Preteen Carnival queen set to dancing during first night of Rio’s samba parades

By Bradley Brooks, AP
Sunday, February 14, 2010

Preteen Carnival queen set to parade in Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO — Carnival is turning its attention to the extravagant samba parades that begin in Rio Sunday night — and to a tiny 7-year-old girl who will reign as the youngest drum corps queen in memory.

Julia Lira, her toothy grin and quick footsteps splashed across media worldwide, will be in the spotlight as her Viradouro samba group struts its stuff just after midnight.

A judge ruled last week that the girl could take the coveted Carnival role normally reserved for models and actresses. Children’s groups have complained, but the overwhelming response in Brazil has been a shrug and acceptance.

“I think it’s fantastic, but her parents have got to be there and make sure it doesn’t become something vulgar,” said Rafaela Dias, 20, who was imperceptibly attired while dancing at Carnival’s opening ceremony Friday. “I’m a grown woman so I can dress skimpy.”

The girl’s father, Marco Lira, who is also the president of the Viradouro samba group, has said repeatedly that he and his wife would be with the girl at all times and they would carefully watch to make sure she doesn’t get too tired during the 80-minute parade in Rio’s sweltering summer heat.

Carlos Nicodemos, director of the Rio de Janeiro state Council for the Defense of Children and Adolescents, two weeks ago asked a judge to keep the girl from dancing, arguing that “what we can’t allow is putting a 7-year-old girl in a role that traditionally for Carnival has a very sexual focus.”

But Martim de Almeida Sampaio, director of a Sao Paulo lawyers’ organization, wrote in a column published Saturday in the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper that the drum corps queen role is no longer reserved for sexy models.

Sampaio noted that singer Elza Soares, whose exact age is a mystery but believed to be 73, will serve as the drum corps “godmother” for the Mocidade samba group, which parades Monday.

“So, we can understand that sensual muses, who have always had prevalence at the front of the samba groups’ drum corps, could be losing ground to both youth and experience,” he wrote.

The Viradouro samba group has a history of controversial themes. A 2008 float portrayed Hitler amid a sea of naked mannequins representing Holocaust victims. A judge banned that float from being in the parade.

Nicodemos, also writing in Folha de S. Paulo, suggested that the samba group thrust Julia into her role to get extra attention.

“The interests of the parade are being placed before those of the young dancer,” he wrote.

As 12 top-tier Rio samba schools compete fiercely in the parades that are broadcast to millions of viewers nationwide, massive street parties continue to erupt across the city.

Tourism officials say almost 750,000 visitors arrived in Rio this year for the big party — a 5 percent increase over last year despite the financial crisis.

It’s the first Carnival since Rio was named as host to the 2016 Olympics, and officials have been working hard to show that the city, known for the drug-gang violence that pervades its slums, can safely host major events.

There have been few reports of violence during the party so far.

A 37-year-old Dutch tourist was shot by a robber as he tried to defend a Dutch woman he was with, police said. A spokesman for the Silvestre Hospital said Alexander Kors Johannes had been operated on and was in stable condition Sunday.

Brazil’s business capital Sao Paulo held its parades the past two nights. Football star Ronaldo took part in the Gavioes da Fiel parade, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of his current team, Corinthians.

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