RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
When it comes to Carnival, not even the Zika virus stops the party in Brazil. The highlight of the festivities are the samba parades. And tonight, NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro will be part of this high-stakes competition.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Imagine you're allowed to take part in the Super Bowl, but you don't really know how to play football. And you have to do it in a spangled costume with a feather headdress. Oh, oh, and it will be broadcast live to an entire country. I'm sure a couple of you have had nightmares just like that. Well, for me, it's real, and it's happening tonight.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Portuguese).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm going to be dancing with the Vila Isabel Samba School. This is their theme song, which I have to sing.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing in Portuguese).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is a first-division school, so we're talking the major leagues. Why am I part of this? I naively thought it was going to be fun. I didn't really fully understand how serious it was until I went to our last rehearsal. Maraya Zonzoni is 18, and she's been training for this moment since she was 4 years old, going to dance classes twice a week.
MARAYA ZONZONI: (Speaking Portuguese).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Samba is my life," she tells me. "And my whole family is involved in the Samba school - parents, aunts, uncles. And if I have kids, they'll become part of Vila Isabel too because it's part of our tradition," she says.
(SOUNDBITE OF DRUM BEAT)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Drummer Matteos Ventura is also 18, and he'll be in the batteria - the drum section that gives the parade its beat.
MATTEOS VENTURA: (Speaking Portuguese).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says most of the great samba schools are in impoverished communities. "This raises the self-esteem of the whole neighborhood," he says. "And it shows people that we're able to mount big events that the world watches," he says. Still, I figure with the giant floats and the hundreds of people involved, any missteps by me will go unnoticed. I am quickly disabused of that notion.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Speaking Portuguese).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We are made to line up. And Paula de Souza marches up and down the rows to inspect us. He's basically our section's drill sergeant. His job is to make sure we all know the words to the music and how to dance. He takes one look at me and gets straight to the point.
PAULA DE SOUZA: (Speaking Portuguese).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Do you know how to dance samba?" he asks. He tells me that if I look like I'm not dancing or singing properly, the team will lose points. And that could cost the whole school the competition. So no pressure, just the hopes and dreams of an entire community riding on the outcome.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Singing in Portuguese).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Wish me luck. I am going to need it. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.