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Brazilians Prepare For Carnival, And Its Grueling Test Of Physical Endurance

Feb 19, 2017
Originally published on February 19, 2017 8:51 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In Brazil, you can already feel the excitement in the air. It's almost time for Carnival. Festivities officially begin in six days. NPR's Philip Reeves in Rio de Janeiro says yes, millions of Brazilians are getting ready for a huge party. But it's also a grueling test of physical endurance.

(CROSSTALK)

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Naia Nader takes off her sneakers and slips on her dancing shoes. These are velvet and crimson with black polka dots and 7-inch heels.

Nader wears these to teach samba. She says they actually help. You're supposed to perform samba on your toes, like this.

NAIA NADER: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: You can master samba in a month - if you're fit, says Nader.

What if you're not?

NADER: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Let's just say it's a little more tricky for a couch potato.

NADER: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Her class begins.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

REEVES: This sounds like unadulterated pleasure. Yet getting fit enough to perform involves pain.

ANA CAROLINA CARVALHO: Yeah. We are trying to not eat so much carboidrato - I don't know how to say in English.

REEVES: Carbohydrates.

A. CARVALHO: Carbohydrates. And don't eat too much chocolate (laughter).

REEVES: Ana Carolina Carvalho is training to dance in the parade as a giant, silver, feathered mermaid.

We are one block from Copacabana Beach, in a place called the Bodytech Fitness Center. She comes here for two hours a day, five days a week to lift weights and run. Carvalho thinks that this will pay off once the fun starts.

A. CARVALHO: When you listen to the music and your body starts shaking and then you forget everything. And everything is good, and everything is all right, excellent.

REEVES: Carvalho is in the official parade. She's with one of the big samba schools that compete with each other over two days. What of the 2 million or so other people who'll dance and drink night and day in steaming, tropical heat - the gyrating throng of humanity who weave through the streets jiggling away behind the many formal parades?

Dr. Jose Alfredo Padilha, the carnival's medical coordinator, says more than 200 medical staff are standing by to rescue them from...

JOSE ALFREDO PADILHA: (Through interpreter) Trauma - that's the main cause of treatment. Then there's high blood pressure, booze and heart problems.

REEVES: It's rehearsal night in northern Rio. The neighborhood is warming up with beer and mocoto, a stew made from ox's foot. They're members of Portela, one of the samba schools in the official parade. Fatima Carvalho has danced with Portela every year for 27 years. Every year, just before the dancing starts, she eats fruit, drinks lots of water and soaks her feet in rock salt. Fatima knows how Rio's Carnival can catch you out.

FATIMA CARVALHO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: A few years back, during the parade, she was hit in the head by a flying beer can. It knocked Fatima out cold, but it didn't dent her enthusiasm.

F. CARVALHO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "I don't like parties or birthdays or Christmas. But I adore my Carnival," says Fatima.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)

REEVES: Rehearsal begins.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in Portuguese).

REEVES: The crowd starts singing and dancing.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in Portuguese).

REEVES: Suddenly, you see what Fatima means.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.