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Brazilian sweeper shows samba salt

A custodian known as the “Smiling Sweeper” has become a crowd favorite at Brazil's Carnival in recent years with his impromptu samba dances. This year, he will ride on a float.
A child dances with the Unidos de Viradouro samba school during last year's Carnival.
A child dances with the Unidos de Viradouro samba school during last year's Carnival.Dario Lopez-Mills / AP file
/ Source: Reuters

Renato Lourenco usually sweeps up heaps of trash after Rio de Janeiro’s elite samba schools parade at Carnival. This year he will be one of its most surprising stars.

The “Smiling Sweeper,” with his bright orange janitor’s uniform, has become a crowd favorite in recent years with his impromptu “sambadinhas,” or little samba dances, during pauses in the all-night show in the Sambodromo stadium.

This year, Renato will ride on a float of the renowned Viradouro samba school, sharing the spotlight with a busty, blonde TV soap opera actress.

“Renato reflects the happy Carioca, full of life and fun,” Viradouro artistic director Mauro Quintaes said, using the term for a person from Rio, which will host the biggest event in the annual pre-Lenten celebration on Feb. 6-7.

Spontaneous outburst charms crowd
The 40-year-old janitor’s rise to fame began in 1997, when he spontaneously dropped his broom, ran into the middle of the parade and danced a samba. His boss told him to stop and get on with sweeping but the crowd booed and he was called back.

This marks Renato’s debut on a major float.

“I smile for Brazil, freedom, health and happiness,” Renato told Reuters, taking a break from sweeping a square in Tijuca, on Rio de Janeiro’s industrial northern side. “A smile makes people feel good. It helps the world go round.”

The back of his closely shaven head is etched with the word “Sorriso” (smile).

The flip side to Carnival’s glamour is that huge crowds dump an awful lot of rubbish onto Rio’s streets and beaches.

After the party...
Last year, Renato and 477 sweepers collected nearly 75 tons of plastic, bottles, tin cans, paper and other rubbish from the Sambodromo. A total of 3,500 sweepers were deployed to clean up the city and gathered almost 245 tons of waste.

During the rest of the year, Renato sweeps the Tijuca square — rising before dawn for a two-hour commute to start work at 6 a.m. on a 7-hour shift.

“Nothing has really changed (financially) except that people now recognize me and are more polite,” he said.

But he still hopes to cash in on his samba success.

COMLURB, the municipal refuse collection company, now sends him to give talks to companies on “work motivation” and last year he accompanied a samba school on a Canadian tour.

“My dream is to own my own home and send my two sons to college,” he said.