Quiteria Chagas is a legend of the Samba avenue. She has been involved in Rio Carnival for more than two decades, and is a powerhouse of energy, glamour and unbridled passion.
She started out as a passista for Imperio Serrano, one of Rio’s most respected and traditional samba schools when she was in her teens. Noticing her raw talent, love of dance and exotic beauty, a family friend suggested she audition for the part of a dancer on a famous TV show, which then led to her having a successful acting career in soap operas for Brazil’s mammoth TV network Globo.
Throughout her career, she continued to frequent her beloved samba school, and one fortuitous evening, she went along to an ‘ensaio’ (rehearsal night) at Imperio and met an Italian businessman who would change her destiny.
Quiteria’s Italian husband warmly greets me as he ushers me into their beautiful home in Milan.
“You’re an Aussie?” he says, trying to imitate our unique accent.
I laugh and respond with a “Sure am mate!” which has him chuckling. From behind him, the beautiful Quiteria emerges, and despite having just arrived the night before from a whirlwind trip to Rio, she looks a million dollars.
Oi querida! Muito prazer!
I liked her instantly. She was warm and gracious, and oozing with excitement for Carnival. We talked about our histories and mutual love of Samba, the problems Brazil is facing and how they are affecting the Samba schools, and why she decided to return to the position of Rainha da Bateria (Queen of the Drums) after taking 6 years off to focus on her career and raising her daughter.
I can’t help it! Samba is in my blood and Imperio is my ‘escola de coracao’ (heart school).
Even though her physical appearance and Samba style are the polar opposites of mine, I loved learning about how she moves the way she does, what gives her energy on the avenue, and how she prepares herself physically and emotionally to perform in the largest dance spectacle on the planet.
After our training, which also included taking me to her gym and showing me her fitness regime, we then had a leisurely lunch together in Corso Como, and over a delicious risotto and a glass of Chianti, she asked me what my plans were for Carnival 2019.
I told her that I’d taken a year off as I had had an extremely stressful 2017 with my Muse debut and World Samba Congress, and that I was just going to focus on my Sambaliscious Carnival tour next year.
But you’re going to be Musa again right?
Umm…no. I think I’m done. I’m 37 years old and that ship has sailed. Plus, I didn’t really enjoy it the last time, and it cost me an arm and a leg. It’s time that I focus on my finances, buy a house and start getting serious about my life…
She stared at me intently, and then said the words that would change my destiny.
Mishel, you are Samba and Samba is you.
You are a foreigner representing our culture around the world in the most beautiful and respectful way.
You are teaching thousands of women to move, to be fit, healthy and confident, and using Samba as a vehicle for this.
You must be Musa again, to show Brazil that there are people who are passionately and positively promoting our culture abroad, and to show people that whatever crazy dream they may have, if they work towards it with passion and dedication, it truly is possible.
After an inspiring day, we finally said our goodbyes and I got on a plane home to Australia.
Without knowing it, Quiteria had cracked open my heart and planted a seed of hope.
Fast forward a month and I’d arrived back home after 3 months in Europe on tour. I was so caught up in getting my business back on track that I’d actually forgotten all about her suggestion to be Muse again.
One fine day in December, my phone rang. I looked at the unknown number and it was from Italy.
Ola amor! It’s Quiteria!
I have some excellent news! I just spoke to the president of Imperio Serrano and would like to offer you the position of Musa for Carnival 2019!
Shall I put you in touch with her?
My heart skipped a beat.
Oh no, it’s really happening. I thought she was just being polite when she suggested it in Milan.
All of the old feelings of fear and not being good enough, and the memories of people criticizing and judging me came flooding back.
No no no. I will not put myself through all of that again. What’s the point? I did it once, I proved to myself and others that I was capable, now it’s time to move on.
I didn’t want to be rude, so I thanked her, asked her to pass on my details and hung up the phone.
Well, I’m pretty sure that the President of a 5000 member Samba school isn’t going to have the time to call little old me. Besides, she doesn’t know me from a bar of soap, and the school is in the top division of Carnival, so wouldn’t run the risk of inviting a random dancer from Australia to represent them in such an important position.
I pushed the idea to the back of my mind, put my head back down and focused on my work.
The next morning I woke up to a voice message from Vera, the President of Imperio Serrano:
Bom dia Mishel!
The Império Serrano family is thrilled to invite you to parade with us for Carnival – all the way from Australia!
Quiteria has told us all about you and you have no idea what a pleasure it is for us to receive you as our very first Australian Muse!
Your Samba is fabulous and we know that you will do your absolute best on the avenue to represent us!
We cannot wait to meet you!
Seja bem vinda! (Welcome!)
Oh god. What do I do?
It’s not every day that a samba school President, who happens to be a woman (the majority are men) sends you a personal invitation to parade.
I didn’t want to offend the school or Quiteria, but I was yet again terrified at the prospect of putting myself out there, and especially at the highest level possible in Rio Carnival.
What if my Samba wasn’t good enough? What if my body wasn’t fit enough? What if I couldn’t handle the pressure and embarrassed myself on the avenue?
There had never been an Australian perform as a Muse in the top division before.
What if, after trusting and believing in me, I let Quiteria, the school, and above all else, myself down?
My head said don’t do it. Don’t throw yourself into the fire again. You’ve only just recovered and now you’re going to make the same mistake again, but this time with even more pressure and even more people watching you.
But my heart said just do it! You are ready, you are enough, and you will be magnificent.
So I picked up the phone and called Vera.
It would be my absolute pleasure to represent your school in Rio Carnival 2019 as the first Australian Musa.
But just one question…how much will it cost me?