Capoeira: A Monthly Ritual of African-Brazilian Music and Martial Arts

Capoeira: A Monthly Ritual of African-Brazilian Music and Martial Arts

(Holly Fishman-Matthews, May 12, 2019)

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Farmington Hills, MI- One Saturday each month, capoeirsitas from Oakland County and beyond gather white pants and black t-shirts and head over to B in Action Movement Center in Farmington Hills, the official Home of The Michigan Center for Capoeira. We stretch, tie our hair up, chat, tune an instrument, and tuck away our phones for the next several hours, while we wait for others to gather, and for the roda to begin.

A “roda” is a unique event that belongs to the world of capoeira. Capoeira, an African-Brazilian martial art, is a combination of several art forms, including dancing, singing, acrobatics, and non-contact martial art. Originating as a response to slavery, it was practiced covertly by slaves—one day a week, in a “roda”, or circle, they would appear to play, dance, and sing in ritualistic fashion, while really, they were honing skills in a serious martial art.

And once a month, we create a roda. “Roda”, pronounced “Hoda”, is a Portuguese word meaning “wheel” or “circle”). Our rodas are a gathering of capoeira enthusiasts of many ages, cultural and geographic backgrounds, and ability levels. On nice days, we go outside. We form a circle, the berimbau (the traditional lead musical instrument) begins its rhythm, singing and clapping follow, and then two people enter the center of the circle, where they shake hands and begin. What they do next is called a “game”, which illustrates the playful nature of the improvisational movement exchange—a game of question-and-answer, or, as our instructor, Baz Michaeli, describes it, a game of chess; one tries to anticipate her/his partner’s next move, and hopes to outsmart her/him.

The feeling underlying this game is one of playful cooperation, and a sense of protectiveness for our partner—we understand our responsibility to not cause injury to another. So, although we appear to play “against” each other, we are really playing “with” each other, as we constantly gauge the other’s responses and adjust our own movements so that we can play a good game, together.

This spirit of cooperation is palpable in all aspects of capoeira—we tune our voices together so we can sing collectively, we play music in sync with a group rhythm, we dance and move in concert to that rhythm, we form a protective circle containing the players, providing energy and support for their games. Students feel a meaningful impact from studying capoeira, partly due to this cooperative and communal feel. Also, capoeira provides great physical benefits, and develops personal and artistic expression.

I have studied capoeira for almost three years. I love it because of the challenging movement vocabulary, the improvisational quality of the art form, the artistic possibilities within it, and the synthesis of music, dance, culture, and community. I love it also because the instructor is so passionate about it, and because I am able to “play capoeira” with my 5-year old son.

One of the most special moments I can recall occurred at our December roda. It caused me, ironically, to flee the roda early: a capoeira player was in the center with his three-year old daughter. I watched the two of them play and was so moved by their gentle interaction that I had to leave, feeling an intense and immediate need to see my young son, Leo. When I got home, we created our own private little capoeira moment, with no one to surround us or sing for us, but only each other, which was enough.

B in Action Movement Center is not just a capoeira studio—it is a community center furthering many movement arts, including Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, fitness, personal training, dance, and parent-child movement classes.The rodas are always free and open to anyone who wants to participate, or just watch. People travel from Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Toronto to attend these exciting and inspirational monthly rodas.

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