Brazil: Workers By Day, Dancers by Night

A dancer of Porto da Pedra samba school parades during carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday Feb. 20, 2012. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
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Brazilians Nathalia Araujo and Diana Prado lead doubles lives; by day they work in call centres and by night they exchange their headsets for high heels and become the heart and soul of Samba.

Similar to many Samba dancers, or "passistas" as they're known in Brazil, the lives of Araujo and Prado are split squarely down the middle between the feathers, body paint and shrunken bikinis of Carnival and the realities of an office work day.

Though passistas are unquestionably the star attractions of the world's most iconic Carnival celebrations, they're not on the payroll of the Samba schools they represent.

So when they're not rehearsing or putting the finishing touches on their beautiful costumes, many passistas can be found working as secretaries, store clerks, or maids.

Araujo, a passista for the storied Portela school, says that between her telemarketing job and her responsibilities at the Samba school, there are days during Carnival season that she doesn't get any sleep at all.

"Friday is a problem, Friday the Samba begins at 11 p.m (0100 GMT)., it ends at 4 or 5 a.m (0600 GMT or 0700 GMT) and I start at 8 a.m (10:00 GMT) at work, so I go home, shower and go straight to work," said the 20-year-old, who has been dancing Samba since she was 12-years-old.

Beyond the weekly rehearsals, which begin in the late evening and often carry on into the early morning hours, there are also the parties and other events passistas attend.

This is in addition to the rigorous and time-consuming beauty regime of workouts, diets, body hair removal, manicures and hair extensions and treatments.

While the Samba schools are made up of various sections, including the powerful percussion wing and that of so-called "Baianas," it's the passistas who incarnate the very soul of Carnival, says Milton Cunha, the director of "Samba City," where Samba schools have their warehouses to prepare the big floats and costumes for Carnival.

"The passista keeps the mystery and secret of samba," said Cunha, who is also a long-time Samba school organiser.

"When the hips of a mulatta shakes, the world applauds."

He said that Carnival was the reward for the passistas' year-around dedication.

While they don't earn a salary, passistas for top Samba schools like Portela or Sao Clemente can make a living by performing at events and parties.

Some dancers even travel for six months a year, touring abroad or performing on cruise ships.

Diana Prado, a dancer at the Sao Clemente Samba School, said dancing can earn her 2,500 US dollars a month, a small fortune in a country where the minimum monthly wage is under 400 US dollars.

Having dropped out of college at age 19 to dance, Prado is going back to school to do a two-year degree in human resources later this year.

After Carnival, Araujo will begin working as a nurse in the public health system as she recently passed the Rio de Janeiro nursing exam.

But their passion for Samba will surely stay with them.

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