Capoeira Combines Music, Martial Arts

McClatchy Tribune Newspapers

Few modes of fitness allow you to not only get in shape, but also preserve an ancient, multi discipline art form.

Capoeira is at once a playful dance, a form of martial arts, a game, a musical experience and a great workout. At least, that's the impression you get watching a class taught by Jose Dantas, who goes by the name Mestre Caboquinho. Caboquinho works full-time teaching the Afro-Brazilian art form to people in metro Detroit and Ann Arbor, Mich.

Capoeira traces its roots to Brazil 500 years ago when Africans enslaved by the Portuguese used it to train, undercover, in martial arts.

"When the Portuguese would see Brazilians practicing, they would say, 'Oh, are you fighting?'" said Roshiani Dantas, Caboquinho's wife, who translated for him. "Africans would say, 'No, no, we're not fighting. We're dancing.' There are a lot of tricks involved."

Those tricks happen in a roda, or circle, of people playing instruments like drums and a berimbau, which looks like a long rod with a wire and weighted ball strung on it.

Two people will meet in the roda to play capoeira - they spin, do handstands and kick, all in apparent synchronization. One kicks high, the other ducks. One spins left, the other right. It's like a dance - and that's the point.

There is no contact, no violence, only the hint that the same moves could be used to fight.

Beyond the physical, capoeira is a mental exercise. Caboquinho can't answer questions about the practice without becoming philosophical. Take his explanation of how quickly newcomers can pick it up.

"You have to put together the truth with the lies," Roshiani Dantas translated. "That's how life is, and he's saying it's the same thing in capoeira. "

Caboquinho says he's the only Brazilian mestre - which means master - teaching authentic capoeira in Michigan.

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