My 15-kilo feather backpiece is shaking furiously.
Looking down from the spectator stands, I must look like a sparkling black bird about to take flight. As the 500-strong bateria (drum squad) start playing their cacophony of deafening instruments behind me, I look down and see my legs shaking violently out of control, almost causing me to topple over in my 6-inch gladiator boots…oh, so that’s where all the shaking is coming from!
I can’t breathe. All I can hear is my heartbeat and the drums.
How did a girl from downunder even come to know about this cultural street dance from the slums of Rio, let alone end up about to perform as the first Australian Muse in the history of Carnival?
Well, it all started with the DRUMS.
Back in Brisbane, Australia, at the tender age of 18, I walked into a local Latin dance academy and was instantly transfixed by the earthy, tribal sounds of the surdo (bass drum), repinique, caixa (snare drum), chocalho (shakers) and tamborim (tambourine).
All I knew at the time about South America was that they spoke Spanish (why is Brazil the only country that speaks Portuguese?!) and that in Rio they had an epic street parade where semi-naked women adorned with rainbow-coloured feathers danced on magnificent floats. Oh and the Amazon. That was it.
Despite attending a private girls-school and coming from a multi-cultural upbringing, Brisbane in the 90s didn’t exactly have much in the way of Latin culture. Except for a little Brazilian dance academy tucked away off the main street of a grungy suburb in inner-city Brisbane.
The owner had migrated from Brazil years earlier and decided to share his love of his culture with us Brisbanites. Little did I know that this would be the start of my endless love affair with Brazil. (Muito obrigada Tarcisio and Rio Rhythmics!)
Suddenly my eyes were opened to a totally different culture. Dance, music and food now played an instrumental part of life as I started to hang out with Brazilian friends at their late-night parties, listening to traditional Pagode (a style of Samba) music until the early hours of the morning.
I would follow clumsily along as someone tried to show me the basics of Forro (a folkloric dance from the north of Brazil), or try to keep up as I was frantically thrown around the room in a ‘forbidden dance of Brazil’ (Lambada).
Sleep evaded me and on many a night I would greet the dawn blurry-eyed and with aching feet, but with a heart full of Samba and a head full of lyrical Portuguese.
I tried strange new dishes such as Feijoada (Brazil’s national dish originating from slaves who made a stew of black beans and meat off-cuts), Pao de Queijo (delicious balls of gooey cheese bread), Acai (purple berries from the Amazon blended with guarana syrup and served with fresh fruit and granola), Brigadeiro (chocolate balls of condensed milk rolled in more chocolate and sugar!) and Brazil’s infamous Caipirinha – the super strong alcoholic sugar cane rum drink that caused many a hangover at work the next day.
I even fell in love with a Brazilian (Wow, that’s a surprise!)…and another…and fast track 5 years and I was married to another….but that’s a story for another day!
What I loved about the Brazilians was their absolute zest for life. They partied like there was no tomorrow, laughed so hard they cried, loved passionately and argued fiercely, and were often more crazy about their futebol (soccer) team or the latest Novela (soap opera) than they were about their husbands/wives! What an intriguing group of people – quite unlike any I had ever met before.
And then there was Rio de Janeiro.
The Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvellous City)
The city that stole my heart as soon as I caught a glimpse of its protector, Cristo Redentor, arms spread widely to welcome me to the most scenically spectacular city on earth.
Suddenly I was home.