RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Leaving one of the poorest cities in Brazil at 5 a.m., 20-year-old student Luciane Lima traveled from São Gonçalo to a Copacabana hotel two hours away to join 300 women at an unusual audition in the land of soccer: Cheerleader for the NFL's Miami Dolphins.
The Dolphins started auditions last week, and is targeting soccer-crazy countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Mexico. Although few of the Brazilian candidates knew much about the sport, they found out about the trials via social media and flocked to the tryouts.
In exchange for injecting a touch of samba into the Dolphins' cheerleading team, they hope to start new lives in the United States.
Lima was raised without her parents and says dancing saved her life. She was among many coming from poor regions where they could never work as dancers.
"I haven't slept because I was so anxious," said Lima, dressed in a yellow outfit. "But all this hard work is worth it because just being here is a huge emotion."
For 21-year-old student Ana Priscilla Duarte, who enjoys dancing as a hobby, just getting to the second round was a shock.
"Every girl sees (cheerleaders) in the movies," she said, and laughed when asked about her knowledge of the NFL.
"I will have to study a bit if I get this opportunity," said Duarte, who like Lima didn't make the final selection.
While football is a growing sport in Brazil, it's still nowhere near the popularity of soccer and volleyball.
Ballerina Nadine Santos, 22, stood out as a genuine Dolphins fan.
"Soccer and football are totally different. You can see that when teams come out to play," said Santos, who started watching NFL games three years ago. "Soccer is very outdated to come onto the pitch, with kids hand in hand with the players. Brazil could have cheerleaders."
Santos didn't make the final six picked from Rio to go to the finals in Miami on May 1. All of them had to be at least 18 years old, enrolled in high school until June and with a valid passport. Miami Dolphins cheerleaders have traveled to more than 30 countries on five continents over the past decade.
Dolphins senior director of entertainment Dorie Grogan told The Associated Press that she wants to create a true international cheerleading squad.
"We selected locations where we have already had cheerleaders in the past," Grogan said. "We hope to expand it if it works out."
Grogan said those chosen would have to commit to living in Miami for a minimum of nine months.
"We have a full process to get them settled in Miami," she said. "We'll assist them in housing and transportation."
Miami's cheerleading team has 32 to 36 women.