International Women's Day is certainly an appropriate occasion to remember and celebrate some of the women in capoeira. Historically, women have not been well represented in capoeira groups and they have certainly not always been praised in song. In "Dendê de Aro Amarelo" we loudly proclaim "Sou homen não, sou mulher" and that's far from the worst thing that we sing about women in the roda.
Today, an increasing number of women have made a place for themselves in the roda and in the larger world of capoeira. Every time that I learn a little bit more about their lives and the work that they do, I am more impressed and thankful to have them as a part of our community.
Since I first started training capoeira in the mid 80's, there has always been a strong representation of women in our group (Capoeira Mandinga.) Many still do capoeira, but many more have gone on to other things...careers, families...things almost as important as capoeira. I would like to salute a few of those women by saying a grand "Salve" to Regina, Diane, Rebecca, Helena, Paulinha, Suzanne, Janela, Gazela, Peneira and so many others that I've forgotten.
And last, but certainly not least, I'd like to extend a big hug and a thank you to Mestras Sorriso and Lagosta. We are all in your debt. Salve!
Yes, I know I should have said that last month, but fortunately for me, the lunar New Year is a two week celebration. Welcome to the year of the horse. According to travelchinaguide.com, "The spirit of the horse is recognized to be the Chinese people's ethos – making unremitting efforts to improve themselves. It is energetic, bright, warm-hearted, intelligent and able."
You may have noticed that it has been a while since my last blog entry. My apologies for that. I really did not intend to let that much time pass between posts. Well, in the spirit of "...unremitting efforts to improve..." I would like to set a goal of doing at least 6 new posts this year. If all goes as planned, it will be a busy year for me. I plan to do more traveling and more teaching as well as completing a few photo projects. In light of all that, I think 6 new blog posts this year will be doable.
Stay healthy and embrace the "spirit of the horse."
Last night (August 15) Capoeira Mandinga participated in the monthly Piedmont Ave. Stroll (http://www.piedmontavestroll.org/blog.html) by playing capoeira outside for almost 90 minutes. Yesterday was also Mestre Marcelo's birthday and in true capoeira tradition he declared his intention to play with everyone in the roda. Considering that there were probably over thirty people present, that would be no easy task.
I was standing outside of the roda, catching my breath after finishing a game, when a passerby approached me and asked if I did that "dance" too. When I said yes, he told me that I should stop because I was too old and would hurt myself. I had to laugh. What the stranger didn't know is that when I first started training capoeira over 25 years ago, my goal was merely to train until I got injured, then quit and move on to something else.
Well, I've had quite a few injuries over the years but nothing that made me want to leave the game for good. I have had blisters on my feet, sore muscles, a busted lip, a dislocated toe, back pain, rotator cuff injuries, knee pain and other things that I've forgotten. Maybe it's love or maybe I'm just too stupid to listen to reason.
The only good thing about injuries is that they give you the opportunity to learn how to take better care of yourself. It took a while but I learned a few things that helped keep me going. For instance: stretching after class is a really good practice, icing joints and injuries helps with healing and wearing a knee, ankle, etc. brace can remind you to be careful how you use a body part that is in pain. One of the most important things that you can do for injuries is to know when to seek the help of a professional (doctor, physical therapist, chiropractor) and to be patient when you are told that it will be months before you are fully recovered.
The secret to longevity in any sport or activity isn't really a secret at all. Whether it's running, biking, rock climbing, golf or rugby, pick something that you love doing with a family of like-minded individuals who will support and encourage you. I'm grateful that my capoeira community fulfills that roll for me. Axé.
Most of us don't need Webster's or the Oxford dictionary to define "home." For some of us it's the place where we were born or where our family lives. For others, it's the community that we have chosen to be a part of.
Oakland has been the home of Capoeira Mandinga for almost thirty years. When Mestre Marcelo started teaching classes at the original Caribee Dance Center, capoeira was almost completely unknown in the US. Today the uniforms, movements and instruments are widely recognized even by people who have never trained it.
Over the past two decades we have offered classes throughout the SF Bay area, from Berkeley and San Francisco to Marin County and Santa Rosa. But Oakland has always been our home base, the center from which we have shared our knowledge of Brazilian arts and culture.
Approximately ten years ago we opened our first capoeira academy in a former yoga studio on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. It was an almost perfect location and we thrived there. It really felt like we were home. Having a fixed location really made a difference in our cohesion as an organization and enabled us to both increase our student enrollment and to expand our outreach to the community.
In 2009, after extensive negotiations and a lot of hard work, we were able to move into our present location on Piedmont Ave. This new, larger space has allowed us to offer even more classes and activities including Kindergym, Afro-Brazilian dance, Portuguese classes, acrobatics, drumming, a capoeira women's event and the list goes on. We believe that we are a vital force that brings a lot of positive energy to the community.
Due to recent complaints about noise from our academy, the city of Oakland has shortened our evening hours so that we cannot offer classes after 8 pm. Since most of our students work during the day, this will severely limit their ability to train. A major drop in our enrollment would mean that we could no longer afford to stay in our current home.
On July 17 we will be asking the City Planning Commission to extend our hours of operation until 9:30 pm daily. If you have ever been to an event at our academy and think that our appeal is reasonable, please support us. It would be great if you could attend the Planning Commission meeting (6 pm at Oakland City Hall) but whether or not you attend, please email case manager David Valeska (firstname.lastname@example.org) to express your support.
After last month's text (and link) heavy blog, I thought I would try adding a few more pictures this time. So, what follows are some of my favorite moments from this year's Mandinga Tucson batizado weekend.
A picnic in the desert with Zum Zum, CM Parafina, CM Luar, Mestres Esquilo & Pinga Fogo
Kids Capoeira and Maculelê
Acro Yoga: Strength, balance, grace. Staring Fortuna, Pescador and Mestre Pinga Fogo.
Adults running and playing with sticks.
I will close out this entry with a few words about someone who was a guest at the 2008 Mandinga Tucson batizado. That would be Mestre Lucas of Capoeira Canavial. Lucas is family. I first met him at the Mandinga Formatura in Brazil in 2006. After he moved to the Bay Area, he became a regular at rodas, workshops and events at our Oakland academy as well as at other schools in California and beyond. It was obvious that Mestre Lucas loves capoeira. His movements in the game show a high level of skill, but more importantly, he brings a lot of positive energy to the roda.
Recently Mestre Lucas began experiencing serious health problems. After several trips to the hospital and numerous test, the doctors have determined that he has Lyme disease. For someone without medical insurance it has been an expensive journey to this diagnosis. He has been reaching out to the capoeira community for help. He can still teach, so if your group invited him to teach some workshops, it would be a big help. Otherwise, please visit his fund-raising site and contribute what you can: http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/support-mestre-lucas/55389
And please spread the word. Thank you.
"Santa Clara clariô, a flor da capoeira brotou."
Capoeira spring has sprung! At least in the SF Bay Area. For me it started on March 8 at a workshop by Professora Sarara in Oakland. She is one of the most amazing young capoeiristas I know and because she lives in Arcata, CA, I rarely get to train with her. (More my fault than hers because she visits us much more often than we travel northward.) Many thanks to Contra-Mestre Xango and Menina for arranging the workshop. Though she's still recovering from recent back surgery, Sarara still plays better than 90% of us do.
Next, of course, was the Capoeira Ijexa Batizado at San Francisco State University. Mestre Urubu Malandro and his students always get the "batizado season" started right. With workshops before and open rodas after the ceremony, it was a fun weekend. Guests included Contra Mestre Mintirinha, Mestres Espirro Mirim, Marcelo, Caboclinho and Nenel among countless others.
Then there was the blockbuster week of March 25 to 31! Since I did not have to work that week (Spring Break) I decided to take the Monday night capoeira class at the Mandinga Academy. What a class! An intense, extended warm up, led by "drill sergeant" Come Come, that demonstrated how out of shape we all are. Especially me. But I survived to tell the tale and may even take the class again when I can afford to sleep late the following day.
Thursday March 28 was a double header. First a presentation by Mestre Cobra Mansa on the research he has done into the African roots of capoeira and other Afro-Brazilaian cultural expressions. After much work and many trips to Angola, the film that he and Matthias are making is nearing completion. Take a look at the clips on their indiegogo site:( http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/angolan-roots-of-capoeira?c=activity&website_name=angolanroots) and get a peek at what's to come.
The second half of the night was the roda at Mandinga Academy to welcome Mestre Daniel Calongo to California. He's an amazing athlete, as you'll see in this clip (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=8iHioBOU5Zg) but his game is about much more than doing flips. Looking forward to getting to know him. Lots of great people at the roda and plenty of exciting games.
Friday was the first night of the "Festa de Cultura da Bahia" presented by Contra Mestre Malandro and Filhos de Bimba.I had the chance to take a samba de roda class as well as two capoeira Regional classes. Surprisingly, I still had enough energy to play in the roda afterwards. I was especially happy to be able to play a brief game with Mestre Nenel, a rare treat.
Saturday was another double header. It started with music and movement classes taught by Mestre Cobra Mansa at the ICAF Oakland academy. He critiqued my berimbau, so I'm going to have to make some improvements on it before the next time he sees it. Part of the movement class was about the art and science of rasteiras. (Alguém vai cair.) I skipped the roda at Lake Merritt, which I hear was great, in order to make it to the second day of the Festa de Cultura.
Following a Q & A with Mestre Nenel, the Filhos de Bimba students did performances (puxada de rede, maculele, etc.) and received recognition for their hard work and accomplishments over the past year. Following the open roda was perhaps the best part of the weekend, a chance to sit, eat and talk with a bunch of capoeiristas without worrying about being kicked in the head.
Just a few words about the art that I train and teach.
Capoeira is a martial art that was created by the enslaved Africans who were brought by the Portuguese to Brazil to work the mines and plantations of that country. It is estimated that between the 16th and 19th centuries, over three million Africans were transported to Brazil. Few written accounts remain of this period, but a rich oral tradition says that capoeira was used as a means of unarmed combat. Some Africans were able to use it to defend themselves from their overseers and to escape into Brazil's vast jungle areas. When they saw how effective capoeira could be, the Portuguese outlawed it. Anyone caught practicing capoeira was severely punished--many were even killed. As a way of preserving their art, the capoeiristas began to disguise it by adding music, singing, and acrobatic movements so that it began to look like a dance, a harmless entertainment. Thus capoeira survived from generation to generation, under the noses of those who wanted to destroy it. In 1932 Mestre Bimba opened the first capoeira academy to be officially recognized by the government. Today capoeira is a National Sport in Brazil and is rapidly gaining recognition in South America, Europe, the United States, Australia, and Canada.
Capoeira is a game that is played by two people inside a circle or roda. But it is more than just a game. It is also a dance, a competition, and a training for self-defense. The players kneel in front of the musician at the top of the circle and await permission to begin playing. Once permission is granted they begin to execute a series of kicks, escapes, and counterattacks. The type of game being played is determined by the music being played. Capoeira ranges from slow chess-like games played close to the floor, to combative games where the attacks are for real, to high flying games that are purely acrobatic. Everyone is encouraged to participate by singing, clapping, and playing the musical instruments. Some capoeiristas even learn to make their own instruments.
Capoeira teaches coordination, self-control, and cooperation. It also helps develop strength and flexibility. It is a survival art that has endured for over three centuries by adapting itself to the circumstances and abilities of those who practice it.