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RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters)- Brazil's Carnival revelry drew to a close on Wednesday with the anxiously awaited award for the best parade in Rio de Janeiro going to a show featuring skiers dressed like Batman and a pregnant drum queen.
The Unidos da Tijuca samba group won the battle for Rio bragging rights for the first time in 74 years for their parade entitled "It's a Secret!" that also featured rapid-fire costume changes and a dancing impersonator of the late pop singer Michael Jackson.
Its drum section was led by a four-month pregnant television presenter, Adriane Galisteu.
The Viradouro group, which whipped up controversy by selecting a seven-year-old as its drum queen, finished last and was relegated to the second division. Rio's samba schools are organized into two separate divisions.
Each year 12 samba "schools" of samba parade elaborate sparkling costumes, props and extravagant floats. Judges' marks for the parades are painstakingly read out for over an hour on national television on Ash Wednesday.
The schools, which provide an annual coming-out for many of Rio's most impoverished slum areas, often have skit-like elements, making the overall experience a cross between Disney World and an Italian opera.
"It's a spectacle that has a lot of culture, a lot of history and a bit of theater. I get goose bumps, it's a very strong, very nice feeling," said Amanda Souza, 24, as she waited for a parade at Rio's Sambadrome stadium Sunday night.
Rio street parties, or "blocos," as they are known in the city, continued on Wednesday as revelers partied up until the vote. With names like "Christ's Arm Pits" and "Don't Move Because It Stinks," they have increased in popularity in recent years as an alternative to the scripted parades.
Although near-naked women in tiny bikinis have become the iconic image of Rio's Carnival, exposed flesh is a small aspect of the elaborate displays that provide thousands of people with work and happiness each year.
"Without Carnival, I don't think I could live." said Luiz Paulo, 22, as he waited to parade.
The samba songs that accompany each parade speak of social issues, national heroes and important moments in Brazilian or world history.
A school this year honored the 50th anniversary of the founding of Brasilia, the nation's capital. The blue-and-white Beija Flor school launched the parade with a float of Brasilia's iconic cathedral and sang "Brasilia: the capital of hope."
Another group opened its pink-and-green parade with a mock confrontation between police and prisoners to show how music -- its theme this year -- was a liberating force for the country during its 1964-1985 military dictatorship.
A spectator said the Carnival helps her to overcome some fears in a city that suffers from frequent violence and confrontations between the police and drug-traffickers.
"We forget our problems. We get courage to walk on the streets," said Inaura dos Santos Martins, 58, who attends the annual event at the Sambadrome.
Editing by Stuart Grudgings and Paul Simao