, but not much money.”
Levi said when he works Fridays to Sundays he can make around 400 reais a week, but he is mainly drawn to the community of artists.
“I can learn something from everyone,” he said. “I have no commitments and no boss.”
Levi stressed that he practices up to five hours daily before going out into the streets to earn money.
“I can also earn a living practically anywhere in the country,” he said.
Juggling is arduous work. Cordeiro stretches conscientiously like a professional athlete before clambering up onto the unicycle. After two performances he is sweating in the winter chill. The fumes from the idling engines are thick and noxious, and so is the smoke from the torches.
“After three hours performing, I often cough up black,” Cordeiro said.