Samba queen, 7, distressed in Rio limelight

A TEARFUL seven-year-old Carnival queen led exuberant drummers through the Sambadrome stadium, in a distressed state that may add to controversy over whether a tiny child should perform such a high-pressure, sexually charged role.

Julia Lira emerged blinking into the bright lights and deafening fireworks of the Sambadrome and soon burst into tears as photographers and reporters scrummed around her before her samba group started its parade.

Wearing a short purple dress, a sequined halter and a silver tiara, Lira shyly remained silent in the face of reporters’ questions and then, clearly upset, had to be comforted by her father and other performers as the tears flowed.

It was unclear to what extent Lira, the youngest drum corps queen in memory, completed the full parade.

“She cried because there were a lot of people on top of her,” said her father, Marco Lira, who is also president of the Viradouro samba group, or school.

The selection of the youngster in a role usually occupied by high-heeled models and sex-symbol soap opera stars has sparked a heated debate in Brazil and abroad over the role of children in the annual festival of hedonism.

That debate was still rumbling as Carnival kicked into high gear with the top samba schools’ first parades watched over by thousands of fans and celebrities including US pop star Madonna.

“I’m against it, she is too young. A seven-year old shouldn’t be in front of the drum corps,” said Luiz Paulo, 22, bedecked in silver and feathers as he prepared to parade.

Lira, was given the green light to parade by a judge last week after a child protection agency tried to block her because of concern about a child performing in a sexual role.

Drum queens, chosen for their looks and samba skills, dance non-stop in front of hundreds of drummers, wearing little more than a bikini, a feathered headdress and high heels.

But many Carnival aficionados say children have traditionally played a major role in the party and that the sexualisation of drum corps queens is a recent development.

“The drum queen isn’t necessarily a sexual role,” said Viradouro drummer Carlos Alberto.

“Every school has the right to innovate and to put the artist of its choice at the head of the corps, be it a woman with a gorgeous body or an innocent and marvellous child.”

A dazzling spectacle of movement and colour, the annual parades are also a serious competition for bragging rights that are judged on their precision, atmosphere, and design.


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