Campus Life

Ways I Can Be Awesome – Capoeira

I was blown away by Go Global this year.  It was a feast of colour that made me seriously consider taking a gap year.

Every society had a vast amount of preparation that was put into their acts, from the catchy and well-coordinated clapping of the Malaysian Society’s Dikir Barat to the high energy dance routine of Cardiff’s Asian Society, with mean Bhangra to the the hauntingly melodic music of the Korean Society.

Especially notable was the Arab society’s production of Aladdin, which turned into a mash up of various cultural references like the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Lord of the Rings with a rather unexpected plot twist of a raving lunatic genie. When this act ended, I settled on the fact that the next fancy dress party I go to, I’ll somehow work the epic magic carpet outfit into the theme.

One society in particular stood out, not least because it had some relatively young members. The Capoeira Society included a group of people of all ages, the youngest looked about five years old who himself had a go at the dance-fighting of the older members.

They looked like they were having so much fun, a community of people bonded by dance, drumming, and Portuguese songs.  Although I realised I’d never be able to manage as many somersaults and fancy leg kicks as they were doing, it looked like it would be a great experience.

When I got home, I contacted the society and asked if I could give it a go. Yes, I was a little bit pensive about encountering the passionate South American extroverted nature of the sport. However, after seeing the excitement of other brilliant Brazilian things like carnivals, I wanted a piece of the action.

Before the night I was going to attend the Capoeira session, I started having unwanted flashbacks of turning up to the wrong class altogether, like the time I went to boxing instead of kickboxing.

You can read about this in a gair rhydd from last October – the humiliating story that I retell as one of my most embarrassing moments.

So, not to have an awkward repeat of this, I asked the President of Capoeira, Ben, to take me to No Fit State instead. However, what I found was that there would be no mistaking Capoeira for anything else.

The Capoeira Society describes it as: ‘a Brazilian art form, combining elements of martial art, dance, acrobatics and music. Capoeira benefits fitness, flexibility and rhythm as well as giving an opportunity to learn to play some unusual musical instruments and to speak a bit of Portuguese.’

As a creative and cultural mash up of many different disciplines, I was looking forward to being fully immersed into all things Brazilian.

Ben told me that he hadn’t actually been doing Capoeira for that long, but decided to take it up at University after playing drums for a Capoeira group back at home in Cornwall.

He’s always been into samba music, and enjoys playing percussion. So, when given the opportunity to combine this passion with a unique fitness form he took little convincing.

Claudio Campos, the teacher is also known as a Contra Mestre and is infectiously passionate about Capoeira. He’s been teaching the class in Cardiff for around 11 years.

Nobody knows what the word Capoeira actually means, however it’s more than just a dance form for those taking part. It’s a way to connect with the roots and traditions of black slaves in Brazil.

When the slaves who worked in Brazil were freed in 1888, Capoeira was outlawed. Surprisingly, having been formed within historical oppression, it was then prohibited in Brazil until 1937.

However, Capoeira is now seen as intrinsically Brazilian. At the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, a group of Capoeira dancers joined the likes of Pele and other Brazilian celebrities to hand over the Olympic spirit to those involved in Rio 2016.

In fact, within the cultural programme for the upcoming Olympics, you’ll probably see a lot more of the art form.

As soon as I walked into the studio for the session, I was greeted by Dr. Sara Delamont, who was actually one of my lecturers in my first year of University.

Other than being an expert in the culture and meanings of Capoeira, she told me that she’s actually an avid reader of this column. We began the session by playing on multiple traditional percussion instruments, making the sounds associated with Capoeira.

During the musical parts of a Capoeira session, Claudio often teaches the class songs in his native Portuguese. These include traditional songs that were apparently passed down between generations of players. The music itself drives the speed and aggressiveness of the game.

After our warm up, the class started going over some of the moves. Now, this started with us getting two sticks which we drummed on the floor to begin sparring with a partner.

I’m going to be honest and say I didn’t have the guts to go all out with the acrobatic kicks that some of the other people in the class were doing, as I would have ended up on the floor. If you did this every week, it would be quite a work out!

Capoeira in the UK differs from the way the sport is played in Brazil. Rather than using the traditional machetes that are used in Capoeira in Brazil, we used two sticks which we hit together either to make the rhythm or ‘sword fight’ with our partners.

In Brazil, Capoeira is a full-contact sport, however in Europe and America it’s taught as a non-contact sport. Unlike South-east Asian martial arts, you don’t block your opponent. Instead, you dodge or escape.

Some of the people in the class were complete beginners like me, whilst others had been doing it for years. Everybody seemed quite content to give it a go together.

So what did I think about the experience? Well, I loved the opportunity to give it a go. I think the combination of the dancing, singing, percussion, and fighting made me see the concept of a dance off in a whole new light.

You see, I always tell the story of the time I once won a dance off with a breakdancer in Freshers’ week. If I’m honest, this may or may not be true. He was probably just being nice, and I probably had the heady confidence that a ‘oh my goodness I need to make friends’ moment provided.

Whether they’d let me bring the sticks into a club anytime soon is another question altogether.

However, Capoeria say they do performances in clubs; which are actually quite popular! All of that aside, if you’re up for trying something new that combines a lot of the best things about Brazilian culture, or can impress all your friends ahead of the Football World Cup this summer or Rio 2016, then go for Capoeira.

Capoeira train twice a week: on Wednesdays from 8-10pm in NoFitState rehearsal studio and Friday 7.30-9.30pm in Talybont Sports Centre, for £4 per class for students. It’s a totally different experience, which I really enjoyed. Thank you guys!


Jess McFarlane


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