I recently began Capoeira class at Roda Movements in the Washington, DC area.
What is Capoeira you ask? I created the below diagram to illustrate what it basically is:
It is a Brazilian Martial Art / Dance / Acrobatic discipline. It was created around the 16th Century by African Slaves brought to Brazil by the Portuguese. Traditionally, it is done to music in a circle, with two people at a time ‘playing’ in the middle. The legend is that the martial art was disguised as a dance and played very slowly so the slave owners would not realize that their slave were training to be deadly.
Capoeira puts a lot of emphasis on dodging and evading incoming attacks as well as tricking and confusing your opponent. Damage is delivered via well placed kicks mostly. There are two main schools or styles of Capoeira, Angola and Regional.
Having been a breakdancer for many years, I can appreciate how much we borrowed from Capoeira to create breakdancing.
It is also a fantastic workout. My friends commented that my upper body was increasing in size. I thought that this could not be possible since in class I mostly worked my legs and not arms. Then I did some research and it turns out if you intensely work out your legs, butt and back (largest muscles in your body) this releases a lot of human growth hormone (HGH) into your blood stream, which affects all muscle groups not just the ones you worked out. A sort of natural steroid.
I was surprised by the variety of people in class. You have older people, younger people, men, women, large, skinny, tall, short, all equal in the middle of the Roda (the circle you play Capoeira in). I thought that Capoeira would only attract young men to class, but I was quite wrong. In fact, the women in my opinion are some of the best Capoeiristas, they seem more patient and less inclined to want to show off .
It really is a beautiful thing to watch everyone interact in a Capoeira Roda. As part of the learning process you must sing, clap, and learn instruments in addition to becoming familiar with the moves. You really see what the human body is capable of, and how much of an art we humans have created in martial arts, dance, music and interaction and tradition. As it has been said, the drum is our connection to God. There is something deep and powerful in participating in something that has been passed down like genes from generation to generation, culture to culture, all connected by the power of music and the idea that even if others take away your freedom and your country and your language and your religion, you still have your body and you can sing and you can dance and you can do anything with it. You can fight back physically and figuratively using nothing but yourself, reclaim your dignity and salvage what you can of your heritage.
“What a piece of work is a man, How noble in
Reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving
how express and admirable, In action how like an Angel!
in apprehension how like a god, the beauty of the
world, the paragon of animals. and yet to me, what is
this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me; no,
nor Woman neither; though by your smiling you seeme
to say so”
– Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act II, Scene 2,
Capoeira Angola Example
Angola is played lower to the ground, uses more instruments and the singing is more complex and varied.
Capoeira Regional Example
You’ll notice it is higher off the ground and uses more acrobatic flips and movements, and is generally played faster.
Step Up 3D Capoeira Scene
This is a really well edited scene from the film Step Up 3D showcasing Capoeira Regional.