Bay Area Dance Week is back. If you’ve had an itch to try something new, there’s no time like the present, as local artists and companies are jumping at the edge of their seats, ready to take you through the basics of everything from the fundamentals of tango to “pole fitness” (one day, somewhere in the slightly distant future, I promise to try that one and report back!).
Another dance form that you can explore is capoeira, a martial arts form that incorporates both dance and music. Capoeira traces its roots back to the region of Angola. In the 16th century, the Portuguese imported slaves to Brazil. Using their native ritual dances as self-defense (these dances were forceful in nature and used movements like headbutts, kicks, and sharp arm jabs), they took on a form of their own: capoeira. And Capoeira became the symbol of the resistance.
The Portuguese soon outlawed capoeira, but they couldn’t erase history. Capoeiristas (those practicing or performing capoeira) reshaped capoeira, adding in dance and song, as a way of disguising their practice. But capoeria wasn’t just a way of physical rigor. The slaves also adapted capoeira, at times using it to transport messages or warn others in times of danger.
Capoeira finds its center in the “ginga,” a low, sweeping side step, somewhat similar to an earthy waltz. What follows depends on the performers: leg sweeps, cartwheels, rolls, kicks, all balancing fluid attacks with strong, seamless defense. All of this is performed in a roda, which is a circle of other capoeristas who clap along rhythmically while others may be singing and/or playing instruments.
What: Free capoeira classes with ABADÁ-Capoeira San Francisco, part of Bay Area National Dance Week
Where: ACSF, 3221 22nd Street @ Mission Street, San Francisco
When: April 24, 6PM, capoeira basics; April 26, 6:30AM, BodyBrasil capoeira-based fitness class
As the week kicked off, I heard from Marcia Triedler (aka Mestranda Cigarra), the director of ABADÁ-Capoeira San Francisco (ACSF). Triedler immigrated to the US from Brazil in 1991. Upon arriving in the Bay Area, she began teaching capoeira and founded ACSF. At its very core, ACSF “works to preserve, develop, and share the martial art of capoeira with integrity, and to use capoeira to ignite positive change in individuals and in communities.”
Becca Klarin: How did you begin studying capoeira?
Marcia Triedler: I saw a performance at my High School and was so amazed with the fact that men, women, and people all ages were practicing together, something I did not see in any physical activities.
You left Brazil and moved to the Bay Area over 20 years ago. Why did you leave Brazil? And what brought you to California?
I left Brazil because I saw the potential of capoeira in the US and I was so well-received and accepted, something that didn’t happen in my generation in Brazil. In California I already had a relationship with some capoeiristas and had made some friends in past visits, so San Francisco really felt like home.
When you began teaching capoeira here in the Bay Area, your classes were few and small. What caused them to grow and expand?
I believe the growth was because of my commitment, but believe me it was not fast or easy. People really answer to consistency and knowing that no matter what goes on in their lives, I am still going to be here, understanding and accepting them and the reasons that bring them to capoeira.
I took a few capoeira classes back in college, and I remember the instructor telling us students to think of capoeira as a fluid and quick-moving conversation where no matter who we were dancing with, we had to trust both ourselves and our partners. It was incredibly challenging to, even for a few minutes, put personal fears and judgment aside and just be there in the moment. What are your thoughts on character building and capoeira?
I agree that you need to trust yourself.The fact that when you play another person it is all improvisation, you need to think very fast and trust and commit to your decision at that moment, challenging the other person right back and like that the conversation. I believe that the flexibility in thinking and reaction that capoeira trains us to have will help you in anything you do in life, and to be able to respect and adapt to tough situations when they present themselves.
ABADÁ-Capoeira San Francisco offers a significant number of youth classes. Would you tell me more about your youth programs and the outreach that you do in the community?
Between our ACSF studio school residencies in San Francisco and the East Bay, we offer more then 20 classes a week for ages 3 to 12 years old. We offer free and low-cost at classes ACSF. Some of my teachers are Instrutor Corrente, Graduada Tulipa, Graduado Papagaio and Graduada Ciranda. They are a big artist group teaching on a regular basis and performing all over the Bay area. A big part of our outreach is through educational performances, the same type of demonstration that got me in to it.
The teens 12 years old to 19 can train for free everyday, plus special classes for just teens on Fridays. There is also a community class on Sunday that adults pay for but there no charge for teens, and this class raises funds will go towards a campaign to bring 2 teens to the Jogos Mundiais in Rio 2013, a very big international event.
What do you enjoy the most about teaching capoeira?
The great pleasure that I see in people’s face after a good class where they got challenged and look tired but still want more is very rewarding. It is very inspiring to see different people who probably never would had crossed roads in life become friends and respect each other life choices and still find something in common with each other, and long term relationships getting built from that.
For me as a teacher, I see the growth of the school in level of skill, commitment, interest in Brazilian culture all around, and have students of mine who are now professionals themselves: teaching, performing, opening their own schools in other cities, and promoting this art form themselves.
And while ACSF’s BANDW free offerings don’t include children’s classes, here’s an impressive video of some of ACSF’s younger children performing for their parents. It’s absolutely adorable.