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Capoeira: A Fight for Freedom
Born from the oppression of slavery, capoeira is a liberating blend of dance, martial arts, and acrobatics. Check out Groupon’s history of this popular Afro-Brazilian art form.
Like the fluid movement of its players, capoeira is difficult to pin down. Part martial art and part musical performance, capoeira is both entertainment and ammunition. It can include everything from acrobatics to deft kicks that deliberately miss an opponent by mere inches. Though there are varying styles, capoeira is traditionally performed by two players within a roda, a ring of people who surround the fighters and cheer them on with handclaps and songs.
Capoeira’s history is an amalgam of legend and fact, but experts chart its existence back to the slave ships of the Middle Passage, which carried millions of Africans to the shores of Brazil under the direction of the Portuguese crown. Dreaming of retaliation and freedom, the slaves developed a means of self-defense disguised as dance, tucking razor blades between their toes to deliver blows with sweeping leg and foot movements. As slavery disappeared, so, too, did the blades, and the martial art evolved into the current blend of dance, music, and improvisation that defines capoeira today.
In Ring of Liberation: Deceptive Discourse in Brazilian Capoeira, J. Lowell Lewis describes capoeira as a form of play brought about precisely because of its roots in slavery. Capoeira and other New World art forms created in the wake of slavery, including jazz music, “embody this joyous sense of potential for liberation, which is especially intense when it comes from an intimate experience of oppression.” And, like jazz, much of capoeira is improvised, which “demands maximum creativity on the part of the players.”