As soon as the familiar notes start, ears perk up.
Within seconds, eyes start to flick around the room.
Smiling people start to form a circle while clapping and swaying to the beat.
Pavlov was right. It doesn’t take much. A bell for a dog, or five steely notes for a capoeirista, and off they go.
Never mind that just getting the birimbau to sing those five simple notes can be a grueling task. Never mind that after last night’s session, the muscles in your thighs made you swear off high kicks and low esquivas for life. And never mind that Portuguese is comically un-phonetic for English-speakers trying to learn it.
Capoeira draws in its players with music, singing, camaraderie and, of course, competition. The faces around the roda may be smiling, and the lips may be singing, but be on your toes when it’s your turn to enter the circle. The game is playful and its players are friendly, but it is game that wants a winner.
My husband and I started practicing capoeira five years ago. It is a sport that takes friendship, motivation and physical well being, and dumps them into a circle surrounded by people playing instruments and trying to out-maneuver each other. The recipe is addictive, and those first few notes from the berimbau are becoming more and more enticing to a growing number of people around the world. However, despite its growing prominence, when I tell someone that we play capoeira, the usual response is still, “What?”
Cop-o-wear-uh is a Brazilian martial art that began when slaves in the 16th century needed a way to disguise their resistance fighting training. They would form a circle and two participants would enter and begin to “dance.” The changing rhythms of the music indicated whether it was safe to begin practicing the fight, or to revert to dance-like movements again. Capoeira remained an illegal practice in Brazil until the 1930s, but has now become a symbol of national pride and identity.
So, when we had the opportunity to travel to Brazil this summer, we jumped at the chance to practice it in the country where it originated. (The fact that we happened to encounter pristine beaches, strange seafood, and a four-foot-long cockroach along the way made the trip even better.)