RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Extraterrestrial toucan birds, neon green spacemen waving Brazilian flags and legions of scantily clad women and men dancing a furious samba opened the final round of Rio de Janeiro's extravagant Carnival parades that ran to dawn Tuesday.
The annual spectacle pits the city's 12 best samba schools against one another in ornate parades that include over 2,500 participants each and cost more than $3 million to produce. The efforts are judged in 10 categories, with a winner announced later in the week, laying claim to nothing more than a year's worth of bragging rights.
The enormous effort is largely made by Rio's poorest citizens — the samba schools are mostly located in impoverished neighborhoods, and armies of volunteers from nearby slums spend nine months or more sewing, sweating practicing the samba songs and dance moves, all for an 80-minute presentation before well-imbibed spectators.
"Samba is the root that binds Brazilian culture," said Nanny Kammura, a 35-year-old kindergarten teacher and mother who transforms into a "passista" samba dance specialist for the Mocidade school when the big party rolls around each year.
"We're here honoring that culture, our roots. It's ours, it's Brazilian," she said just before her school began its parade, during which she wore an enormous green feather headdress and minuscule sequined silver top and bikini bottom. "Yes, it's a party. But it's also us honoring our history and ensuring that samba will never die."
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