Associated Press Writer

RIO DE JANEIRO - Geisy Arruda is dancing proof that nowhere is transformation more achievable than in Brazil's Carnival, ripe with fantasy and metamorphosis.

The 20-year-old college student from a poor family gained worldwide attention last fall when she was expelled for wearing a miniskirt to class. Three months and four plastic surgeries later, she paraded Monday at the helm of a top-tier, Rio de Janeiro samba group's parade float.

Standing atop a gilded Carnival float resembling a massive English palace, Arruda exuded happiness and had big smiles and waves for spectators. She danced gingerly though, after doctor warned her not to exert herself too much because of the recent cosmetic surgeries.

Holding court with the media just before her samba group's parade began, Arruda flaunted her short, red sequined dress, a design inspired by what she was wearing the day she was booted from university.

Her face dotted with gold sparkle and red imitation gems, Arruda bantered about the joys of hitting Brazil's biggest parties this week, and how she turned a bad episode in her life into something good.

Above all, she emphasized how she loves having her photo taken, and was looking forward to parading before 80,000 spectators and hundreds of photographers.

"I confess, I'm a vain girl, and the changes I've made have given me the confidence I need to dance in these Carnivals," Arruda told The Associated Press. "The entire world is looking at every part of you. They demand a lot of Brazilian women during Carnival, you have to be perfect, impeccable.

"I'm getting there," she added, "but it is a difficult level to reach."

Arruda managed a respectable dance, but was upstaged at times by a policewoman who made headlines in Rio for accepting an invitation to be a Carnival muse for the same Porto da Pedra samba group.

Julia Liers, dressed in sparkling heels, red thigh-highs, a massive blood-red feather back piece and not much else, put on a samba clinic just 10 feet (3 meters) in front of Arruda's float. She sensually stalked the parade grounds, delighting those in the crowd, especially the men.

"Is that the cop?" one man was heard saying. "Oh, man. I want to be locked up then!"

A female spectator eyed Arruda, perhaps with some envy.

"She should enjoy it, but the girl doesn't samba very well," Rafaela Mara said. "A girl like me from one of the slums could dance a lot better than her."

Joao Victor Silva, a drummer for Porto da Pedra, was thrilled to have Arruda in the group. "I think it's inspiring how she turned a terrible situation into something extremely positive."

On Oct. 22, Arruda was forced to cover herself with a professor's white coat and was escorted from class by police amid a hail of insults and curses from other students. Videos of the incident went viral on the Internet.

The uproar caused her college to take disciplinary action - against her, not those who belittled the jovial blonde. She was expelled for what officials called provocative behavior in a country widely known for revealing clothing.

A national outcry ensued, and Arruda was quickly reinstated.

But she never returned, saying initially that she feared for her safety. Instead she went under the wing of a few stylists and hairdressers in Sao Paulo who saw her battle as one against sexism and discrimination in Brazil's macho culture.

Arruda's physical transformation came through liposuction that removed 11 pounds (5 kilograms) of fat from her abdominal region. Part of that fat was then injected into her face to make her cheekbones more prominent. And this being Brazil, much of the rest was added to her rear to give it more oomph. She also had breast augmentation surgery.

It all was paid for through donations collected by her hairdresser, Arruda said.

Before Rio's Carnival, she danced in Salvador - a close contender for wildest Carnival - atop a massive truck outfitted with giant speakers.

On Sunday she hit her native Sao Paulo for the city's parades, wearing a large, purple feather headdress and little else.

That Arruda is even in the limelight is a testament to the ability to recreate oneself in Brazilian society, some argue. Others see her as a product of reality-television culture in which any bizarre incident can turn someone into a celebrity.

"I totally agree with her taking complete advantage of this situation to give herself a better life," said 23-year-old Sabrina Bispo, who was getting some sun on Ipanema beach. "She comes from a humble family, and I challenge anyone in a similar situation to say they would not do the same."

While Arruda says she was disgusted by being driven from school and plans to return as soon as possible, in virtually the same breath she reveals she is enjoying her accidental fame.

At the end of an interview, she paused for a split second, then asked: "Will you be needing any photos for this story?

"I definitely want you to have more recent photos that show the new me."