Capoeira is, in its simplest terms, a blend of martial arts and dance which originated in Africa (most probably Angola), which creates some of the most powerful and graceful movements in this dance-sport. The “dance” half of the expression seems to stand for a form of being with one’s body as the main object, where one is focusing on feeling and assessing the quality of one’s movement.
There are numerous different movements in Capoeira, depending on the style, the region and the level of advancement the player is. The aim is to bring down or dominate your opponent by the use of physical interaction, whilst looking good doing so.
The essential movement in Capoeira is Ginga. For this, one needs to stand with the legs apart, then place your right leg forward, with the knee bent at a 90 degree angle. The left leg should be bent at a 45 degree angle with the foot placed firmly on the floor with a slight arch to the back. The player then eases their torso to the ground, making sure the back is perfectly straight. The feet should then rotate in a vine step to shift the player’s body position. The front foot should be able to pivot to allow the back foot to come to the front, whilst avoiding locking and planting one’s feet. All through this, the face should be protected by the elbow.
Another important movement in Capoeira is the Au Cortado. To do this, the player needs to stand in a position with the right leg slightly behind the left. The player then takes a step forward with the trailing leg whilst the body bends at the waist to the right side, with the right arm extended. The right hand then touches the ground whilst the player performs a cartwheel. The player twists their body and hips to the right in order for the right foot to reach the ground before the left. To finish the Au Cortado, the player needs to pull their body up so that their torso rises up from the waist in order for them to resume the starting position.
Another important movement in Capoeira is Negativa. For this movement, one must bend the right leg and lean on one’s toes, while the bottom rests on the heels. The left leg should be at a 130 degree angle and the left food leaning on its blade. The player’s body should be leaning forward and the face should be protected by the right elbow. The player then leans on the left arm, specifically the palm whilst the left palm closes on the left knee.
In order to switch sides, the player needs to, from this position, leap with the right leg and, leaning on the palm whilst one’s body is in the air, switch the position of the legs and then switch hands.
It is not just physical movements that occur in Capoeira. According to one person studying Capoeira, he remarks that his favourite master “used to play games with eye contact, such that he rarely seemed to be looking his opponent directly in the eye. Often he seemed to be gazing randomly about the room with what appeared to be a rapidly shifting, in-direct focus. If a player fell for this trap, however, and tried a direct attack, the master would immediately neutralize it and laugh, simultaneously looking directly at him to indicate that his attention had never wavered from the other at all” (Lewis, p.231 – 232).
The movements of Capoeira are performed to music; indeed, they are the physical interpretation of the music played at the dance-sport, as well as a means of defeating the opponent.
Lewis, J. Lowell (1999 Sex and Violence in Brazil: “Carnaval, Capoeira”, and the Problem of Everyday Life, American Ethnologist, Blackwell publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association.