“If you were born without wings, do nothing to prevent them from growing” – Coco Chanel
With my spectacular black Maleficent wings firmly secured to my back and my 6-inch bejeweled gladiator boots strapped on for dear life, I finally take flight into the magnificence that is the world famous Rio Carnival!
As I glide into Setor 1 (the initial entry point of the parade) with a rush of adrenaline and dutch courage, I remember the very first time I flew over the picture post-card city of Rio de Janeiro – the sweeping beaches, jagged mountain ranges, tropical forests and the iconic Statue of Christ with his arms wide open, welcoming me to his marvellous city.
As a flood of memories come rushing back – from my early days living in Rio as a naïve young girl to my unexpected marriage to a Carioca dance instructor; from opening a Brazilian dance studio in Australia to my traumatic divorce and the crumbling of my life as I knew it; from picking up the pieces and finding myself again, to the birth of my business; from the successes of entrepreneurship to the constant knocks to my confidence and reputation from the unrelenting stresses and haters within this industry – the tears begin to flow and I cannot stop them.
I am here. I survived.
It really doesn’t matter what else happens tonight. I have achieved what I set out to do and despite so many obstacles and the odds completely against me, I have made it here as the first Australian Muse in the history of Rio Carnival.
I look up to the sky in an attempt to stop my tears and ask the universe for strength. Physical strength to get through this Samba marathon. Mental strength to endure the challenges that await, and emotional strength to truly accept myself for who I am and allow my personality to shine through on the avenue tonight.
As I bring my focus back to the parade, I am bombarded with the overwhelming sounds of the 500-strong drum squad pounding their instruments ahead of me, the carnival singers on top of the sound truck screeching out the theme song of my samba school through enormous loud speakers behind me and thousands of onlookers in the bleachers on either side above me singing and cheering at the top of their lungs.
The atmosphere is electric.
As I move towards the official entrance to the avenue, I am momentarily blinded by the hundreds of cameras flashing in my face – Carnival paparazzi demanding me to pose this way, lift this leg, extend that arm, smile over here and Samba over there.
My agent shouts to me to ignore them but I don’t need her warning – the opening float of my school is about to run me over, so it’s time to step on it and march straight into the enormous mouth of the stadium.
My heart is beating a million miles an hour, sweat is starting to trickle down my brow and I can already feel the back of my throat going dry…and I have 11 more stadium Setors to pass by, including the notorious judging panels.
Pace yourself girl.
Strut over there, Samba for a bit, pose and catch your breath. Bow and blow a kiss to the crowd, then turn and hoof it over to the other side. Repeat. Now it’s time to move forward, not too far forward or you’ll run into the dancers in front, but if you don’t move quickly enough, the float will hit you from behind.
Oh and don’t forget to smile for the TV cameras suspended on cranes above, roving photographers dodging in and out of the dancers in the aisles in front, trying to capture your every move, and thousands of people filming you on their Iphones from the stands.
When I first set my sights on this Muse dream, my vision was to be able to showcase my dance ability on the avenue. For years I had just paraded in the general wings, jumping around with foreigners and Brazilians alike, and whilst it was fun and a great experience, I always finished the parade feeling empty and unfulfilled.
Despite intensive preparation in the gym and the dance studio for 12 months prior to tonight, I begin to feel the effects of the 40C heat, the 15-kilo back piece and my 6-inch heels almost immediately.
To make matters worse, as soon as I enter the next Setor, the zippers on my ridiculously overpriced, designer gladiator boots break. Not just on one boot, but on both. You heard me – BOTH.
Now, considering that the most important part of my costume is my heels, it would be safe to say that I suddenly found myself up the creek without a paddle.
I look around in despair, searching for my agent who has conveniently disappeared, and try to get the attention of any of the line marshals whose gaze I can catch….but none of them are paying any attention to me at all, too wrapped up in herding their cattle to the next section in time.
I try unsuccessfully to fix the zipper on one boot whilst balancing on the other leg and almost fall over due to the sheer weight of my back piece. I have no luck on the other boot either and am now being screamed at by the line marshal to hurry up and move forward. So I stumble on.
To add to my discomfort, my back piece, which has been carefully covered in black velvet to supposedly protect my back, is starting to rub against my skin, causing painful rope burns every time I shimmy and shake (which is ALOT!)
As I approach the halfway mark, my boots still gaping and starting to slide down my legs, my feet burning and my heart rate soaring, I see the looming judging panels ahead. This is the most crucial point of the parade, and right before me are the GLOBO TV camera crews (the official broadcasting network of Carnival), who will be filming me live as the opening Muse for Estacio de Sa, Rio’s oldest samba school, and streaming the footage to over 500 million people worldwide.
So no pressure at all really!
My agent suddenly reappears and again starts to scream at me, jumping up and down and pointing towards the upcoming judging boxes. I simply cannot Samba my heart out in front of the judges with broken boots! I try to signal to her, but she rushes off again (don’t worry, I fired her straight after the parade!) and I am left in a state of absolute panic.
Unable to catch the gaze of anyone on the avenue, I decide to dance (aka stumble) across to the sidelines, where my only hope is to ask someone in the frisas (the VIP boxes directly in front of the avenue) to assist me. Just as I am making my way towards a group of girls, my guardian angel atelier sprints towards me.
Darling! What on earth is going on with your boots!
I almost start to cry again.
DO NOT CRY AMOR! YOUR MAKE UP WILL BE RUINED IN FRONT OF THE JUDGES!
He drops to my feet and grabs the zippers, trying to do them up frantically without any luck.
I look on in desperation, and see a line marshal storming towards us.
Get moving! You cannot stop here! We are about to perform for the judges!
Yes buddy, I know and I am trying my best here not to embarrass the entire school with my injured-bird Samba style. Now give me a moment will you!
He looks at me sternly but sensing that I am about to bite his head off, makes the smart decision to walk away and leave us alone.
As my float is creeping closer and closer to us, my atelier curses under his breath as he makes one final attempt to do up my zippers. They pop open again. He cries out in frustration and my heart sinks. The float is about to pass me, and if it does, we are done for. The school will lose points and I will be the reason.
I consider just ripping off my boots and dancing down the rest of the bitumen in my bare feet, but just as I’m about to suggest it, he finally finds a solution. Grabbing the elastic beaded decorations on my boots, he wraps them around each leg so tightly that my legs look like a deli salami. I can hardly move, let alone dance, and am terrified that I will lose circulation. But I have no choice.
He does a final triple knot for good measure and pushes me back onto the avenue, just as my float comes to a screeching halt and the performers on top almost topple over and onto me.
Now is my moment.
The cameras arrive, I turn towards the judging panel and dance like this is the last performance of my life. I can no longer feel my legs, the sweat is pouring down my brow and onto my drag queen lashes, blood is dripping down my back and my heart feels like it’s going to burst out of my chest, but I do not stop.
At that moment, the music cuts out. The sound system has blown its fuse and the avenue descends into silence. The drummers are far behind me at this point, so all I can hear is the crowd continuing to sing my school’s theme song, urging me on.
MUST NOT STOP. MUST KEEP DANCING.
I dance to the beat in my head and sing at the top of my lungs. I have a severe stitch, my voice is raw and my legs feel like they are going to drop off but I do not stop.
Just as I feel like I can’t go on, my heart exploding through my chest, the line marshal signals for us to move on past the judges and towards the finishing line.
As I approach the symbolic derriere-shaped statue at the end of the parade, I can just make out my school’s president waiting at the end – arms crossed and watching my every move with his beady hawk eyes. This is the final section of the parade, where the main media presenters are seated in an enormous glass box overlooking the entire avenue, commenting on everything from costumes to floats to the energy of participants and the dance technique of Musas.
Despite not being able to feel my feet and with rivers of blood streaming down my back, I samba like I’ve never samba-ed in my life.
I samba for all of the times I have cried over a broken heart, all of the friendships I have had to let go of along the way, all of the criticism I have received over the years about my career choice, my dance ability, my business skills; I samba in gratitude for my beautiful body – how it has carried the weight of the world and my dreams and desires all of these years without failing me. I samba for all of the gringas around the world who aspire to one day be doing what I’m doing because they simply love to SAMBA!
I samba so much that they have to send two Carnival officials to hastily direct me out of the way of my oncoming float, charging towards me at full speed, trying desperately to exit the avenue without lagging and delaying the rest of the procession behind us.
I am whisked away and up into the glass box to join the school’s other Muses and flag bearers, awaiting the Queen of the Drums to do her final performance with the bateria and then join us for a group interview.
My body is absolutely exhausted – my feet are killing me, I’m dripping with sweat and am about to go on national TV. What a sight.
As I’m trying to catch my breath and wipe the sweat off my brow, I see my beautiful Sambaliscious tour girls rounding the corner on their spectacular Carmen Miranda-themed float and my heart bursts with pride.
Isn’t it incredible that a little girl from Brisbane, Australia, dreamed big and fell so deeply in love with the Brazilian culture that 15 years on, she is sharing her passion with women from all around the world, bringing to them the experience, the energy, the vibrancy and the brilliance of the City of Samba!
So my dear readers, I ask this of you:
NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE AND YOU REALLY CAN ACHIEVE WHAT YOU TRULY DESIRE.
It may not arrive in the time/shape/feeling that you expected or planned, but if you truly wish for it, then set your mind to it and work hard for it.
I am proof that anything is possible.
Would I do it again?
IN A HEARTBEAT!