This article originally appeared on VICE Brazil.
On a São Paulo sidewalk, a passista—a dancer in Brazil's Carnival, an annual festival that marks the beginning of Lent—takes off her flip-flops and puts on a pair of golden high heels. It's an overcast Sunday, and rain is likely. Carina Vidal, 37, keeps smiling even as she realizes she left her phone in the bathroom of the bar where she changed her outfit, and now it's gone. It’s the final day of rehearsal for Vidal and the other members of Acadêmicos do Tucuruvi, a samba school, and the members of its Plusamba section, a group of plus-size dancers, hope to make a sparkling debut in this year's Carnival parade.
Aldria Adiolá, the coordinator of Plusamba, was inspired to gather women who looked different from the performers Brazilians are used to seeing in the spotlight during Carnival—especially after one recent incident the dancers encountered. “We were invited by another samba school to perform. We rehearsed everything, but just before carnival the other school decided not to include our section,” the 33-year-old recalls.
But Adiolá knows its their loss. This year, the 30 women will take over the municipality of Anhembi, following the drums of the Acadêmicos do Tucuruvi, and bring a greater diversity of bodies and sizes to the Carnival festivities.
Their path to the parade hasn't been entirely easy: In the beginning of January, 75 percent of the group's costume wardrobe was lost during a serious fire in the school’s warehouse. For that reason, Plusamba members are wearing brand new outfits. “We’ll be greek goddesses,” Adiolá explains.
“Back in the day, the Carnival wasn’t about a stereotypical body [type] or look. This is something new that came from the media and from marketing, which put [the focus on] women who represent the fitness industry and who lead the musicians during the show. That’s why we felt the need to show that all of us are allowed to have fun, to look like a queen or a muse,” she explains.
Some of the women in Plusamba don't have prior experience performing in Carnival celebrations, but that isn't stopping them from getting involved. “I kind of look like a rooted plant when I dance,” said Cátia Tappi, 40.
Tappi, who loves cars and works in the area, is already used to encouraging the other women around her. “I try to show them that all women can drive, have a personalized vehicle, or change a tire,” she says. And by doing that, she was equally encouraged to dance the samba and practice to enough to shine. “Just the other day, I was hiding behind a car. But not anymore. Like it or not.”
Larissa Zaidan is on Instagram.