It’s 3am and 35 degrees. Storm clouds are brewing overhead on Rio’s Marques de Sapucai avenue and yet the temperature is still sweltering.
Sweat is trickling down my forehead and coming close to ruining my very expensive professional stage make up, applied painstakingly over a two and a half hour period by one of Rio’s celebrity make up artists.
This is my moment. 15 years of training for 55 minutes of parading.
I have spent the past year doing thrice-weekly personal training sessions in preparation for this one night. Squatting, lunging, lifting in the gym as well as dancing along deserted bitumen roads in 6-inch heels and 5kg ankle weights whilst listening to my Samba school’s “enredo” (theme song) in Portuguese over and over again and trying to remember the complicated lyrics and matching choreographies.
You see, Carnival is a very serious business. A multi-billion dollar one to be precise. Not only am I the very first International Muse for Rio’s oldest Samba school, Estacio de Sa, but I’m also the very first Australian to ever be a Muse in Rio’s prestigious Carnival. No pressure at all.
Many Brazilians would argue that Carnival has turned from a cultural event celebrated by the locals to a global money making scheme. And they aren’t entirely wrong.
In order for me to represent my country in the second highest position for a dancer in the parade (the highest being Queen of the Drums, rarely afforded to foreigners), I not only had to be in peak physical condition, dance Samba like a Brazilian and sing in fluent Portuguese (and speak it for TV/Magazine interviews), I also had to pay.
What? Pay you say?
But surely it would be an amazing opportunity for cross-cultural relations between Australia and Brazil? Great exposure for Rio’s Carnival to have a foreigner who loves the Samba culture so much she’s brought over 100 “gringas” to dance in the parade and injected hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy? NOPE. If you want to be a Muse, you have to pay. Either in cash, or in other creative ways. I chose cash.
Was it worth it? Well let me explain the reception I received once I arrived in Rio in the months leading up to Carnival to prepare for my position.
– Who are you?
– I’m Mishel, from Australia.
– What are you doing here?
– I’m the International Muse for your samba school.
– Because I love the Brazilian culture and I wanted to challenge myself to take my Samba to the next level.
– But you’re not Brazilian.
– Yes, I’m aware of that.
– So who did you sleep with to get this position?
– Umm…no one.
– So what makes you think you can do a better job as a Muse than one of us (girls from the community)?
– Well, I’m not trying to do a better job than you. You are a local and it’s in your blood and upbringing. I’d just like to show Brazilians that foreigners can also learn to dance Samba and are passionate about their culture.
She stares blankly at me, then turns her back and storms off.
WELCOME TO RIO!