Tuane Rocha will perform as a nude samba dancer in Rio de Janeiro's 2017 Carnival, despite generating religious controversy. Photo courtesy of Foco News Agency

Dancer defends her decision to perform nearly naked in Mardi Gras parade

RIO DE JANEIRO (RNS) As Brazil’s annual Mardi Gras kicks off this weekend, a samba parade has been rocked by controversy as evangelical leaders joust with a dancer who claims her pastor blessed her decision to perform naked in the event.

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Carnival dancer and churchgoer Tuane Rocha, 34, revealed on national radio that members of the Projeto Vida Nova (New Life Project) Church in Rio tacitly approved her samba dance sans clothes in the city’s festivities on Saturday (Feb. 25). Brazilian media reported that she will wear only panties,’

Churchgoer Tuane Rocha says she is undeterred by the controversy over appearing naked in this year's Rio's carnival. Photo courtesy of Foco News Agency

This is not the first time naked women will perform in the world’s biggest gala, but evangelical pastors are angered that Rocha has explicitly linked nudity and faith.

Some ministers have accused the performer of “dirtying the evangelical movement” with “actions that should not come from a person who serves Jesus.”

But Rocha said nudity is relevant to the overall theme of the samba group's display and her performance will not “affect her Christian beliefs.”

“I said yes after giving it a lot of thought and talking to my pastor,” said Rocha who has attended church for five years and has been dancing in Rio’s carnival for nearly two decades.

“Everyone I spoke to at my church agreed that as it is a professional job they supported my decision to perform in the nude. Over the years my church has always allowed me to dance samba and to attend the carnival.”

Rocha has not appeared naked in the parade in previous years.

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The New Life Project Church immediately sought to distance itself from Rocha’s claim.

“No pastor in the denomination authorized Tuane Rocha to perform naked in the Rocinha parade,” it said in a statement. “The pastor simply directed her to say a prayer as this is a job she alone would have to make a decision about.”

Founder and leader of the New Life Project Church, Pastor Ezequiel Teixeira, added: “This is not something our church is responsible for or supports. On the contrary the church repudiates nudity as an exploitation of the body.

Tuane Rocha claims a pastor from her church gave his blessing for her to parade naked in Rio de Janeiro's Carnival this year. Photo courtesy of Foco News Agency

“We do not agree with Brazil’s carnival because it cultivates and uplifts pagan gods and exalts carnality,” he said.

Brazil’s Carnival is held just before the season of Lent. It is considered the world’s biggest festival with millions attending the five-day event.

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Rio’s samba parade is famous for staging a spectacular procession and for the intense competition between the city’s 26 samba schools.

Rocha said she is undeterred by the controversy.

Her role Saturday will be to dance at the top of a 32-foot float underneath a waterfall that will use 132 gallons of recycled water in an elaborate display based on an allegorical theme of bananas and butterflies.

(Janet Tappin Coelho is a correspondent based in Rio de Janeiro)