Arts & Culture / Mosaic / February 19, 2014

Brazilian dance-fighting warms up

Even the members of Knox’s new capoeira club are not sure how to best describe the Brazilian martial art.

While much martial arts sparring involves a high amount of contact which clearly labels them as a fighting style, this style, influenced by West African folk traditions, is different.

Club founder and junior Jaco Foster said that capoeira (pronounced cap-oo-air-ra) is more like “if you mixed tae kwon do and break dancing.”

Fellow member and freshman Robin Delaquess added that the amount of interaction and cooperation between sparring opponents make the matches more like a game than a fight.

There are no pads in capoeira, so Foster said “it’s understood that hitting each other all the time would be ridiculous.” He said that it added an element of playfulness to their matches that is not found in many martial arts.

Sophomore Caleb Awe said this element attracted him to capoeira.

“It’s a language, it’s a dance,” he said. “They’re your partner, not your enemy.”

That leaves the question as to what a match would actually look like. The participants improvise based on the partner’s actions. These include moves that look similar to cartwheels, high kicks and pivots. The sparring partners stand inside a circle, called a roda. Spectators sit around the circle where they clap, sing and play instruments until it is their turn to play.

This music is actually a strong element of capoeira, and it was Delaquess’s first memory of the art form. She first heard about capoeira when stalking a friend’s Facebook page, but when she heard that her dad knew someone who did it, she decided to give it a shot. As she was first walking into the studio, she heard the roda’s music.

“I felt it before I saw it,” she said.

Capoeira was developed in Brazil, mainly by the descendants of West Africans. Some stories say that the roots of the art were developed by slaves who wanted to defend themselves and disguised the movements as a dance to avoid punishment, although there is not enough evidence to be sure. A much closer relative of today’s capoeira developed in Brazil during the industrial age.

The movement gained a bad reputation when criminals and warlords used practitioners for muscle. It was banned from Brazil in 1890.

However, in the early 1900s, a man named Mestre Bimba pulled together the many varieties of capoeira to form one style called Luta Regional Baiana. By re-branding the style as a legitimate sport, he was able to convince the government to allow its practice, and he even taught the nation’s elites how to play. Since then, its popularity has only grown. Teachers have emigrated and started their own schools, so now the sport is practiced around the world.

Knox’s capoeira group is mostly focused on learning its movements right now, but they also work on strength training, and sometimes some of the less obvious aspects of the sport. At one meeting, Awe learned to string an instrument.

In the future, the club hopes to be able to travel off campus to learn from masters, but until then, they are enjoying learning together.

The club meets in the mirror room in Memorial Gym on Mondays from 8 p.m. to 9:20 p.m. and on Fridays from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Tags:  capoiera club dance fighting martial arts

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