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Fun With Brazilian Exercise

The Brazilian dance/fighting style that has taken root in Buffalo

Former Artvoice videographer John Long (now living in Chicago) recently sent us a book about the Afro-Brazilian martial art/dance practice of capoeira. At the height of the slave trade during the 19th century, the practice was criminalized in Brazil when authorities suspected that the dancing moves of capoeira disguised combat training for slaves intent on rebellion. At one point, as many 30 percent of slaves entering some Brazilian jails had been arrested for practicing capoeira.

As intriguing as the book was, it seemed unlikely we’d ever come across the practice in Buffalo. That was a wrong assumption. Matt Zinski has been leading capoeira classes for several years, first in the suburbs and now at the Shakti Yoga studio on Grant Street. Artvoice went by to visit one of Matt’s classes.

AV: What is capoeira?

MZ: Capoeira is a 400-year-old Brazilian martial art; it incorporates acrobatics, aerobics, dance, music, martial arts, and community. But it isn’t along the traditional lines of either martial arts or dancing because it brings the two together and allows people to learn self-defense through self-expression.

What makes capoeira particularly appealing to people is the community aspect of it. People have a chance to work out together and also to find a connection within the roda [in which people circle around alternating pairs of participants who spar/dance against each other while music is played. It’s similar to the circle formed to watch solo break-dancers take turns.]

The roda is the culmination of what we do in capoeira. It is there that we practice it; it is there that we play it; it is there that we fight it. The most important word is ‘play.’ We don’t call it sparring, we don’t call it fighting, but we play with one another. This is reinforcing the idea of community and the group.

You’ll see that through our practice everybody is always moving, so on the physical fitness side, it is an hour and a half of nonstop movement. We don’t use any weights or any other kind of equipment. It’s all your own body. You learn to move your body in every way possible and the muscles that you’re working are working with the 150 pounds or however much you weigh. Working out in capoeira is not the traditional isolation of biceps, quads, and hamstrings exercises, rather it’s the entire body muscle that’s being worked—controlling muscles, all the major muscles, everything. You’ll be sore in spots where you didn’t even realize you had a muscle.

The practice is for all ages and sexes. We have students right now ranging in age from six to 50. We have a children’s class specifically for children and the kind of enthusiasm that you see there, the natural learning ability and the way the kids move, is just fantastic, it’s amazing what they do. But no matter where you are in your life there’s a place for you capoeira.

However, probably the most important thing about capoeira is that it’s a community and it’s a group. The movement and the physical fitness side could be practiced alone, but ultimately you need the group, and you want to be a part of the group to grow as an individual. That’s what really makes capoeira distinct from other ways of being fit.

AV: Are there competitions or hierarchies?

MZ: In capoeira we don’t necessarily get together for competitions; we have workshops and events that celebrate coming together as a larger capoeira community. It’s a time where you get to meet people from around the world and learn from them, grow with them, work with them, and ultimately play capoeira with them.

When we get together for these workshops, there’s no championship, there’s no hierarchy, it’s just groups coming together to work together and to play capoeira together. We do have a belt system, and people do progress as they train with capoeira. So there’s a hierarchy of a master, a student, an instructor, etc. However, no one is competing with another master to become the ultimate master. It’s really just coming together master and master to teach more students more things. So it’s really just a hierarchy of accomplishment.

­Interview for Artvoice by J.M.

Capoeira classes in Buffalo at 133 Grant Street; phone 248-9456.

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