Discovering Capoeira

“Hoje a noite, nos vamos ver capoeira com Tony.” I told my host mother in choppy, simplistic Portuguese. “Tonight, we go to see capoeira with Tony.” She smiled, “Ah…capoeira, sim!” Yes.

If you don’t know what capoeira is, I highly suggest a YouTube search. But here’s a little background:

First, you should know that Salvador, in the state of Bahia, was the colonial capital of Brazil under the Portuguese, and thus the capital of the slave trade. Capoeira emerged during that colonial period, when slaves weren’t allowed to train in any form of martial arts. As a result, they began to mask their training with music, ritualistic practices, and fluid, dance-like motions. Over time, capoeira became a widespread symbol of resistance, and is a fascinating dichotomy of dance and fight, art and sport, athleticism and grace, peace and aggression. It’s brilliant, if you ask me.

And it was brilliant to behold: everyone circled up and the instruments began playing one-by-one, followed by a singer belting folklore. The circle began to clap and call the chorus at the appropriate time, while the first two players stepped forward, crouched, and clasped hands. And suddenly, they were off, cart wheeling into the game, bodies winding around each other in kicks, flips, and evasive maneuvers.

Then, somehow, we got pulled in. Usually I would be terrified, but as I was crouched in front of a grinning, sweaty young man, clasping his hand, about to make a fool of myself, I realized that I was calm. Everything was so welcome, so calm, so open. Tony had been quick to point out to us that you don’t “fight” capoeira, you “play,” and I think that’s the key: it’s about self-expression, about leaving a part of yourself in the circle. As I swayed back and forth with the music, throwing awkward kicks and ducking to avoid the swings coming my way, I felt the potential flowing through me. I felt like, with a little training, I could also be strong, and graceful, and part of this amazing tradition.