Capoeira: A dialogue of movements, an expression of hope
Story and photos Marisol Rodríguez
At first glance, the art form of Capoeira may resemble a duel, filled with high, elaborate kicks, but as Capoeira instructor Freddy Correa will tell you, it is more a “dialogue of movements” as experienced through a combination of martial arts, dance and music with a rich history and cultural significance that traces back to Brazil.
Capoeira students of all ages showcased their skills as honed in classes led by Correa with the New York Chapter of the Brazilian Association for the Support and Development of the Art Form of Capoeira (ACNYC) in Harlem this past Sat., Apr. 14th at the Police Athletic League Center.
At the annual “batizado,” or blessing, akin to a graduation ceremony marking the students’ work over the past year, friends and family observed “matches” to the sounds of live music of Capoeira’s signature instruments: the berimbau, atabaque and pandeiro or tambourine.
In Capoeira, a batizado is also when a new student is officially welcomed into the
group as a serious practioner – a capoeirista – and given a special belt called a cordão.
Washington Heights resident Mayra Zapata, who performed in one of the “matches,” has been practicing Capoeira for six months and feels a connection to the art form that was brought to Brazil by African slaves.
“It goes back to our slavery days,” said Zapata. “The slaves used [Capoeira] as a disguise to train in order to fight the slave masters.”
Like Zapata, Correa, who is Dominican, feels a strong bond to the art form, although it is more closely associated to Brazil.
“We tend to value more European ideals,” said Correa. “I was always looking for a connection to [my] African roots and with Capoeira I was able to fill that void.”
In addition to feeling culturally linked to the art form, Correa has dedicated his career to teaching Capoeira at community centers throughout northern Manhattan and the Bronx because of its physical and emotional benefits, which were exemplified at the Batizado.
Eluz Infante stood before the crowd at 165 pounds, 55 pounds lighter after six months of Capoeira training from Correa, who rewarded her with a trip to Brazil she will take with a group of classmates in August.
But the rewards are not physical alone.
Correa also highlighted Infante’s emotional transformation through Capoeira.
When Infante first started, Correa described her as “borderline depressed,” but now finds her more confident and extroverted.
Each student receives a Portuguese nickname, which Correa bestows upon them with based on their characteristics.
Infante received “Estrella” or Star.
“I wanted to show her that she can shine, that she has an immense light,” he said.
Michael Perdomo was also acknowledged on Saturday for not only losing 60 pounds through Capoeira, but inspiring his family to join him at practice.
Perdomo’s cousin, Leslieann Díaz, a student at Peace and Diversity Academy in the Bronx, started last March and has since lost 25 pounds.
While at first she wasn’t convinced Capoeira was for her, Díaz now enjoys it, and even listens to the music on her cell phone.
Díaz also said Capoeira has helped her relate to people better through meeting a diverse group of people at classes.
“I feel I understand people more,” said Díaz, who highlighted the appreciation and inspiration she feels from a fellow Capoeira student who is physically handicapped.
At Saturday’s “Batizado,” Correa also recognized this student, Maria Saldarriaga, whom he had named “Esperanza” or Hope.
He noted Saldarriaga’s “cry of happiness” from being recognized for her accomplishments in Capoeira, an electric connection shared by many of those who train with him.
“It’s feeling that energy of the community coming together,” said Correa. “It causes an emotional rush.”