A History of Movement: Capoeira
We can all dance - some better than others - but have you ever had to dance for your life? This International Dance Day, we're looking at the history of Capoeira, a Brazilian dance-infused martial art.
Capoeria is younger than 3000-year-old martial arts like karate, only forming in the 16th century. The martial art is actually considered a rhythm-based game, with musicians providing the accompaniment. To begin, the players and musicians form a circle known as a roda, and when in the roda only players’ feet and hands can touch the floor. Unlike many of today's martial arts - where tagging or throwing your opponent equates to a win - Capoeira competitions focus on putting your opponent out of time with the music using leg swipes and energetic movements.
While the dance moves of Capoeira were refined in Brazil, the self-defence aspect can be traced back to the West African art of “Engolo”, a kind of ritual combat involving kicks and sweeps while staying close to the ground. When slaves were brought to Brazil, they brought the teaching of Engolo with them. While colonists strictly prohibited many cultural customs or practices - especially self-defence or martial arts - not all kinds of dance were outlawed. To elude the colonists, the sticking and evasive moves of Engolo were modified and disguised as rhythmic dance moves, forming the basis of the Capoeira used today. Capoeira may have proved to be a vital tool for West Africans escaping slavery, allowing people to defend themselves without weapons. Slavery was finally abolished in Brazil in 1888, but Capoeira continues to develop to this day - both as a pastime and competitive sport.
These days Capoeira is considered a symbol of Brazilian culture, receiving the status of "intangible cultural heritage" by UNESCO in 2014. The sport has been kept alive through choreographed dance displays and physical competitions. Now, with the popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Capoeira is enjoying a resurgence. Many mixed martial arts fighters incorporate aspects of this Brazilian martial art into their style, including former featherweight and lightweight UFC champion Conor McGregor.
You can see McGregor demonstrate a Capoeira kick on US late night talk show Conan here.
Looking to get into the swing of Capoeira? Check out our Capoeira playlist composed of music traditionally used for Capoeira competitions: