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Brazilian Samba Queen, 7, Breaks Down

Julia Lira, Rio's 7-year-old Carnival drum corps queen, didn't like one bit of the cameras that honed in on her as she led a lavish samba parade, and reacted as any child might - by having a good cry.

But the sprite of a samba dancer did her best to brush away the tears, and after a few minutes of holding her mom's hand and resting in the arms of a doting official from her Viradouro samba group, she returned in front of the crowd to dance early Monday.

The samba parades - which pit 12 top-tier groups against one another in a competition that is closely watched by millions throughout the country - began Sunday evening and didn't stop until the sun rose Monday after six groups paraded.

On Monday evening, the final six will go before the cheering crowds of 80,000 in a specially designed stadium.

Dressed in a sequined halter top and a miniskirt made of purple feathers, young Julia tentatively stepped through the first 50 yards (meters) of the parade. Her father - the president of Viradouro - then took her by the hand and presented her to the crowd.

She smiled big for the photographers and adoring fans.

But 10 minutes into the group's presentation and surrounded by dozens of photographers and television cameramen, the youngster broke down in tears and was immediately scooped into the arms of her unofficial handler, the group's spokeswoman Joice Hurtado, and taken away from the attention.

After a five-minute cooldown, Julia returned to her place in front of the group's massive drum line, but was quickly whisked through the parade grounds by her father and out of the media's eye.

"She just got scared after having all those cameras thrust in her face," Hurtado said after the parade. "After we got her into her mother's arms, she quickly calmed down and put on a great show."

While Julia bounced back and began to samba at the helm of the parade, television coverage steered clear of showing any more shots of her.

Some in the audience thought she was not ready for the spotlight.

"She is too young to be a drum corps queen," said Marister Deniz, 60, who was watching from the stands. "A girl that size shouldn't be thrust in such a role."

But Jorge Elias Souza, a member of the Viradouro drum corps, said he was proud of the girl regardless.

"She is the embodiment of all the love in our school. Normally a famous person is the drum corps queen, but her father is our president and she is the center of our family," he said.

Putting Julia in the Carnival role drew the ire of child welfare advocates who were against a young girl taking on a role normally reserved for sultry models and actresses.

Carlos Nicodemos, director of the Rio de Janeiro state Council for the Defense of Children and Adolescents, two weeks ago asked a judge to keep Julia from dancing, arguing that "what we can't allow is putting a 7-year-old girl in a role that traditionally for Carnival has a very sexual focus."

A judge ruled last week that the girl could join the parade, and the overwhelming response in Brazil was a shrug and acceptance.

Before Julia took to the parade ground, Rio's reigning Carnival Queen Shayene Cesario Vieira, 24, said she thought "it's cool" that the girl would participate.

"I don't remember hearing of a drum corps queen being so young," she said. "But her dad is the president of the group and if he thinks it's OK, it's OK."

In the two weeks leading up to the Carnival parade, Marco Lira said repeatedly that he and his wife would be with Julia at all times - which they were - and they would carefully watch to make sure she doesn't get too tired during the parade.

Viradouro has a history of controversial themes. A 2008 float portrayed Hitler amid a sea of naked mannequins representing Holocaust victims. A judge banned that float from the parade.

Nicodemos has also suggested that the samba group put Julia into her role to get extra attention - a charge strongly denied by her father.

As the samba parades hit high gear, massive street parties continued to erupt across the city.

Tourism officials said almost 730,000 visitors arrived in Rio this year for the big party - a 5 percent increase over last year.

It's the first Carnival since Rio was named as host to the 2016 Olympics, and officials have been working hard to show that the city, known for the drug-gang violence that pervades its slums, can safely host major events.

There have been few reports of violence during the party so far, though on Friday a Dutch tourist was shot while being robbed.

Hospital officials said the man underwent surgery and was in stable condition on Sunday.

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