TRY CAPOIERA: VAMOS JOGAR! (LET'S PLAY!)
As we enter a new year, we often look for ways to improve our lives. I’d like to share how capoeira has changed my life and to invite you to join us in learning this truly amazing art. Capoeira (pronounced cap-oh-ay-rah) is a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics, and music, and is sometimes referred to as a game.
I began capoerin 2002 while at college in Chicago. I’d encountered the art in Europe that summer and was enthralled. It was simply mesmerizing to watch, and the people looked like they were having so much fun! I found Gingarte Capoeira Chicago and began training with Mestra Marisa and her students. I was hooked.
Though I had always been muscular and active (from growing up on a farm and competing continually in high school sports), training capoeira quickly changed my body. It provides a complete, whole body workout, using only your body weight. Capoeira players trade movements—kicks, escapes, cartwheels, jumps, and spins, swaying back and forth continually in an improvised conversation of movement inside a circle called the ‘roda’ (pronounced “ho-dah”). After class, I’d be sore in places I didn’t know could be sore—but it was the soreness of progress and growth. I became lean and strong in a new way. My reflexes, agility, balance, and flexibility improved dramatically.
More than the improvements in physical fitness, though, capoeira had me doing things I had never thought I would do. In spite of a love of music, I was never a good singer (you’d be hard-pressed to find me singing—not even in the shower or alone in the car). Yet, I was captivated by the music of capoeira. It is as essential to the art as the movement. The call-and-response songs require participation, regardless of talent or ability—everyone adds their energy (axe’) to the circle, the game, through singing and clapping. The songs direct the game, they comment on the game, they teach life lessons and pass on the oral histories of Afro-Brazilians and renowned capoeiristas. I learned to play instruments I’d never heard of before. Soon I was invited to join Gingarte Capoeira in performances and demonstrations big and small around Chicago. I remember thinking, “Really? You want ME to go on stage with you!?”
But capoeira has space for everyone. You do not need to be able to do flashy flips, or to be thin and fit, or to be the best singer. All you have to do is show up, smile, and do what you can. It’s a very good lesson in life.
Through capoeira, I gained a family, literally and figuratively. I met my husband, E, through capoeira, and our children have grown up in the art. Marisa Cordeiro, our capoeira master in Chicago, became my mentor. She guided me through college and grad school, through teaching in some of the toughest Chicago schools, and through becoming a new mother and wife. Capoeira is a worldwide community. There are groups in all reaches of the world, and these groups welcome all capoeiristas, no matter where you are from. In 2006, I travelled solo to Salvador, Brazil. I was welcomed by people who’d never even heard of me—I was fed, sheltered, taught, taken care of, and appreciated—all because of a shared love of this art.
Capoeira is, at its core, an art of struggle against oppression. Developed first by enslaved Africans in Brazil, it has faced centuries of persecution and prejudice. Practitioners of capoeira learn to smile through the grind, to stand up for themselves, to improvise and react to unexpected things in the circle of life, to sing, to joke, to come together and enjoy one another’s company, to converse through movement and song, to sweat hard and most of all, to continually work to improve oneself in one aspect or another.
In 2014, my husband, children and I moved to Hartland, Vt. In March 2015, we began teaching capoeira classes in Hartland, and in October expanded to teach at Open Door. We are excited and honored to bring this incredible art to the Upper Valley.
So, if you’re looking for ways to improve yourself in 2016—to push your boundaries and open new horizons for yourself physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually—I invite you to try capoeira. It is for everyone, regardless of body shape, size, age, gender, athletic ability or disability. We welcome each of you with open arms and an open heart. Vamos jogar! (Let’s play!)
-Heather “Dourada” Pogue
Cordao Amarelo, Gingarte Capoeira Vermont