Monday, April 24, 2006


The first time I ever saw capoeira was on the street in Berkeley, I think maybe during the "How Berkeley Can You Be" parade/day/thingy. I remember how fluid, dynamic, and fun it looked, and thought that someday I should try it. I also saw a roda at Burning Man in 2001 in the center camp one day. The images of the people playing, with dread locks, in their underwear or less, sweaty and dusty, still stand out in my mind. Capoeira is a beautiful cross between a dance, a martial art, and acrobatics combined with a rhythmic music that just speaks to me.

One of our friends is a capoeirista (a practitioner, or player, of capoeira), and we found out that her school's batizado was open to the public this weekend. To a capoerista, a batizado is a Really Big Deal. So on Saturday we headed down to the downtown YMCA (my gym), paid our $10, and spent four hours watching mestres (masters), profesores (teachers), and students play music (drums, tambourines, blocks, bells, and berimbaus), display artistry, acrobatics, cunning, skill, martial art, and dance in the roda, and totally kick ass.

The batizado (baptism) is the ceremony in which students progress from one corded belt to the next, and in which newer students get their first belt. This batizado included players from all over the US, all of whom are a part of the United Capoeira Association. Some highlights included special appearances by highly respected mestres, including the guy who basically brought capoeira to the US. The very first student to vie for her belt (after all the kickass demonstration stuff by the higher-ranking players) faced off against this guy. Here's this 8 year old girl demonstrating her knowledge of capoeira moves being tested by this 50-something or 60-something guy who's like the father of capoeira in the US. I don't know if she understood how cool that was, but I bet she will when she's older.

We saw about 30 students of all ages receive their first belts, and a varying number receive higher belts. The higher the belt, the more people tested you in the roda, and the harder it was to evade all the tricks that come with playing capoeira at higher levels. We saw some people that were really good receiving their first belt (green), and some that were still at a very basic level.

The cool thing about capoeira is that the terminology really makes sense - you play capoeira, and that's really what we saw - people smiling, laughing, having a great time. It's about discipline and control, of course, but there is also quite an emphasis on cooperation, fun, and sharing the experience with the other players - particularly the music, which involves the voice as well as instruments, and the students surrounding the roda sang along with those playing the instruments. It was also a chance for friends who live in different places to come together and get to play with one another. And it was a chance for us, the audience, to get to see some really amazing things.

One of the things that struck me at the batizado was how thin and in shape everyone was. It made me feel totally out of shape to see these thin, strong people do amazing things with their bodies. A woman (maybe late 20s?) sitting nearby me dressed to play was there with her husband, a profesore of a school in the area where I grew up in Northern California. She was nursing a 4-month old baby and looked like she'd never even been pregnant. I found out that it was her second kid; she also has a 3-year old. She told me that she had played capoeira up until a week before the 4-month-old was born and had gotten her current belt while pregnant. Now that's dedication - and she wasn't the only one there with a similar story. I saw two other players (one a teacher) who were nursing moms, and to look at them you would never have guessed that they'd even given birth. I guess it speaks to how dedicated you have to be to play capoeira, that you continue to play while pregnant and bounce right back after having your kid.

Capoeira has an interesting history and is beautiful and exciting to watch, particularly when the participants are highly skilled and moving at almost lightning speed intermixed with those typical slow, deliberate, almost impossible to do handstands and headstands and such. We both had a lot of fun watching the show. And when we have a car again I'm definitely looking into joining the same school where my friend plays capoeira.


Anonymous said...

Me too. On the sidewalk by the downtown BART station.

Yank In Texas said...

I've seen it before too. Way cool. WendyE really got into it for a while.