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By Anna Fitzpatrick, Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The constant drizzle and cold could not dampen the party spirits in the São Paulo Sambódromo and Vai-Vai Samba school was crowned winners of the Special Group for the 2011 Carnival celebration on Tuesday. Judges praised the school for their luxurious floats and celebrities, such as singer Maria Rita and Model Ana Hickmann helped rally the crowds.

São Paulo Carnival celebrations photo by Paula Ferrari/Flickr Creative Commons License.

Telling the story of pianist João Carlos Martins, Vai-Vai put on an energetic and exuberant display. This is the fourteenth time the group have won the competition, the last time being in 2008.

The rivalry between the fourteen Escolas da Samba taking part this year was fierce. Especially as there was only 0.25 points separating runners up Unidos de Vila Maria and Acadêmicos do Tucuruvi. The two groups at the bottom will be relegated: Nenê de Vila Matilde and Unidos da Peruche.

Popular as ever, winners Vai-Vai did not parade until around 6AM on Saturday morning. The group re-energized the flagging crowds with a story to honor pianist Martins, who has worked to popularize classical music in Brazil. After their Friday night presentation they were favorites to take the crown with a technically perfect routine.

Acadêmicos do Tucuruvi celebrated the importance of immigration from the Northeast of Brazil to São Paulo in their presentation, using the typical handicrafts of the area in their costumes and floats. The school apparently received prejudice and threats after announcing their theme earlier in the year but their energetic spirit prevailed, winning over both the crowds and judges.

Unidos de Vila Maria paraded in a sea of gold and was one of the favorites to take the crown.  Paying tribute to another theater, this time the Teatro Amazonas and featuring Paraguan model Larissa Riquelme of World Cup fame. But missing out by 0.25 points will be frustrating after their nearly perfect performance.

São Paulo Carnival celebrations photo Paulo Ferrari/Flickr Creative Commons License.

Kicking off the competition this year was Unidos da Peruche, with popular model Caroline Bittencourt a big draw for the crowds. Choosing to honor the centennial anniversary of the Teatro Municipal in São Paulo, and marking their return to the top flight of the competition in style.  Unfortunately for the group two floats did not enter the stadium, an error that undoubtedly cost them their demotion.

Despite pre-Carnival rumors that ex- President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva would make an appearance for Maior Tom, he did not appear. Instead, a lookalike was present. Apparently the school had also planned to feature live animals but this was banned before the parades took place.

Last years winners, Rosas de Ouros proved a big hit with the crowds, as they celebrated their 40th anniversary. This year they chose the theme “Abre-te Sésamo, a Senha da Sorte” which translates as “Open Seaseme. Password: Luck”. The story represented luck from around the world and the group were, as ever, a big hit with the crowds but failed to place in the top three.

Appearing on the second night of the competition Gaviões da Fiel told the story of Dubai, with towering skyscrapers and representations of the oil in the region. Despite not appearing until after 5AM, the audience were enlivened by the technically perfect presentation.

X-9 Paulistana suffered a flat tire but this did nothing to dampen their spirit. Riding on the float was popular Brazilian Renato Aragão, who’s life and character X was been honored by the school in a celebration of childhood.

Império da Casa Verde, closed the competition in the early hours of Sunday morning with a story of beer, drinking and consumption. The continuous rain in SP had previously damaged their floats and costumes, so just having everything repaired was a triumph.

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