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Ask most people what they know about capoeira and you’re likely to draw a blank stare. But any member of BU’s Capoeira Club will quickly fill you in on the history behind the stylized martial art.
Capoeira originated in 16th-century Brazil, when slaves, forcibly brought from Africa to work on sugarcane farms and living in horrible conditions with no weapons to defend themselves, developed self-defense techniques. It was later banned in Brazil, but in 1940 was legalized and became popular. By the 1970s, capoeira masters were introducing the stylized martial art, which combines fight, music, acrobatics, and choreography, across the globe. Today you can find capoeira schools and classes across the United States and locally, in Cambridge, Allston, and Brookline.
Spylberg Moreira (MET’19), BU Capoeira Club president, describes it as “break dancing and fighting put together, just with more sway in the break dancing,” noting that the martial art allows for lots of self-expression.
Practicioners, called capoeiristas, say they’re drawn to it because it requires mental as well as physical agility: capoeiristas use a series of feints and fakes to try to trick their opponent to win the upper hand.
The BU club, open to anyone, regardless of skill level, was officially recognized in the 2018 spring semester. Members range from novices to those who’ve been practicing it since they were toddlers. The student capoeiristas meet twice a week, on Monday and Wednesday afternoons. Training is intense and each session begins with a 20-minute warm-up exercise. Then it’s up to the instructor to decide what techniques and movements to work on. These can range from kicks and rasteiras (leg sweeps) to tesouras (scissor kicks), dodges, acrobatics, and more. The stylized movements, which are set to music, look like a form of fighting, but no hits ever connect. The goal of each session is to leave feeling more flexible and mobile.
Paul Dubau (CAS’20), club vice president, took up capoeira after his mother introduced him to it in Italy. “There’s a lot of things about capoeira that I like, but the things I like the most are the aesthetic of the movements, the culture behind it, and the community,” he says. “Without the people I’ve met, I probably wouldn’t have kept doing it.”
Most capoeira attacks are made using the legs (kicks and leg sweeps). And while the complex maneuvers look difficult, club members say it’s a martial art that almost anyone can master.
“Capoeira is for everyone, no matter what age or body size,” Moreira says. “Capoeira is where you go to be yourself and not worry about what others think.”