The Young Men Who Make A Living As Paid Personal Dancers In Brazil

Feb 11, 2018
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(SOUNDBITE OF SAMBA PARADES)

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Ah, yes. Carnival season is underway in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro's traditional samba parades opened yesterday and will continue for the next few days. Millions of Brazilians are also celebrating with informal street parties that will carry on for weeks. There is no better illustration than Carnival of the human need to dance. NPR's Philip Reeves visited a woman for whom that need is so strong, she's digging deep into her pockets to satisfy it.

LUZINETE DE CASTRO: (Speaking Portuguese).

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Luzinete de Castro was 4 years old when she discovered how much she loves dancing.

DE CASTRO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: She'd stand on her dad's shoes and cling onto his belt. She can remember the belt scratching her face. De Castro's now 70. She's still dancing, though with partners of a different kind. Tonight, she's with Bruno Nobrega. He's 30. De Castro's paying him to dance with her. Nobrega used to work in marketing but found it hard to make money. He now earns his living as a personal dancer for older women.

BRUNO NOBREGA: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: He says he likes it. So does Luzinete de Castro.

DE CASTRO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "Thank God these guys are here to dance with us," she says. "Are they paid?" she asks rhetorically. "Yes, they are. You expect people to work for free?"

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUMPET NOTE)

REEVES: We're in northeast Brazil in Recife, a city on the shores of the Atlantic. The people of Recife are widely admired in Brazil for their appetite for fun. This is one of the city's many clubs and restaurants. It's hot, dark and crowded. Guests sit at tables with snacks and bottles of whiskey.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in Portuguese).

REEVES: De Castro and her partner Nobrega step onto the dance floor and glide across it, smiling broadly. He's in a black suit with an open-neck white shirt. She's wearing a swirling green floral dress and earrings made from long, red tassels.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in Portuguese).

REEVES: These two don't really stand out, though. There are plenty of older women here paying to dance with much younger men. Some are in their 80s. De Castro's a retired civil servant. She says she spent four decades with a husband who hated dancing. He died from a stroke a few years back. She's making up for lost time.

DE CASTRO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "I've been storing up energy for 40 years. And now it's coming out like an explosion," she says. When she started dancing again, she found it hard to find partners. Men usually chose younger women. Now that she's hiring, she's dancing all the time.

DE CASTRO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, sometimes Mondays," she says. No one knows exactly how many young men work as personal dancers in Recife. Estimates vary from 70 to about 300. Everyone agrees the business took off around the time Brazil's economy crashed a few years ago. Personal dancers are hired for four-hour stints for which they're paid the equivalent of between $50 and $60.

RACHYD RIBEIRO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Rachyd Ribeiro is a veterinarian who became a personal dancer to boost his income.

RIBEIRO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: He says he's sometimes teased by his medical colleagues. Others become envious when they find out...

RIBEIRO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: ...That most months, Ribeiro earns more dancing than in the vet surgery. As a personal dancer, he must observe certain rules. No alcohol. Stay off the cell phone. And converse with clients. Don't wear T-shirts, Bermuda shorts or flip-flops. Ribeiro says he always has three jackets in his car.

RIBEIRO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: A light one, a blue one and a dark one to compliment whatever his client's wearing. One other thing - this is not about sex. Seventy-year-old Luzinete de Castro is clear about that.

DE CASTRO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "I dance and have fun," she says. "If you step over the line..."

DE CASTRO: Bye.

REEVES: To emphasize this, she envelops Ribeiro, the vet, in a tango hold.

DE CASTRO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "Forget about anything below the waist," she says, pointing downwards. "This is about sensuality, not sexuality." Next month, de Castro's going on a cruise around Europe with a female friend.

DE CASTRO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: They're paying a personal dancer to travel with them whom they'll share. He's tall and has a pig tail and is called Jorge da Silva. Da Silva, who's 29, says he's looking forward to the trip.

JORGE DA SILVA: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Though he admits he's a little nervous. Brazil is, at heart, a conservative society. Luzinete de Castro knows some people disapprove of her behavior. She doesn't care.

DE CASTRO: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

REEVES: "I do what I want to do," she says.

DE CASTRO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "Who pays my taxes? Me. Who pays my bills? Me. Who owns my body? Me."

DE CASTRO: (Laughter).

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.