A pirate let out a bloodcurdling shriek as he lunged for a bikini-clad young woman. A cowboy replied with a volley from his capgun, while a gypsy flitted about, bashing away at a tambourine. They were enguled by a sea of peacock-plumed head-dresses and tropical-fruit hats -- dancers, all gyrating to the furious, incessant beats of a Brazillian band. Confetti fell in multicolored showers, streamers streamed, balloons clung to the crystal chandeliers. Shouts of "Carnival, carnival" bounced off the walls of the Mayflower Hotel Grand Ballroom.

The Mayflower Hotel Grand Ballroom?

Friday night, the District of Columbia Partners of Brasilia presented their sixth annual Brazilian Carnival. The group, a nonprofit cultural-exchange organization, timed the event to coincide with its more illustrious cousin in Rio de Janeiro.

Authenticity (or as close as you can come in a Washington hotel in the dead of winter) was the key word. Brazilian Brahma Chopp beer and potent Batida Limao cocktails ignited the capacity crowd of 1,200, and the flames were fanned by the virtually nonstop music of Hotmosphere, led by the well-known percussionist Dom Um Romao.

"This is about as close as we can get to the real thing" said WMAL radio personality Felix Grant (who is also president of the Partners' D.C. chapter). "The carnival in Rio is less inhibited. The Brazilians call their costumes 'fantasias.' It's a total fantasy situation. Still, I remember one year when a very staid banker came to one of our carnivals dressed as a soccer player, Pele."

As he spoke, a scantily dressed woman with a sequined face jumped on top of a table and began to samba. "Hmmm," Grant mused, "that usually doesn't happen until much later in the evening."

The floodlights from a television crew swept across the crowd. The dancers responded by locking arms in flowing human chain, revolving around the parquet floor. This turned into a costume parade, with the most extravagantly appareled participants taking to a small stage at the end of the room.

"I love this feeling," exclaimed Matilda Adams, an attache at the Brazilian embassy. "In Brazil, it is much bigger, people are dancing in the streets, all over the place, for four days. But this will do for here."

By 2 a.m., the carnival was still going strong, spilling out into the hotel lobby. A voodoo witch doctor was performing a mysterious ritual dance near the front desk, and the pounding of hundreds of feet echoed in the halls.

For a moment one was tempted to wonder, was it Rio or Washington? No one seemed to care.