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'm putting on my cultural anthropologist hat to look at some of the research that helps us understand learning, movement, and the history of capoeira.
Is it a game? A dance? A ritual? A fight?
Capoeira is meant to trick and deceive by being all of these at once. The untrained eye viewing capoeira often wonders, Who won? Yet the trained practitioner knows the subtle movements that may be just a game today, but would be deadly if the need arose. Anthropologist Greg Downey explains the history of this deceptive martial art:
The perceived "disorderly appearance of capoeira has roots in 19th century Brazil, when it was associated with urban gangs called capoeiras and desordeiros or ‘disorderlies,’ [who were] alternately turned to as political enforcers and turned upon and persecuted as a target of moral panic.... Even though capoeira is now legal and openly practiced, even endorsed by the state, many practitioners seek to maintain the sense that they are practicing ‘disorder.’
Disorder and Progress?
In a nation whose flag touts “Order and Progress,” how did such a “disorderly” art come to be respected cultural heritage? Capoeira at its core is full of contradiction and deception, and it is precisely because of this that it has endured. It is a powerful testament to the enslaved Afro-Brazilians who created capoeira that it continues to spread across nations and social classes over a century after its creation.
This post looks at anthropologist Greg Downey's 2014 lecture "Dance of the Disorderly: Capoeira, Gang Warfare & How History Gets in the Brain," presented at the Latin American Studies Center of University of Maryland, December 4, 2014.