For those of you not familiar with the particulars of Afro-Brazilian culture, capoeira is a martial art that combines dance, fighting, and music. Think this esoteric activity sounds like something you wouldn’t be able to find in DC? Think again, because your city boasts not only one capoeira studio, but at least four that I aware of. Capoeira Angola in Petworth, Capoeira Sul da Bahia in Takoma Park, and the Universal Capoeira Angola Center on U St. are just a few of your options. Capoeira Malês (aka the Capoeira Spot), at 7th and U St. NW, is where I began my own Brazilian adventure.
Capoeira derives from African slaves, who brought the art to Brazil at least 400 years ago and used it as a form of resistance against the Portuguese. Even after slavery was abolished, the dance continued to be “played” and has become one of the most famous and distinctive parts of Brazilian culture.
The point of capoeira is not to inflict injury on your opponent, or even to come into contact with him or her, but to engage in a sort of conversation, where each offensive move countered with a defensive move—all in time to the drums and music. Pairs of combatants enter a “roda,” or circle, and play capoeira together while being encouraged and cheered on by the other participants. See this clip to get a sense of what how great capoeira is supposed to look (skip to second 45 to avoid the tacky intro).
But of course, beginners don’t start with flips and crazy moves. Rather, my capoeira class began with introductions and stretching. We were then taught a series of different moves such as ginga (rocking back and forth), esquiva (escape), and au (headstands). Class consists of practicing these moves, both individually and with partners, and then participating in a small roda at the end.
Let me note that capoeira is not for the faint of heart, nor weak of limb. You will get quite the work out—my glutes hurt for at least two days afterwards! And don’t expect a gentle, yoga-esque welcome as a beginner, either. My instructor was considerate and helpful, but did not shy away from constantly calling me out for having poor form or being weak. And, perhaps this is because I never took martial arts as a kid, but the undercurrent of violence also made it a unique experience for me—for example, when my arm was not in front of my face in the appropriate way, the instructor yelled “keep your arm up or your teeth will get knocked out!” I guess that is indeed an incentive to get the moves right!
Capoeira Malês offers DC residents a first beginner class for only $5. Beginner I classes (trust me, you’ll want to start easy) are on Wednesday and Saturdays, and are a great opportunity to get a sense of the sport and see whether you’re made of the toughness that it takes to succeed at capoeira. Regardless of my relative lack of success at capoeira, it is certainly worth attempting!
To get there: 636 U St. NW, intersection of Georgia and Florida Avenues. 240-606-4446. Shaw Metro or 90s buses are the closest forms of public transportation.