RIO DE JANEIRO – Swathed in nothing but a sprinkling of sequins and a puff of feathers, Rio de Janeiro’s samba group dancers are the star attractions of the world’s most iconic Carnival celebrations.
But they’re not on the payroll of the samba groups they represent — and many have to work decidedly unglamorous jobs, serving as maids or secretaries to make ends meet.
Diana Prado spends her daylight hours working as a supervisor at a call centre. At night, she is a samba dancer, or “passista,” as they’re known in Portuguese, for the Sao Clemente group.
“I get up, run to dance class, come to work, go to rehearsal and fall into bed,” said Prado, wearing a headset and sitting among the cubicles at her downtown Rio office.” In the run-up to Carnival, it’s pretty chaotic. I don’t sleep much at all from September through now.”
Prado, 26, made her Carnival debut seven years ago, after auditioning for a spot with the Sao Clemente, one of 13 top-tier schools that will compete for the annual titles at the Sambadrome this weekend.
Although her hectic schedule of pre-Carnival preparations often requires her to apply her extravagant glitter stage makeup in the office bathroom, Prado insists being a passista doesn’t undermine her authority with the 15 telemarketers she supervises.
“We see how determined she is, how she busts her butt to get everything done and it’s really admirable,” said employee Ana Lucia Oliveira. “I’m from Rio and grew up with Carnival, loving Carnival, so it’s amazing to be this close to someone who lives Carnival every day.”