Columbia students explore softer side of Capoeira

By KatherineGamby

Capoeira é beleza, Capoeira é tradição, Capoeira tem fundamento, Capoeira

é vibração. These Portuguese words revert back to a song expressing how beautiful Capoeira is, the tradition and roots attached to it and the vibe. Though Capoeira is respected as a skilled martial art, not only at Columbia, but also in Chicago, the beauty of the culture of Capoeira is often overlooked.

Since the closing of Roosevelt University’s gym, Columbia’s free Capoeira class now meets on Tuesdays in the basement of the Dance Center, 1306 S. Michigan Ave. The class not only focuses on the physical aspect of the art, but the cultural, mental and ritual aspects, along with the lifestyles.

“The lifestyle of the capoeirista is the everyday person,” said Joshua Granger, instructor of Capoeira at Columbia. “It started with African and indigenous Brazilian people who were trying to survive in a society that was holding them down … and treating them like they were less than human.”

African slaves used Capoeira to hold on to their culture once they were brought to Brazil, but they had to disguise it as a game or a dance to hide it from their masters. Since slave masters burned the written history of the art, it is said that African slaves used Capoeira to revolt and then later form their own community with other Brazilian natives who learned the art. Just as it became a part of their lives, it is the same for modern-day capoeiristas, along with an added image, as Granger explained.

“The image of the capoeirista is to always be smooth, well groomed, suave, presentable and to be able to be flexible in any situation,” Granger said. “Just as their movements are flexible, their whole lives should be flexible.”

In Capoeira, the pace of the roda, or circle that the technique is practiced in, is controlled by the beat of the music accompanied by singing, which usually deals with what is happening in the roda.

“The singing is very important because like everything else that’s Afrocentric, stories are told within the music,” Granger said.

Capoeira is an art that is meant to flow and not be forced, which is also how a capoeirista lives his or her life.

“When you start losing the art form is when you start defining what it is and what it isn’t,” Granger said. “The beauty of it is that there are no barriers. It’s what it is and what it organically grows into–Capoeira.”

Chris Hooker, a senior at Columbia, has been practicing Capoeira since he was a freshman.

“It’s completely changed my life,” Hooker said. “Before I did Capoeira, I’ve always lacked a little bit of extra strength and confidence in my life, [which] was holding me back.”

He said the music, ritualistic and holistic aspects of the art translate into every part of his life.

“It enriches every part of my life, from my physical being to my mental health and my spirituality,” Hooker said. It’s basically how I get closer to God … it’s a powerful art form.”

Hooker said he feels that Granger is thorough in his teaching of the class from a historical and cultural side of the art.

“I think he is very careful and true to the roots of the art … he always emphasizes the historical aspects and the ambiguity of the origins,” Hooker said. “He teaches it in a holistic manner, in which you have to learn not only the physical part of it but [also] the roots, the whole philosophy of the game itself and being respectful to the capoeiristas before.”

Armand Greer, a Roosevelt University student, has been practicing Capoeira for five years, but is currently injured and plays the atabaque, which is an African instrument similar to a Conga drum, at each Capoeira session.

“I get a heavy cultural connection … the energy that I got from the first class, I was just at home with it,” Greer said.

Greer said that Capoeira teaches life lessons through the different games that are played.

“It teaches you to kind of read people more and understand the human persona in general,” he said.

Greer said he feels a historical connection to Capoeira because it’s a common thread between himself and his ancestors, the present and the past.

“It’s enabling me to look into my past and my history—things of that sort—and see that our ancestors used this as a tool for freedom,” Greer said. “Historically that’s the connection that I get from it.”