Is it a game? A martial art? Or a dance?
Capoeira is all of those things! It originated as a fusion of the cultures of the indigenous Brazilians and enslaved Africans in colonial Brazil. Their newly synthesized culture helped them resist the oppression of their Portuguese slave masters and develop a sense of identity and community. The movements of this martial art are fluid and performed to music. For these reasons capoeira has often been wrongly interpreted as only a dance.
Our club was hatched the day I heard the familiar buzzes and chings of the berimbau, the iconic steel-strung instrument of capoeira, in the JRC. It’s like the horn of Gondor; play a berimbau and any capoeiristas within earshot magically appear. Charlie Kessner ’12 was playing the instrument in the Spencer Grill when I followed the familiar sound. Excited to find other capoiera enthusiasts, Charlie, Tessa Cheek ’12 and I decided to form a club and teach others. A week later we were a registered club.
Since then, our group has grown. Dozens of students show up at our classes each week. Classes consist of warm-ups, review of old techniques, some new material, and sometimes a music lesson from Charlie. We learn how to play various percussion instruments, such as the berimbau, and to sing traditional capoeira songs in Portuguese. At the end of the class we always have a roda. You don’t fight in the roda, you play, because the object of capoeira is not to do harm to your opponent. The object is to play chess with your body; you use kicks and sweeps to guide and trap your opponents into positions in which you set them up for a takedown. At Grinnell, we practice capoeira because it is fun and an excellent workout and because we have developed a community through the art.
We are in the process of connecting with capoeira clubs at other colleges and universities. We hope to purchase our own instruments and travel to capoeira schools for professional instruction.
Kenji Yoshino '11 is a Chemistry Major from Hamilton, NY.