Combat meets culture in this Brazilian martial art. Benita Adesuyan finds out how to get into the swing of things.
Is it a dance or a martial art? The debate about what category Brazilian capoeira falls under comes up every time it is mentioned. Combining kicks, sweeps, and take-downs with the expressive rhythmic ‘ginga’ dance, capoeira is a marriage of both.
Capoeira has its origins in Brazil’s African heritage, with the slaves who were transported from countries such as Angola to the South American nation. As a martial art it was used by slaves who had escaped disguising it as a dance to avoid torture and execution.
Dubai expat, Nina Stone has been teaching capoeira for more than ten years, spending five of them here in the emirate. She is a ‘Professora’ of the sport, and despite her diminutive stature is full of energy as she leads the class. ‘Vamos’ she says in Portuguese as we jog around the mats for the warm-up. ‘Most people feel pretty tired just after the warm up’ she says as we stretch, and she’s not wrong. The session begins with several reps of push ups, deep stretches and splits to help us limber up.
Nina explains that capoeira has four parts – ground work, acrobatics, music and technique – and to excel you have to master all four elements. We start the class with the ‘ginga’ the basic rocking back and forth rhythm that distinguishes capoeira from other martial arts. This is done for balance and to keep the fighter in motion, making it harder to hit them.
Another distinctive part of capoeira is the cartwheels. Nina and the rest of the group make this look easy as they bound across the mats. ‘Capoeira brings out your inner child,’ beams Nina. ‘You have to go with the flow – if you think about it too much it blocks you. Capoeira is all about freedom of movement.’
Whether you see it as dance or martial art capoeira is considered a lifestyle. Capoeiristas (as practitioners of the sport are known) are given apelidos – nicknames – this a throw back to when capoeira was outlawed in 19th century Brazil but it’s a tradition that is still seen in the game today. Music is also an inherent part of the culture in Brazil and so too in capoeira. Midway through the session, Nina unzips her yellow and green bag to unload a collection of tambourines, and a berimbau, a single string instrument made from a wood bow and a metal string which Nina says is the king instrument in capoeira. ‘It sets the tone and the rhythm for the game’.
Waleed Rizk has been attending Nina’s classes for two years. ‘In my first class I almost passed out after ten minutes. I couldn’t do a handstand or a cartwheel but Nina told me to ‘stick and learn’ and I have.’ Waleed is now on his second cord and is preparing for the next level. He adds ‘We say “Capoeira Salve” which means capoeira saves – and it really does. I used to smoke and I was overweight but now I have a much healthier lifestyle and outlook on life.’
Usama Qasem another capoeira convert has been training for more than a year and finds that compared to other martial arts, capoeira is the most beneficial for him. ‘I initially did muay Thai, but capoeira is more than martial arts. I work in digital marketing and there’s a lot of stress and pressure but when you come and do capoeira you leave with positive energy. Because of the music in capoeira I’ve even started taking singing lessons – your brain needs creativity as well as physical activity.’
Nina adds that the sport has been known to be particularly beneficial for people with Downs Syndrome as it uses motor skills and assists with developing coordination, and it’s something the capoeira master is keen to see more of in Dubai.
Martina Cancio, was born and raised in Bahia, Brazil but only began to really appreciate capoeira when she moved to Dubai and joined Nina’s classes. ‘I never did any capoeira at home, and now I am here it makes me feel close to my culture.
Whether you see it as martial art or dance, capoeira offers a healthy dose of Brazilian heritage, fitness and music to sports fans here in Dubai.
Dhs75 per day or Dhs750 per month. Mon, Wed and Sat 8.30pm, Miraman Health Club, Al Joud Building, Al Quoz, www.miraman.ae (04 338 9148).
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