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Sunday, 16 November 2008

The Call of Brazil's Capoeirista - Page 3

Written by Roxanna Benton
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Ch-ch-ching-dong-dong. As soon as the familiar notes start, ears perk up. Ch-ch-ching-dong-dong. Within seconds, eyes start to flick around the room. Ch-ch-ching-dong-dong. 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.


As we approached the group, I began to feel nervous. What if it was a private class? What if tourists annoyed them? What if our skills were too low for this class?

Luckily, my husband had no such qualms. This was, after all, why we had come. He put his Portuguese skills to good use and asked the teacher if we could join. The instructor immediately and graciously accepted us into the group.

We kicked off our flip-flops and got at the end of the line, watching the other students move through the drills. My tension eased when I saw that they practiced kicks we were familiar with, and although I had never pictured myself throwing armadas after dark, half a mile from a favela, against a teenaged Brazilian girl, it didn’t seem substantially different from our practices back home. I kicked and she ducked. Then we switched. She kicked at me, and I ducked.

I had been worried about the language barrier, but we quickly learned the Portuguese translation for commands like, “Duck! I’m going to kick you!” or “Attack me!” so it was easy to follow along.

Before entering the roda, players touch hands as a show of good faith. This is to say, “I do not intend to hurt you.” Then, they begin to “dance” the ginga. It is from this basic step that all movements in capoeira are formed. This says, “We are on common ground, and we both will begin in the same place.” Then the kicks start to fly; players must be constantly aware of their opponent’s movements, ready to duck at a moment’s notice. Similarly, the attacker must be able to stop his kick if it is not ducked. It is this combination of power and restraint that is difficult to achieve. At the end of a match, players are usually smiling, and hands are touched again. “Thank you for the match,” (and thank you for not taking my head off).”

The call of Brazil’s Capoeirista, Capoeira, Brazilian martial art, Portuguese, Rio de Janeiro, Buzios, Bahia, armadas, roda, berimbau, Roxanna BentonThe class was made up of both children and adults with varying skill levels. Some students were in uniform, and others looked like they had walked off the street and joined in. Many of the children, the teacher later explained, lived in the favela not too far away. He told us that his classes are always free so that anyone who wished to, including us, could come and join in.

We were initially met with a respectful wariness, but it didn’t take long for the group to become comfortable with us. When my husband played against the mestre, it was a slow, respectful game; they did not try to beat each other. They both knew who was the better player, and there was no need to demonstrate domination. Their kicks and careful movements were much like a silent conversation between the two of them, and they slowly became acquainted. It may seem like an odd way to meet someone, with legs and arms flying, but they were spared from the awkward nuances of introductory conversation and were able to act out their emotions in the roda.

(Page 3 of 4)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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