Capoeira: An Afro-Brazilian Martial Arts Dance and 'Cultural Manifestation' Breaks Race and Gender Barriers

Capoeiristas blend ritual, aerial and floor acrobatics with fluid dance flexibility into their martial arts movements. Capoeira (/ˌkæpɵˈɛrə/) is something more than just a sport. It is a ‘cultural manifestation’ born in Brazil and developed by the African Slaves brought over during the European colonization. It is the most acrobatic sport.

What’s the best thing about Capoeria? “It breaks all barriers of race, gender and makes people from all types of class get together making it one of the most mixed cultural sport,” says Professor Barraozinho (Marcus Lelo Aurelio). He has been training Capoeira for over 20 years and has a professor belt. "Generally to become a mestre, it could take anywhere from 25-35 years."    

Mestre Barrao started Axe Capoeira and is now one of the most respected mestres of Capoeira today. Grupo Axe Capoeira started in 1982 in Recife, Brazil. With 26 countries under his leadership, he has one of the largest organizations in the world. He brought Capoeira to Canada in 1990 and since then has been a reference to all other Capoeiristas from Canada and around the world.

At a time when slavery was predominant, Capoeira was criminalized and prohibited in Brazil. During the mid 1800s it was common to have detainees in jail for practicing Capoeira. For those who were caught, severe punishment entailed. Yet, commonly practiced by the poorer population on holidays or work-free hours, Capoeiristas swept the nation with their pulsing rhythm and movement. For great literature on Capoeira you can check this site out

Now, Capoeira has become a spectacle growing in North America where those who partake in its vigorous art form can attribute much of their strength and agility to participating in rodas (Hoh-Das: a circle made where participants take turns sparring in pairs) and intense focused training sessions during the week. Musical instruments such as the Berimbaus are played while the group sings in Portuguese to set the beat and encourage timely movements.        

With emphasis on creating a sense of community and confidence building, Professor Barraozinho says that “a Capoeirista can advance to the next belt with a ‘batizado’ ceremony, which is a Capoeira baptism where the student will play with a mestre or a teacher. After the game they receive their first belt. Students who already have a belt and receive a new one get a ‘troca de corda,’ which means the exchange of belts. The process takes longer usually if you are getting a higher belt because you need to grow in all aspects of Capoeira.”

Capoeiristas range in ages from what I see, 5 years old and up at Axe on 45 West Hastings. Speaking to a few, you can see that this sport has become more to them than just a sport. It is their family, it is their gathering and social event on a Sunday Roda.

Michael Miseljic, aged 9, says that he has been playing for the past year and a half and was brought in because his friend was a Capoeirista. He also plays basketball, soccer and hockey. “It has built up my leg muscles and flexibility.”

Omar Garcia is one from the higher belts. He too agrees that training in Capoeira helps you in other areas of sports. He plays football, basketball, soccer and triathlon and “it [Capoeira] benefits your legs. Capoeira is a mixed aspect and I like its style.”

Camela’s (brown-green graduado belt) interest in Capoeira lies in the live music and the history behind it. “The human capacity of doing all the movements with the body with flips and acrobatic movements made me intrigued with what our body can give.” 

Whether it’s the cool nicknames given to you in Capoeira, or the sheer interest in being a part of a cultural sport, Capoeira’s entrance in the millennium’s health and fitness craze is here to stay. Capoeirista and trainer/student, “Madrugada” can attest to that.  

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