March 6, 2000
Topless controversy takes center stage at Rio's Carnival

                   RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Reuters) -- Rio de Janeiro woke up Monday
                   hungry for more controversy on the final day of the world famous Carnival
                   parades after the first samba schools whet the city's appetite with an
                   abundance of topless muses.

                   Many of the bare-breasted women dancing down the Sambadrome runway
                   Sunday represented plumed Indian princesses, who dominated the colorful
                   floats as the schools honored this year's theme -- the 500th anniversary of
                   the arrival of Portuguese explorers in Brazil.

                   But one sculptural dancer who dared to paint the Brazilian flag on her nude
                   body was the focal point of both the crowd and the police, who were going
                   to apprehend the woman before she threw on a shirt.

                   "It was an homage to the flag at a time when we are celebrating Brazil's 500
                   years," an irritated Angela Bismarck told TV Globo Monday morning.

                   The topless craze -- which has swept Carnival the same year that Rio
                   women won the right to sunbathe without bikini tops -- even spread to the
                   spectators as women in one of the VIP boxes casually removed their shirts.

                   "I think it's great that everyone shows everything," said Brazil's most
                   international fashion designer Ocimar Versolato. "Besides, with the 500
                   years of Brazil theme, it is completely appropriate."

                   The decision to center the festivities on the anniversary of the Portuguese
                   arrival on April 22, 1500, also meant that some schools used religious icons
                   on the floats -- prompting a big protest from the Roman Catholic Church.

                   Unidos da Tijuca, the first of the seven schools to parade Monday, hits
                   the runway with plenty of advance publicity after wrestling with the church
                   over a giant cross and a painting of the Virgin Mary on its floats.

                   Acting upon the request of the city's archdiocese, police confiscated the
                   religious props, but Unidos won a court order to get them back. It is not
                   yet known if the school will have them on full display Monday.

                   "This was marvelous publicity for the school," said Gilson Martins, who
                   leads one of the school's 30 dancing sections. "But, really, how were we
                   supposed to talk about the discovery of Brazil and not depict the first Mass
                   celebrated in the country?"

                   Many of the schools are adding fuel to the flames with references to torture,
                   corruption and censorship in Brazil's history. The Caprichosos de Pilares
                   school had a naked dancer painted with red whip marks hanging upside
                   down on a float that depicted a 1964-1985 dictatorship.

                   One of the perennial favorites, the Mangueira school, will tell the story of the
                   black population's fight for freedom from slavery, while another front-runner
                   for the 2000 title, Beija Flor, is expected to act out a rape of a black woman
                   by four white men.

                   Mocidade Independente skirted controversy Sunday, but virtually
                   guaranteed a place in the top finishers with a futuristic opening float full of
                   suspended contortionists that received the most applause during the all-night

                   Judges evaluate the 14 schools for 10 aspects, including song, floats,
                   costumes, drum section and coordination of the thousands of dancers. The
                   winner will be decided on Wednesday, when Brazil's biggest and most
                   expensive pre-Lenten celebration officially ends.

                    Copyright 2000 Reuters.