My Introduction to Capoeira

This weekend I went to the Festival Blanco y Ginga in Chester, a capoeira event hosted by Contramestre Piolho. This was the first time I had really experienced capoeira, by that I mean I had done one capoeira before this! I was nervous walking in as I didn’t know if everyone was going to be amazing and I wouldn’t have a clue what was going on but I knew a few people there which gave me confidence.

Even though I was the newest to capoeira there was a big range of experience, from beginners up to 40+ years of training capoeira. One of the things that really struck me was how open and welcoming everyone was. It didn’t matter that I had no experience in capoeira, everyone was willing to embrace me in to their capoeira family and guide me through. From the first class there was a sense of togetherness and joy, and I was a part of that.

The warm up and movement across the room I loved and got stuck in with. The movement is very physical and uses a lot of inversions, staying low and grounded. This is the way I like to move when I dance so I felt comfortable with this movement. The class then moved in to a Roda. This is where everyone stand in a circle with the musicians on one side, two people enter the circle to play a game, where they move and interact with each other, there can be more than one game being played in a Roda. On this first evening I decided to observe, watching others play, the way they interacted, communicated and moved together. I think this was a great way to get started as I wasn’t feeling confident in what to do, what the customs were so through observation I was able to learn. However, I wasn’t just observing. When on the outside of the roda you clap and join in the with traditional capoeira song led by the musicians. It was this energy that was infectious. Everyone unites in movement, music and song. It is not something that can easily be described, it is something that has to be experienced. And having experienced it, all I want to do is continue being in that space.

On Saturday we again started with a roda to warm up. As this was a warm up, i felt I had to get involved as there was no other warm up. I also felt a little more confident as there were 4 games happening in the roda rather than just one so I didn’t feel as self conscious. I had learnt how to buy in to a game and I chose to play with people I knew and had moved with the evening before. It was very exciting!

In the class that followed, with Contramestre Izol, the movement across the room was more intricate, working with a partner. Starting with shorter, what I would call phrases as a dancer, I am not sure if that would be the same in capoeira, and then connecting them together in to a longer movement sequence. Again I felt comfortable, but still challenged, with the movement. It was the brain that had to work hard, remembering the directions and what movement came next, trying to make sense of how the movement was constructed and find the flow.

The next class was with Mestre Chicote. This was a defining class of the weekend for me as he spoke about how to defend and play, when to move and how to hold your space. The sequences I can figure out from a movement and dance point of view but this was what I would describe as the more martial arts “fighting” side of capoeira which is what is completely new to me. It is what the essence of the game is and what makes it different from improvisation/contact improvisation. What makes it different from dance.

The class with Mestre Perente on Sunday morning included a lot of faster movements and movement sequences with a partner. He also split the room in to 6 with 2 games on a beginner, slower paced, practicing accuracy, 2 in a middle level and 2 advanced games with speed. I stayed in the beginner and played quite a few games which was so much fun and started to build my confidence in playing. I also played with Contramestre Piolho who played such a fun game, he is just very energetic and playful.

The afternoon then continued in the same fashion with Mestre Chicote working with a partner on sequences that built on the one before. On this day I had the opportunity to work with a lot of different partners each of whom was able to explain or work out with me what was going on. One partner really helped with the explanation of the movement and how they linked, he was very patient.

I don’t really like of attention, I don’t know what it is, I would just rather blend in. However, it got out that I was completely new to capoeira, not that I was hiding it and it was good that the teachers knew, but it meant that I had quite a few people come up to me and ask and then Mestre Chicote mentioned it in front of everyone. I had a number of people tell me they couldn’t believe that I had so little capoeira experience but I felt like a bit of a cheat as I am a dancer, I understand movement and like I said earlier I like to move this way, grounded with inversions connecting with another person. I did keep telling people this. The one comment that really made the weekend was when one person I had worked with again reiterated that he couldn’t believe that I had only done 1 class before the weekend and I again explained I was a dance. He reply was “I train with a girl who is a professional dancer and she has been practicing for a while but still moves like a dancer where as you move in the style of capoeira”. This made the whole weekend for me. My aim when I am introduced to a new movement practice or style is to move in the way the culture states. Yes, I do keep my own identity but I want to tap into what it is that makes that practice different to any other practice and what makes it what it is and not just generic movement. This also includes exploring and experiencing the culture, learning about the history, customs and language. Capoeira is not just a movement practice but has a culture, a philosophy and that’s what interests me.

The final roda was just the best. You could just feel the community. I had people encouraging me to play which was just so lovely. I did play a number of games which was really exciting and I was proud of myself that I got to that point where I felt comfortable enough to play a game in a roda where only one game was being played at a time. I was also proud of how I just jumped in the whole weekend, experienced the culture

I am looking forward to continuing this practice and exploring the capoeira culture.

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