Samba schools clamp down on foreign students

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The Independent US

It's the world's most famous party that everyone wants to be part of. But three of Rio's leading Samba schools have decided to bar foreigners from joining their Carnival parades.

Though for many Samba groups the growing number of tourists who buy tickets to take part in the competitive parades each February bring in welcome income, others have decided foreigners' inputcomes at a cost they would rather not pay.

The presidents of Rio Grande, Unidos do Viradouro and Unidos da Tijuca, who all take part in Carnival's "special group" as top competitors, claim they have taken the decision to maintain the high standards of Samba.

Insisting that it is not based on prejudice, they say they are planning to exclude foreigners next year because they are unable to speak Portuguese and therefore cannot learn the words to the Samba songs. Others have complained that tourists ruin the effect of the carefully choreographed dances by stopping to take photos in between steps and "grouping together".

Tourists will still be welcome at rehearsals, which are usually open to the public from October, or to buy seats in the stands for the big day, but they will not be able to buy the golden tickets that let them see the parades through the eyes of the performer.

"Tourists are very welcome but in terms of them taking part we have to consider the question of being judged," said Guilherme Nobrega, the director of Unidos do Viradouro. "Brazilians know how to sing Samba but they don't. The judges perceive this and a whole year of work can be lost."

Despite Carnival's brevity - the festival lasts for less than a week and performers appear for 80 minutes - most schools spend the whole year preparing, learning songs and dances, and creating costumes to catch the eyes of the judges.

Flavia Lima, the spokeswoman for Unidos da Tijuca, said the decision was in recognition of the hard work put in by the Brazilian competitors.

"All of our performers are from the local community," she said. "We have come second place for the past two years and next year we would like to win. We have absolutely no problem with foreigners ... But if they can't speak Portuguese it is impossible to learn the songs and that means that we will lose points."

Beija Flor, the Samba school that won this February, banned foreigners several years ago. Others have limits on the number of tickets that can be bought by non-Brazilians wanting to take part.

Not all schools approve. Eli Goncalves, the vice-president of the Mangueira school, called it "indelicate". But along with other well-known schools it plans to "spread out" foreigners in the procession lines so that their impact is diluted.

Carnival has its origins in the European festival signifying the end of lent, but the party is now synonymous with Brazilian identity.

This year 800 of the 5,800 competitors in the event, were foreigners.