Mormon from Oregon dances samba at Carnival

RIO DE JANEIRO - Tiny jeweled bikinis and gyrating hips: just what you'd expect from Rio's raucous carnival, but not necessarily from a Mormon born and raised in Salem, Oregon.

Mandalyn Gulbrandsen and her friends apply glitter and baby oil before they climb onto the three-story float depicting Noah's ark.

"We'll be climbing up the ladder here in our platform heels and our very tiny costumes to line up along the top," she said.

Once on top, they'll have to dance samba to a pounding beat for two or three hours.

Their biggest concern: falling off.

"It's quite high," she said. "Where we're at you can't fall off, but you can definitely trip down the platform."

Before the parade, CNN visited Mandy at the gym where she took samba lessons for eight months, learning to dance in platforms, move her feet and swing her hips like a pro.

Mandy's husband, an American businessman, was transferred to Rio less than a year ago. She soon discovered the classes.

At first, she was more interested in the workout. That changed.

"Taking samba lessons gave me a way to immerse myself in the culture and to practice my Portuguese and to find ways to connect with Brazil," she said.

When her teacher said she was good enough to parade in Carnival, she signed up.

Then she got a look at the costume.

"My parents are going to kill me!" she said. "Even at this age, they're not - they understand it's appropriate for what I'm doing, but it is definitely much smaller than any other piece of clothing I've ever worn, let alone on any kind of national or international film broadcast."