Dancing Brazil’s deadly Capoeira

CapoeiraA man fumbles and falls to the ground. Urgent drumming fills the space around him. He quickly climbs to his feet as another man’s leg skims his head. The two mirror one another in a dance. Crouched low to the ground they circle each other, moving closer and closer. One man flips in the air as the other sweeps the ground below him with his leg and spins.

The men are practicing a Brazilian martial art called Capoeira. It was invented in the 1500s by African and indigenous slaves in Brazil, who disguised their self-defence training from their oppressors by incorporating elements of dance. It has since become an important part of Brazilian culture and is now taught all over the world, including at Ryerson.

Nicolas Serge, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student, began practising Capoeira when he lived in South America. A year ago, Serge contacted Ryerson Athletics to start a club. He brought in his trainer, Nick Asquiani, from Axe Capoeira Toronto, who has been practising the martial art since he was eight years old.

“I wanted to share Capoeira with the students at Ryerson. Once people come, they want to stay,” says Serge. “But they have to see it first.”

Anyone is welcome to join the club or come to see their practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It starts with 20 to 30 minutes of stretching and is followed by training on various sequences. After these warm-ups, the fun part begins.

Members pick up a drum, a tambourine, and an unusual string instrument called a birimbal, which looks like a long pole attached to a wooden sphere. They begin to play their instruments and sing. A circle forms and they start the Roda (pronounced HOH-dah). This is where the two combatants participate in a no-contact sparring match, executing the manoeuvres they practised earlier.

Serge and Asquiani begin the dance. They bend down and lean on their heels. Listening to the music, they wait for the right moment. Suddenly, they both flip over sideways and land facing one another. Their feet and arms are moving in perfect circles. One strikes and the other dodges, never touching.

“This is my favourite part,” says Serge. “Everyone’s energy is felt. We become one.”

For students who struggle to get to the gym, this class is a superb way to improve one’s physical conditioning.  It’s fun and provides a means of regaining flexibility and cardio fitness.

“I feel great, I never get tired,” says Asquiani. “It gives you a lot of energy.”

But the benefits aren’t limited to exercise. It improves hand and eyes co-ordination, cardio fitness, and center of balance. It also provides a necessary reprieve from the stress of class. It can also improve other aspects of a student’s life.

“You can get exercise, you can meet a friend,” says Asquiani. “It gives you rhythm and a life.”

When the dance is done the two men hug and rejoin the circle of musicians. The music slows its pace and then comes to a stop. Asquiani leads everyone out onto the floor and in unison they strike a pose. With loud confident voices they all say goodbye or in this case, “Salve.”

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