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The party starts in the staging area, as bands, krewe members and revelers mingle.

Every year, thousands of people arrive hours before the Krewe of Sant'Yago Knight Parade in search of a prime bead-catching spot.

But to hear Maureen Acompora tell it, the main event is not the parade. The real party, she said, occurs before the floats even rev up.

"This is the place," Acompora said as she bounced to rap songs blaring through the speakers. "We're just chillin', talking."

Acompora was standing on Meridian Avenue, the staging area for the night parade participants. Hundreds of bands, convertibles, floats and tipsy people lined the street, waiting their turn to be featured in Saturday's revelry, which began at Union Station in downtown Tampa and ended on Seventh Avenue, the hub of Ybor City's entertainment district.

"Staging is the best part of the parade," said Acompora, who was on a float with members of the Krewe of Italia.

The krewe has been around only four years.

"If we want to be noticed," she said, "we've got to party and let everybody know who we are."

"The Italians bring them all in," said krewe mate Josephine Winiarz of Lutz.

And bring the celebrants in they did.

A half-hour after the parade started, krewe members and their float were positioned on Meridian Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard. It was another half-hour before their krewe would begin the parade procession.

Rather than stand around, they mingled with members of other krewes.

They exchanged beads.

They kicked back a few brewskis.

They whooped and hollered.

They trashed the street.

They cranked up rap songs like Good Life by Kanye West and Low by FloRida and T-Pain.

And Acompora danced in the streets to all the songs.

Oh, yes, she may be one day shy of her 59th birthday - "and I'm very proud of it," she sassed - but this Italian knows how to get down. "I may be old," she said, "but I love the music. You see me. I'm always dancing."

Just before 7:30 p.m., as the float proceeded along the parade route on East Twiggs Street, one of her krewe members shouted in agreement. "She has moves like nobody's business."

And don't think that Saturday was the last time Acompora will show those moves. While many consider the night parade the last hurrah in Tampa's busy parade season, Acompora said it's only the beginning.

"We've got one more," she said.

"St. Patrick's Day."

Rodney Thrash can be reached at or (813) 269-5303.