By DeShawn “Quiabo” Robins
The first time I saw capoeira performed, it looked like magic. I saw people moving in ways that I didn’t think possible. But they were doing it, so it was somehow possible. I felt like it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
I was 17, growing up in inner city Detroit. I was used to seeing negative images of African Americans in the media. As an African American kid, to see that such a beautiful art existed and was created by Africans really impacted me.
That first class was extremely difficult. I could barely walk after it was over, but it was fun. I think the most exciting thing about it was the roda, when I got to see the older students play. That was just amazing.
In a capoeira roda, you have a circle of spectators or players. We call the activity a game and the participants players. The game represents life, so when players practice capoeira they’re practicing life. The master or teacher usually leads the music, and the music tells the players what game to play. The rest is up to the players. As in life, there are many different situations. Some are fun, some are scary, some require you to defend yourself. There’s a game for every situation.
An essential part of the roda is song. Capoeira songs are sung in Portuguese. For Brazilians, it’s easier to learn new songs because you recognize the words. But if you don’t speak Portuguese, they’re just sounds. I find the site Capoeira Song Book really helpful because if you learn what the words are and what they mean, then the songs start to make sense.
Capoeira songs sometimes tell stories of great masters who have long since died. Sometimes they tell us about the struggles and triumphs, the heroes and the villains of capoeira. The songs are important for understanding history. When we understand the history of capoeira, we understand the circumstances that have contributed to the art. We can see situations, choices, and outcomes. We can learn from the past. And the history of capoeira is not just a history of Brazil, but also a history of Africa, a history of oppression, and a history of triumph.
One really popular capoeira song is called “Paraná ê” or “Paranuê Paraná.” When I hear and sing this song, I feel comfort. It’s one of the first songs I learned, and virtually everyone in the capoeira community is familiar with it. When you search for “parana e” on the Capoeira Song Book website, you can hear it performed, and read the lyrics in Portuguese, English, and French. The site also has a glossary, where they explain some of the common words that aren’t translated.
The songs of capoeira are an essential part of the art. You can’t have a roda without them. If you know the most common songs, you can join a roda, singing along while watching the magic of the game.
By Kate Feinberg Robins
I first encountered Spanish dance when I was 10 years old and studying at Ballet Hispánico in New York City. It was my first summer intensive ballet program--I was a small-town girl from Ohio lucky enough to have a ballet teacher with connections to New York City Ballet and Steps on Broadway, and a grandmother who lived in Queens and was willing to drive me back and forth every day to Manhattan.
I remember eating my packed lunch between classes, listening to the chatter of Spanish around me. I remember putting on my dance shoes, thrilled, intimidated, and mystified by the idea of dancing in heels. And I still remember perfectly my favorite step from that summer: tacón-planta-tacón, tacón-planta-tacón, over and over across the studio, moving faster and faster, clicking heels and toes against the floor in a sharp crisp rhythm.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate Spanish dance more and more. It has much in common with ballet, particularly in its upper body movements, but is less physically strenuous and more accessible to dancers with a variety of physiques.
At Find Your Center, I’ll be teaching Spanish dance as a supplement to our ballet and capoeira classes. The wrist movements make it excellent training for weight-bearing movements done on the wrists in capoeira. And--it’s just fun!
Probably the most famous form of Spanish dance is flamenco. Thanks to youtube, you can give it a try in your very own living room--just try not to irritate your downstairs neighbors with your stomping.
For an excellent introduction to flamenco, I recommend the youtube series Flamenco Class Andrea del Conte. The videos are succinct and informative, beginning with a brief explanation of where flamenco comes from and then moving through the basics of technique (including tacón and planta foot movements), complete with exercises to learn and practice on your own.
With this solid base, you can come to Find Your Center next year ready to dance with your fellow students—and maybe even invite those downstairs neighbors!