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Dancing With Capoeira

October 17, 2008

CAPOEIRA: FROM BRAZIL TO “DANCING WITH THE STARS”

Aniefre Essien was first introduced to capoeira by his brother, who told him it was “this martial… something, something, something… created by African slaves in Brazil.” Three gold medals at the Copa das Americas later, it’s fair to say that Essien has come a long way as a capoerista and mestre (teacher). Capoeira Beyond Brazil is a knowledgeable insider’s guide to the world of capoeira, a concise history, and a thoughtful personal account of Essien’s practice.

As the title implies, capoeira has itself come a long way since its origins four or more centuries ago in Brazil. What is it, exactly? Martial art, dance, gym buzzword, even a component of Warren Sapp’s “Dancing with the Stars” samba training—capoeira adroitly wriggles out of cut and dry definitions. Continuously evolving, capoeira is as hard to pin down as the hotly contested issue of its origins. (Depending on whom you ask, capoeira is either Brazilian, African, or both.) Essien calls capoeira an

intoxicating rhythmic motion of tricks, shows of strength and flexibility, displays of balance and grace, ancestral traditions, and lethal attacks.

Whatever it is, its sweeping kicks and joyous defiance of gravity are pretty amazing to watch.

For newcomers to capoeira, Essien outlines the philosophies of malicia (trickery) and esquiva (evasion), the role and energy of the roda in which two capoeristas spar, the etiquette of the jogo bonito (beautiful game). But Essien also looks, sometimes critically, at the development of capoeira in mainstream American culture, discusses his capoeira program for at-risk youths in Oakland, and offers answers to common questions about capoeira. (Trying to find a good mestre? Wondering how capoeira in Brazil differs from that in America? Curious about the role of music? ) Essien’s enthusiasm is matched only by his unpretentious expertise.

Contramestre Foca, the founder of Raizes do Brasil Brooklyn, comments that Capoeira Beyond Brazil is “the fruit of very serious work, proof that capoeira does not have boundaries of language, race, or social class.” As capoeira’s unexpected appearance on “Dancing with the Stars” shows, beyond Brazil is right.

CLICK HERE to purchase a copy of Capoeira Beyond Brazil .

CLICK HERE to browse more books on capoeira.

CLICK HERE to see Aniefre Essien, a.k.a. Professor Tartaruga (turtle) in action.

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