Life not all a Carnival for Rio's drum queens

Wed Feb 18, 2009 10:43am EST
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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...

<p>Rayssa Oliveira, drum queen of the Beija-Flor samba school, dances on the second night of parades by the top samba groups in Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome February 5, 2008. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes</p>