By Kate Feinberg Robins, Ph.D.
At Find Your Center, our teaching is informed by research on learning and movement, as well as our many years of intensive training in the arts that we teach. For the next several blog posts, I'll put on my cultural anthropologist hat to look at some of the research that helps us understand learning, movement, and the history of capoeira.
This post looks at Greg Downey’s 2008 article “Scaffolding Imitation in Capoeira: Physical Education and Enculturation in an Afro-Brazilian Art,” published in American Anthropologist 110:2, pp. 204-213.
Based on research with Mestre João Grande’s Capoeira academy in New York City, anthropologist Greg Downey identified 3 characteristics that set expert Capoeira teachers apart. João Grande spoke little English and his students spoke little Portuguese, yet his teaching was highly effective. How did he do it?
Downey found that Capoeira, like many other forms of physical education, is learned largely through imitation—and that effective learning through imitation requires not just an attentive student, but also an expert teacher. A good teacher facilitates imitation by:
In learning theory these techniques are called “scaffolding,” because the teacher provides extra support for novice students and gradually takes that support away until students can stand on their own (just like the scaffolds used for building construction).
In these videos from Capoeira Vibe, you can see Mestre Parente demonstrating these teaching techniques with the macacão (big monkey) movement. His use of scaffolding makes the Portuguese video easy to follow even if you don’t understand the language!
The teacher concludes the video by demonstrating the movement in context with a partner. In this final demonstration, the macacão is no longer part of a set sequence, no longer carefully positioned and slowed for the student to observe. At this point, the teacher has removed the scaffolding so that more advanced students can imitate freely and perform the movement in context on their own.
Next time you come to class, notice how your capoeira and ballet teachers at Find Your Center place the movements we're teaching in a sequence. Notice how we position ourselves, our students, and the mirrors so that you can see from various angles. And notice how we break down each movement into its component parts. If you're confused about something, ask us: How would this movement be combined with others? Can I see it from a different angle? Can you slow it down?