Looking Out To Sea

What is capoeira anyway?

Doing something obscure like capoeira comes with the risk of being asked what it is. Unlike karate or BASE jumping or African drumming the answer is neither common knowledge nor easily to summarise. Nestor Capoeira called it the dance–fight–game, which I will go out on a limb as being a pretty atrocious description while at the same time being totally true. Work that one out.

I have previously called it “an Afro-Brazilian martial art crossing the boundaries of game, dance, ritual and fight”, which is not much better to be honest. It just expands on Nestor’s definition by adding the word ritual in there.

The various elements all vying for inclusion in a good description — movement, music, play, acrobatics, song, ritual, fight, dance — are just as much in opposition in definition as they are in capoeira itself. What is playful about a fight? What is ritualised about play? What is acrobatic about song? What is musical about movement?

Maybe the answer is to describe only what you see. It is a game of two people in a circle of others. The crowd who form the circle produce music which dictates the mood of the activity in the circle. The two inside move to the rhythms, controlling the space and responding to each others’ movements. The interaction can be aggressive or playful and is often both in quick succession. The game ends when either players or music stop. There are no points to be tallied or need to decide a winner: it is played for the sake of the game itself.