[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.
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.)
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.