Strength and “Image” in Capoeira: Why Floreios DO Matter

24 10 2008

Floreios--important but not in the way you think?Image is everything—or so the saying goes. The use of floreios in capoeira, in a way, is all about image.  Ergo, aren’t floreios everything?

[NOTE: As you may have figured by now, this post might be more regional-centric than usual, and for all I know not even apply to many other regional groups, depending on how much they value strength and floreios in a capoeirista.  To angoleiro/as and others to whom this note applies, I apologize in advance!]

Alright, for those of you currently shaking your head going, “Dear lord, Joaninha, have you learned nothing?”, let me explain. Based on some observations I’ve made over the past few months, I’m going to argue that while floreios probably are as inessential to a good capoeirista’s game as most people like to say, the ability (or lack thereof) to do them does matter and does affect your training in the long run as a capoeirista in a typical academy setting, particularly beginners, which thus ultimately affects your overall level in capoeira.

Let’s (not) Get Physical

It has nothing to do with the floreios themselves. Physically, being able to throw your entire body over your head or spin 360 degrees sideways in the air has zero correlation to whether you can just as skillfully strategize, emote, manipulate, flow, and/or converse inside the roda. The thing is, physicality has to do with facts.  And as I once heard someone say, “Facts are clear, they’re straightforward, they’re organized, you can understand them.  It’s when people get involved that everything becomes all messy.”

And capoeira involves nothing if not people! This is where the notion of “image” comes in.

First Impressions

Basically, right or wrong, being able to do floreios is often associated in people’s minds with being a good or advanced capoeirista.  I also think this happens on a subconscious level more often than not; even if people consciously know—and dutifully say—that pulling off floreios doesn’t necessarily mean you’re good or advanced, it’s natural to be impressed whenever anyone, especially a beginner, does something fancy, and so that makes an impression on you, consciously or subconsciously.  For supporting evidence regarding image/impressions and the (sub)conscious: how do you think advertisements, the media, and political campaigns work?

What helps to make this impression on people (i.e. teachers and other students) is size and strength.  Naturally, capoeira training involves a lot of strengthed-based exercises. Since a lot of classes put advanced students in front based on the assumption they can do the exercise properly for more beginner students to watch, students who aren’t advanced but still strong are also put in front as examples, because their strength allows them to pull off the exercise equally well.

My point is that while these students are considered “advanced” for those exercises purely for their physical strength, it is all too easy to see them as more “advanced” overall, especially as strength-based exercises are common/frequent in training, and so one sees the stronger students put ahead more often. Thus the impression of those students’ “advanced-ness” continues to build in people’s minds and subconciousnesses.

Seeing Is Believing

The more often certain students are seen in a position considered “advanced”—given to them strictly through size/strength and not taking into account experience, technique, strategy, etc., simply because the nature of the drill doesn’t require it—the more people will believe in and treat them as advanced capoeiristas, or capoeiristas with more potential, pushing their training more and playing more challenging games with them (for instance), until, all other things being equal, they truly are good, advanced capoeiristas.

Now, what’s wrong with this?  Absolutely nothing.  It’s a nice, normal, great example of someone with some natural advantage being trained by their capoeira teachers so they can work their way to the top (since no amount of strength precludes some effort in capoeira). The only thing is—at the risk of sounding somewhat small-minded here—that sometimes, sometimes, that given prominence and pushing forward of bigger/physically stronger capoeira students comes at the expense of seemingly smaller/physically weaker capoeira students, regardless of other, non-physical factors. (And perhaps rightly so, but I’ll come back to that later.)

Case Study

For example, let’s say that a class is told to go into partners to practice a sequence. Now, so far I haven’t mentioned anything about gender because it’s not directly related to the point of this post (physically stronger/weaker students as opposed to female/male students), and often throwing feminist views into an argument seems to have the unfortunate side-effect of making people dismissive of the entire thing. But in this example, quite a few women in my group, beginner and advanced, are smaller and slighter, while there are a lot of pretty big guys, both beginner and advanced. So what happens in partner work is that all the guys end up with each other, and same for the girls (based mostly on size, I should point out, rather than gender).

So, let’s say there’s a male capoeira student and a female capoeira student looking for partners.  The woman is a higher level than the man, but being smaller, is “supposed to” go with a smaller partner.  So based on statistics (and observations), the guy ends up working with a more advanced student (as a higher percentage of advanced capoeiristas are male) and the girl ends up working with a more beginner student (as there are more beginner than advanced female capoeiristas).

Obviously, size and strength matters when you’re training something like martelo or chapa de costa.  If just practicing sequences, however, you’d almost want students to go with completely differently-sized partners, as, for instance, a really short person would learn to kick higher while a tall person is forced to esquiva lower. But in most cases, no matter what the exercise, you’d think the academy was a boxing ring with uptight referees, the way people zoom (or encourage others to zoom) towards their own weight class.

The thing is, whom you work with and are exposed to on a regular basis does affect your training in the long run. Imagine five years of consistently being partnered with more beginner students. Now imagine five years of consistently working with capoeiristas who have more skill, knowledge, and experience than you do.  This is important when you consider partner work isn’t just for one isolated drill, but for many exercises and activities over a long period of training capoeira.

Thus, returning to our example, what happens? The guy’s training is slightly but steadily “accelerated” by his constant training with advanced students, and the girl, while maybe not exactly “brought down”, repeatedly loses out on training with a partner her level or higher—purely because the guy is bigger and stronger (not, please notice I’m not saying, just because he’s a guy; that’s incidental). The only difference between the two, deciding what kind of training each gets, is strength and size thanks to “weight class mentality”, not experience, technique, game, or any of those “more important” aspects of capoeira.

All Capoeiristas Are Not Created Equal

Thus, all of the factors I’ve explained above—rooted in having physical strength which is often displayed through floreios—add up and build into a snowball effect of subtly yet consistently “enhanced” capoeira training for the student who happens to walk into the academy athletically blessed.

And though it may be hard to believe after reading all I’ve just written, I’m not grudging them that (much). How can I??  That’s what I meant by “perhaps rightly so”, earlier.  Shouldn’t those who have more potential be encouraged to get ahead? Isn’t that what happens everywhere else, from kindergarten to grad school to the workplace? At the least, it would be quite unfair to stronger students to hold them back and turn each class into some Communist-like capoeira camp, where carefully divided training is rationed out in equal portions to each and every capoeira student.

So, I really hope this post didn’t come off as ranting against what I wrote about, because it’s not supposed to be.  I didn’t write in order to decry the “floreio effect” (as I christened it as of 1 second ago); I wanted to simply point out it exists, at least in my experience.

The Floreio Effect

Being able to do floreios doesn’t matter for its own sake, but for the sake of the consequences and implications of you being able to do them as a beginner capoeirista, starting with the impression you make on the teachers and students around you with shows of physical strength. Because strength is the one immediately applicable attribute of capoeira that’s flashy when you’re a beginner with not much else, it helps to overtly build one’s image of “advancedness”.  This opens you to further attention and some advantages of training as someone who is more advanced even though you’re still a beginner, until you really are advanced, allowing you to reach that point sooner and more quickly than someone who lacks physical strength, connected to the the ability to do floreios. Thus, when it comes to training capoeira, in the long, overarching scheme of things: even if they don’t matter the most—floreios do matter.

***

p.s. I developed this theory a month or two ago, so I’ve had further thoughts relating to it since then.  They’re on a pretty different topic, though grown out of this one, so I will be articulating them in another, upcoming post.

p.p.s. The more I think about it, the even less I think this post might speak to many other groups besides my own. Mainly, I’m remembering the capoeira group I trained with in Europe all last year, also contemporanêa, and I don’t recall “weight class mentality” (or gender distinction) in partner work or rodas making an appearance at all.

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22 responses

25 10 2008
Soneca

Great post.
Another aspect I’ve experienced is the social aspect. If someone is athletically blessed and learns to do fancy stuff quickly it gives that someone a headstart at the social aspect of the group compared with the other someone who can’t do the fancy stuff yet.

I.e. feeling outside the group? Learn to do a backtuck. Someone will talk to you then, I garantuee it.

On the downside, If you do floreios and only floreios and your game sucks (like mine), it can have a negative effect on the soicial aspect instead. I.e. people will think you’re a poser.

25 10 2008
Soldado

This is a very important topic for capoeira. When I first started I was paired with “bigger” more advanced students. I actually felt like I wasn’t getting the same hands on instruction from the mestre as the other beginners, because I was with someone else who was supposed to know the techniques.

I seem to run into the “weight class” mentality when I do workshops more-I believe its quicker to just do size a lot of times for visiting instructors.

Very nice post…worth the wait 🙂

26 10 2008
Cobrador

Hi Joaninha,
I must say I disagree with you. I think you miss a great deal of aspects when confronting this issue and I think this is because you base it on a very narrow base of facts.
First, as a regionalista (ABADA), the floreio is indeed a part of our game but is only(!) part of the movement repertoir. I see floreio as a tool, sometimes to open the game, sometimes to calm it, sometimes as an answer, and sometimes as “dende”. Being a tool in the game, it only(!) serves strategy.
I do agree with you that many times it is what attracts people to capoeira in the first place, and many times it is overemphasized by them, trying (as you said) to “gain points” but only leading to embarrasing situations in the roda having a lousy game with an incredible floreio coming out of nowhere and with no context to the game.
I think that you left out many reasons to this fenomenon. (1) People emphasize this aspect not only to gain points but because it is really the reason they joined and really want to master it. They will not stay if they don’t see the wider aspects capoeira has to offer. (2) many people do use floreio as an exuse for bad capoeira and many times you can see it is something that remains a characteristic of their (own) game for many years, this is because their teacher didn’t reflect it to them (or even worse – their teacher acted the same or didn’t have the proper knowledge) and this leads me to the main reason. (3) the teacher and the character of the group (which is mainly a product of the teacher) affect all of what you discribed above wheather it is the emphasis on the floreio or the on-going streangth-related “spontanious” division in the partner training. many times the subtext of what is going on in class (or for that matter, the culture around where the group is located) is what unbalances the original intention. For example, the floreio issue, as you implied, might be a reflection of ego issues. you can find ego all over the world but every culture tackle it differently. Ego is very present in capoeira and yet ego in Europe is very different from Brazil in the way it condotions people and eventually evolves into their behaviour. So you can find the tools being used in totaly different ways when in different hands, and it is the role of the teacher to balance the amount of emphasis for each tool (and it’s use) according to many aspects, including cultural conditioning.

You stepped very slightly on a very big blister so sorry for the very long comment. I hope I helped to widen this issue.

Welcome back…
Cobrador

26 10 2008
cigana

Good to have you back in the blogosphere. I’m still living in a place without a capoeira group and surrounded by non-capoeiristas so it’s great to participate in a “conversation” about capoeira.

My thoughts on floreios in general: ya, of course I was impressed by them when I first saw capoeira, but after I started playing it didn’t take long for me to get annoyed by them. Playing with someone who obsessively throws in floreios to show off in the middle of a game is like trying to have a conversation with someone with ADD. You’re talking to them, then all of a sudden they’re completely ignoring you thinking only about how they’re going to impress the audience.

At the same time, used as one of many tools within a game (not as a distraction, but as an intensifier), they can fit right in and make the game richer.

I just started taking breakdancing and I was struck by a similarity: at first when you see a breakdancer with lots of power moves and crazy freezes, you are naturally blown away. But like in capoeira you become desensitized to it after a while (oh, I’ve seen that 100 times before!) and you start looking for a little more substance. I’m more impressed by someone who is a good dancer, smooth, has their own style, really solid footwork and top rock, etc. Just like in capoeira.

A side note: you should talk to your teacher about the whole paring off by size thing. That’s terrible! There’s no reason to pair of by size unless you’re practicing cintura desprezada and you want to make sure your partner can support your weight. And pairing off by skill level, you should mix it up depending on the exercise – sometimes it’s good to have advanced and beginner together so the beginner can be challenged and learn from the other, sometimes having someone of the same level (or better) is good to challenge you, show you something new. Also, you’ll meet people of all levels in the roda, why not start in class? No matter who you play/practice with, you can always learn something about your game and yourself.

Again, welcome back. Looking forward to your posts!

26 10 2008
Joaninha

Soneca,

Thanks, and that’s another good point, which didn’t even occur to me, at least in those exact terms. It kind of goes back to the whole if you can do floreios, then people notice you more idea.

I think people would only think you’re a “poser” if you can only do floreios and have little game, BUT you act as if you think you’re good all around. If floreios are your strength but you’re still modest and recognize your weaknesses and that floreios aren’t everything, there shouldn’t be any problem with that!

26 10 2008
Joaninha

Soldado,

That’s a really good point from the flip side of the coin. I didn’t even think there’d be a negative side for being “upgraded” partner-wise, but as you pointed out, it could detract from their training as well, if their partner happens to assume they’re more advanced than they really are and not make the necessary changes in their approach as for a beginner.

The thing is, it’s not just visiting instructors (I don’t think they’d care as much to be honest, since students always pair themselves off), or instructors who are doing it…it’s also the students themselves…thanks to the whole environment, the mentality’s internalized! Once I asked a tall friend to be partners, and they laughed! Not meanly or anything like that, but you see what I mean.

And thanks for the kind words =)

26 10 2008
Joaninha

Cobrador,

You don’t have to apologize! One of the main reasons I write is to promote dialogue, and you did help to widen the issue, so thank you for your comment!

Again, you pointed out something that didn’t enter my mind in the slightest while writing the post (which is a good thing)—the idea that floreios are really the whole reason some people join capoeira in the first place.

The thing is, and I just realized we’ve all been leaning this direction somewhat from everyone else’s comments as well, that we’ve been talking about students assuming they’re always showing off floreios and thinking they’re all that because of it, etc., but they aren’t my point at all. My post wasn’t about “fingerpointing” students like that, and it applies to students who show off just as much as it applies to students who *know* that floreios are just a tool/part of the repertoire (exactly what you said, and I really liked how you described it), and have the most humility in the world. Whether they are overly proud of it or genuinely self-deprecating, just the fact that they can do it gives them that advantage, so that’s what I was talking about.

What you said about ego is interesting. I’d definitely like to see someone examine the dynamics of that and how it operates in different capoeira groups…

26 10 2008
Joaninha

Cigana,

“Playing someone obsessed with floreios is like talking to someone with ADD.” – You just totally made my day, I think that is one of the funniest and best capoeira analogies I’ve ever heard!! I’m tempted to send it to one of my capoeira teachers just so they can start using it on us. XD

That’s cool about the breakdancing though—not your desensitization, exactly, but just the idea that no matter what, everything needs substance behind the pretty lights.

Thanks, and for your advice, too…definitely agreed with everything you said there. I don’t know about bringing it up in class since I don’t want to seem like I’m blowing up a huge issue out of what, on some level, could be seen as natural/”common sense”, but sometimes I’ll try mixing things up just for myself, like I mentioned to Soldado above…

27 10 2008
qualhada

wow joaninha…damn! get a grip woman! i started reading your post and after, like 5 lines i wanted to leave a comment…it was at this precise moment i realised you didn’t launch a post…you wrote a fu#@in’ essay on floreios in capoeira…geezzz…calme little one!
So since i’m not the first one to comment on this i’ll start comenting by parts.
If you train with a beginner or not, what will affect you on the long run is not the exercise itself, because you can do the exercise faster ou slower, stronger or weaker…that is one of the good things in capoeira…size doesn’t really matter that much if capoeiristas use their capoeira instead of imposing there physical atributes and use them to their advantage.In a case of rather easy exercise or sequence for me it’s not the level, not the size, strenght, blablaba of the person in front of you that is important. It’s the consciencenness of the exercise itself…while practicing you should be able to see or develop in your head on top of it…see what else you can do with that beginning, what else you can do in the middle and in the end and antecipate possible counterstrikes. The other person if she’s bigger, blablabla as well must be conscient of the person in front of her and adapt…that is capoeira my darling!
When we trained i would go under you leg so you could “feel” the exercise regardless of my level, even though i was either far or near or if you couldn’t touch me because i’m bigger than you…so here i make an appeal to “conscience” in capoeira as well as others!
As for holding back students instead of pushing them, of course you shouldn’t hold them back, but i sense there is a bit jelousy in all speeches of this sort! Of course it pisses you off that you’ve been training for years and you still can’t do macaco and a new guy or girl arrives and she does it after a week…just be happy for them and worry ’bout yourself…
capoeira is also all about diferent personalities, diferent body languages…if all were the same…it would be…er…dull!
as for training with more advanced students while you’re a beginner it’s excellent and the beginner will get “somewhere” quicker as well…bit this beginner should be thankfull, and thus he as only reached the same “technical” point as the advanced that cracked his head to get there, there’s one thing that the beginner doesn’t have because he got there the easy way…experience my darling…he got it easy, he didn’t have headaches trying to understand those situations…it was already chewed up and vomited in his eyes and head. those situations, and the experience gained will in the future help you through those different situations, whereas “the beginner” will not have the “tools” you have created for yourself in a earlier moment.
so it’s so relative as you try to point out i think!
now speaking of floreios…indeed for me it’s not important…when you are young you can do a lot of stuff but when you get older, or if young you get injured, you’ll lose you ability to do the same stuff…what then? an other name i came for floreios or designation, is VOLUME DE JOGO, or game volume…it’s just because you have to keep moving or it gives you the ability to get something out of it…in capoeira floreios have a purpose as well…it’s not just to make “pretty”. you’re looking to impress the other so you can bitesnake him…not everybody is equal…somepeople will never do them, but that doesn’t make them bad capoeiristas…they’re just limited in that way…but in the end does it really matter?! aren’t we all there to “vadiar”, to play, to smile, to do fun and games, and even if the heat goes up, afterwards we are going out drink a beer???

27 10 2008
Joaninha

Qualhada,

You wrote a pretty long comment, too 😛 Merci bien

Yeah, I agree with everything you said about the exercise being the focus, not size, etc…I think that was part of the point I tried to make. Exactly! We should practice playing with people of different sizes so we can become more flexible and adaptable players.

“i sense there is a bit jelousy in all speeches of this sort!” I sense you’re right—trust you not to put too fine a point on it! XD Although, I realized something else…if people come in with strength, they’re encouraged because of that. But if they come in strong in anything else, it’s not automatically honed to the same degree. People always practice floreios after class (yes, including me). You never see anyone spending that extra time working on strategy, or expression, for instance. So the entire context/environment sends a message to students that floreios are what you want to work on, even if no one actually believes/would say that.

I think in English “volume de jogo” would be “filler”. That’s actually exactly what one of my teachers said once, that floreios are like filler movements.

It kind of matters, if you don’t want to fall behind! It matters if you’re spending twice the time to get half the results.

But yes, I’ll take you up on that drink (or I would if you weren’t on the other side of the ocean) XD

29 10 2008
Robin

The floreio is to capoeira as the hyperbole is to a debate. Both lack any real substance, but it affects an unprepared opponent, possibly putting them on the defense, and works well in front of an audience.

30 10 2008
Santa Maria

Hm, this is a very interesting post! Especially as I have never experienced this type of “weight-class” mentality before, and don’t think that my teachers recognize the strong OR floreio-able students more.

Also, I don’t see the association between strength and floreios. In my group many of the girls are dancers, or former gymnasts. And they are tiny with out bulging muscles, yet many floreios come easily to them.

I do hear other students evaluating each other and assuming that the low cords with floreios have more “potential” in capoeira . . . but I see that having little effect on our training.

Yes, I am glad my teachers encourage us to pair up with different people all the time, and with students of different belt levels & sizes!

31 10 2008
Joaninha

Another interesting analogy, Robin…although, I don’t know if I would go quite as far as to say floreios completely lack substance. I think with the right skill and timing, they can be used just as or more effectively than any other standard capoeira movements.

31 10 2008
Joaninha

Hey Santa Maria, welcome back! 🙂

Wow, your group sounds like it might be more like the one I trained with in Europe, in that case. That would also explain why it has little effect on your training, because your group sounds not floreio-centric, so it doesn’t come into play.

Hmm, I think the former gymnasts, if they were serious gymnasts, would probably be a LOT stronger than they look. On the other hand, a large number of floreios are also about balance and timing rather than brute strength, but then again, for many of the most prominent ones, they still seem to require at least some standard of upper body strength (upside-down stuff) or leg strength (jumping)!

1 11 2008
angoleiro

Hey Joaninha, great to see your blog active again!

And very controversive post for the beginning, I have to admit. Actually, as an Angoleiro, I have not the position to agree or disagree with what you say. From my point of view, Floreios are inherent in Capoeira, both Regional and Angola, but in modern Capoeira you have a higher emphasize on it and I can see why people do intermix a person with good floreios for being a good Capoeirista (only because of this “Only the Strong” was possible!). But the higher the experience of someone the more he sees through the facade of floreios. And I expect every teacher to be able to differenciate between a person who is good in making floreios (because he is strong or flexible) and a good Capoeirista.
And I would say it is best to train with people of different sizes and different capabilities, because only like that you will be able to learn the advantages and disadvantages of different kinds of people and how to play with them.

Looking forward for your next posts! 🙂

cheers

1 11 2008
angoleiro

ups… I’m sorry. just delete the first one. didnt push the escape-button fast enough 😉

2 11 2008
Joaninha

“Because of this Only the Strong was possible”—Lol! The more you guys comment, the more I feel like I should start a “favourite quotes” page on this site or something XD And, thanks!

p.s. Hahaha no worries, it’s done 😉

14 11 2008
Dantresomi

When one travels outside of one’s group and plays in other school rodas, their rep is solidified by how they play the game NOT how pretty they look.

Floreios are great when conducting a performance or trying to attract students to your school. That’s about it.

It’s kind of like B-boying, just because you can do a headspin, it doesn’t mean you are a good b-boy. B-boying in itself is dancing, if you can’t dance, then you are no b-boy.
Capoeira, is essentially a martial art. How one plays in the roda against another player is what matters.

15 11 2008
Joaninha

Hey there, Dantresomi,

I think I agree with you, that when visiting other capoeira schools it’s always better to bank on the side of quality game rather than flashy moves (of course, that partly depends on how much the school itself values floreios). Although, I think floreios *can* be more than just for performances or recruitment, again, if you use them in moderation and with a really good eye to the game itself. That’s probably a stylistic point, however. But I liked your comparison to the breakdancing; I guess it’s true that in its essence, capoeira is all about the dialogue, and not solos!

31 12 2008
skymandr

Delving into your archives is quite addictive. Some day I will have to read the whole from the beginning. (I’m, in other words, looking forward to the anniversary ezine!

I don’t really have much to add to the discussion above, I’d just like to add a comment on one of your first paragraphs.

I seem to recall that Nestor Capoeira considered floreiros very much an essential part of capoeira, one of the corner stones even [1]. Though I don’t remember his exact line of reasoning, I seem to remember that it made some sense at the time I read it.

This point however, in no way invalidates yours, which I think very thought provoking. I will try to keep it in mind if I ever get to teach my own group.

Feliz ano novo!

– Skyman

1 01 2009
Joaninha

Haha thanks, Skyman 😀 I’m looking forward to (finally) releasing it and writing more posts for future delving pleasure in the future XD

I think one of my friends put it best when I aired the ideas in this post to her (in a slightly less eloquent/coherent and slightly more rant-like way): “Yeah, it’s stupid when people say floreios aren’t important. Everything’s important!”

31 03 2014
Jenny

Interesting article and comments, it seems capoeira has chnaged very little over the last 5 years. I get the impresion people say florios arent important when speaking to people who cant do them, because everyone knows they are really important but if you cant do them they try to make you feel `better’ instead of agreeing that in fact youre rubbish. My group is highly acrobatic and in one breath my professor tells me florios arent important a solid game is (though when asked what a nice game is he cant tell you an kinda laughs at you for asking something which is so obvious to him) the next he’s slating a graduado who doesnt do florios saying she wasnt ready for the cord but because she will never be able to do florios she got made into a graduado because of the length of time she has trained.

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