This uniquely Brazilian activity — a hypnotically graceful but vigorous mix of dance and martial art — has become a popular sport throughout Brazil. However, it is most strongly linked to Bahia, where it originated. In fact, as you wander through Salvador, it’s not at all uncommon to see two men (or women) swinging, kicking, and sparring with each other, within a roda (circle) of other capoeiristas, who sing and clap to the accompaniment of drums, tambourines, and the twang of a berimbau — a traditional one-string instrument.
The berimbau is essentially a long piece of wood with a metal wire running along it, whose hypnotic sound is caused by the wire’s reverberations. African slaves brought the berimbau — and capoeira — to Bahia. On plantations, fights sometimes broke out between slaves from different tribes. To avoid severe punishment from plantation owners, the slaves added music and song to the fights and refined the movements so that, when masters suddenly appeared, the air kicks and lunges resembled a dance — which became capoeira.
Capoeiristas are so agile they never touch their opponents. Aside from a variety of kicks and lunges, movements include crouches, rolls, spins, and cartwheels. Only a “player’s” feet, hands, and head can ever touch the ground. The goal is to develop and demonstrate strength, flexibility, and artistry. Though it’s mostly for the benefit of tourists, regular displays of capoeira are held at the Mercado Modelo and the Terreiro de Jesus.
If it’s an authentic experience you’re after, head to one of Salvador’s Academias de Capoeira, traditional schools where you can observe classes free of charge. One of the oldest and most famous schools, the Associação de Capoeira Mestre Bimba (in the Pelourinho), offers demonstrations every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday at 7 p.m. Classes are also available for tourists.
At the beginning of 2007, the Forte de Santo Antônio Além do Carmo was transformed into the Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola. Here, capoeira displays can be seen on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday at 5 p.m.
Here are some of the most well-known capoeira schools:
Associacão Brasileira de Capoeira Angola
Rua Gregório de Matos 38, Pelourinho
Associação de Capoeira Mestre Bimba
Rua das Laranjeiras 1, Pelourinho
Capoeira Angola Irmãos Gêmeos Curió
Rua Gregório de Matos 9, 2nd Fl., Pelourinho
Escola de Capoeira Mestre Lua Rasta
Rua Inácio Accioli, Pelourinho
Grupo de Capoeira de Angola Pelourinho
Forte Santo Antônio Além do Carmo, Largo Santo Antônio Além do Carmo, Santo Antônio
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition