Capoeira Funnies: “Are You Sure You Don’t Want Any?”

5 02 2009

For today’s post, I’m linking to a piece that was written by one of Mandingueira’s readers, Mree, who was kind enough to share her work with me!  She asked me if I would mind passing it on to all of you, and I’m more than happy to do so. =)

WARNING: DO NOT READ THIS AT WORK.

At least, don’t if you work in a cubicle, surrounded by other cubicles, in a relatively quiet work environment.  I made that mistake earlier today upon opening the email (note: it was a slow day), and almost burst out into uncontrollable laughter partway through, which really wouldn’t have done anything for my reputation as a thus far non-crazy person.

Having said that, this was a really great read, and I think much of what Mree touches on in this one post would resonate with a lot of training capoeiristas (or at least, it did with me).

Enjoy!

“Are you sure you don’t want any?”, by Mree (click here)

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Review: Capoeira Beyond Brazil

29 01 2009

Back to apologies mode…sorry, guys.  My new schedule thanks to work is insane, and I barely have time to cook and clean, let alone read or write anything of substance!  I may be going on another hiatus soon, but not before I release the Mandingueira Retrospect Magazine (only table of contents left!!!).  For now, here is my long-promised review of Capoeira Beyond Brazil!

Capoeira Beyond Brazil is written by Aniefre Essien and published by Blue Snake Books. I was really looking forward to reading this book because of the “international aspect” it seemed to have, and was really interested in seeing how capoeira would be treated in an international context.  Having said that, the book had both its ups and downs.

When I was in high school (please excuse the temporary non-sequitar; this is related, I swear!), our social studies teacher gave us a tour of the school library’s references section. There was Encyclopedia Britannica, World, Canadiana, etc., and there were racks of Time Magazine, as well.  Upon showing us the latter, our teacher told us, “Here we have Time World, which is about the United States, and here we have Time Canada, which is about the world.” (That’s still one of my all-time favourite quotes, by the way.)

Well, reading Capoeira Beyond Brazil, unfortunately, brings that quote to mind. I suppose you could say it goes beyond Brazil—but only as far as the United States (skipping over Mexico and Central America along the way). Maybe it was just me, but for some reason I’d been expecting a slightly more academic, ambitious piece with a larger scope than it had. I was expecting to read about capoeira in Asia, Australia, and (present-day!) Africa, about globalization or international relations (and capoeira’s influence from or on them, of course) and sociological theory more so than personal anecdotes and basic/typical introductory capoeira lore.

However, the book does have it good points, as well.  Essien touches interestingly on some topics that I don’t think I’ve seen quite touched on the same way before, such as the horridly ironic phenomenon of some capoeira teachers using capoeira as a “tool of oppression” on their students. The book is healthily “progressive” from a feminist point of view, and I enjoyed reading the capoeirista interviews at the end (though again, the interviews, similarly to the rest of the book, only feature “A Few U.S. Capoeiristas”).

One interview which especially resonated with me was the first one, by a former capoeirista who left the game because he felt that people were beginning to bring too much ugliness into the art and violating the spirit of the game. He said a lot of things that I found insightful and agreed with, especially in regards to fighting in the roda/in capoeira, mentioning how “students have been trained to fight in the name of the instructor, not necessarily because that student feels that s/he has to fight”. The capoeirista being interviewed concludes, “I have to separate the concept of capoeira from how it’s actually practiced by individuals who tend to bring in the element of machismo.”

Overall, Capoeira Beyond Brazil was an okay read. It just didn’t turn out to be what I’d expected it to be, which is the only reason I was disappointed. I think it would be an ideal gift to give to a beginner capoeira student, and even more so for an American beginner capoeira student. The writing itself is fine, Essien’s experience as a capoeirista and capoeira teacher shows through with no question, and I’m always up for a good capoeira anecdote, so in that respect the book is great.  For what I mentioned earlier, I guess I’ll just have to wait till some international affairs post-doc gets hooked on capoeira!





Photoblog: Capoeira Doodles

13 12 2008

“..instead of taking notes, you are drawing little figures doing aus and meia lua de compassos.”
-from “You Know You’re Capoeira-Crazy When…”

EVOLUTION

*

MARGINAL FIGURES

p.s. Please know I am fully aware of my artistic capabilities, or lack thereof.  There’s a reason I usually stick to writing! 😛





Capoeira and the Theatre of Cruelty

6 12 2008

(Or: What You Get When You Combine Capoeira and Pretentious Theatre Theory)
(with apologies to my completely UNpretentious friend who lives for and subsists on critical theory)

Capoeira and theatre

This semester, I took an English lit seminar on pain and suffering in the theatre. Each week, we were given a play to read, as well as one or two readings on theatre theory to do with things like the body on stage, the inexpressibility of pain, the didactic power of theatre, and stage-audience dynamics.

Now, let me try describing what, for me, reading critical theory about literature is like. Imagine doing capoeira.  Now, imagine reading a book analyzing how capoeira is or should be done. Now, imagine someone has read several books like that, and writes a book analyzing how people write or should write about analyzing how capoeira is or should be done.  Now imagine someone reading several of those books and writing a book about that and how it all supposedly works. By this point, all actual references to capoeira have in fact been removed altogether.

So, reading a novel or play is doing capoeira. Studying theory is reading chapters of various books from that last level. I have to write a paper pulling together half the theory we’ve studied this semester, for Monday.

The point of all of that being: the writer of Surprised by Soy (a great and fun new cooking blog) inspired me with her application of Aristotle to a cupcake disaster in the kitchen. Not only was it easy and entertaining to read, we now both more or less understand the Aristotelian theory we learned in class. So, as a way of prepping myself to write this paper, I’m going to take you through a tour of classical and contemporary theatre theory, using experiences from capoeira to illustrate, starting with…

Aristotle: “The instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood…through imitation he learns his earliest lessons; and no less universal is the pleasure felt in things imitated.”

Basically, all theatre theory starts with Aristotle, who pinpointed the central idea of mimesis, which means imitation, which is what all theatre—and arguably, art—is based on. This emphasis on imitation actually lines right up with what I read in Greg Downey’s Learning Capoeira, where he discusses how central imitation is to how we learn capoeira. Every single movement we learn in capoeira, we learn by copying what we see somebody else do.  This becomes especially important if your capoeira teacher can’t or won’t describe outright what it is you’re supposed to do (like in learning how to use mandinga, for instance; how can you spell that out?). And personally, although I know it’s not the best thing to do, I find that I train best in class when I have someone else to keep an eye on; I use them to help pace (or challenge) myself, and I end up doing movements better and faster if I try matching the timing of an advanced capoeirista doing the same sequence in front of me.

Scarry: “The story of expressing physical pain eventually opens into the wider frame of invention.”

Scarry’s beat is that physical pain is completely inexpressible, that it in fact destroys language because there are no exact words to describe one’s pain. When you’re in pain, you know you’re in pain; at the same time, if your friend tells you they’re in pain, you can never know, for sure, because it’s invisible and indescribable.  You can only describe pain by comparing it to things it is not (“as if I stepped on needles”, “as though a hammer hit my head”), and this type of “storytelling” is what Scarry means by “invention”. Pain destroys language, but it also, in a way, forcibly expands its powers.

I think Scarry’s theory nicely explains a couple things about capoeira. First, it explains capoeira teachers’ seeming unsympathy to students’ pain during that extra set of “just 10 more!” <insert excruciating exercise here>. If to be in pain is to be certain (of the pain), and to hear of pain is to doubt (the pain, due to its un-share-ability), then theoretically, on some level, to our capoeira teachers we are not in pain at all, no matter how much we attempt to express the fact. 😛

Second, I don’t know about you, but my capoeira teachers come up with THE. BEST. ANALOGIES. EVER. They are hilarious and brilliant. So using Scarry, I would say that our mistakes as their capoeira students give them so much pain, that they are forced to come up with new ways to tell us how to do things right.  Hence the unprecedented degree of originality among capoeira teachers’ analogies.

Brecht: “If one wants to keep the scene free from wild excitement on the stage—excitement that spells destruction in whatever is remarkable in the scene—one must carry out certain ‘alientations’ especially carefully.”

Brecht was another major influence on playwrights and directors after his work was published. He said that audiences shouldn’t be so drawn into the play, with subtlety-drowning spectacle, that they stop thinking about it; they should be engaged, but “alienated” in a way that they remain critical observers of what is actually going on. This is so they can learn what the play is trying to teach (and Brecht says all plays should try to teach), and be inspired to go out and change the world, or themselves, or something, as soon as the play ends.

I suppose this relates to what our capoeira teachers mean when they tell us to always pay attention to what’s going on in the roda even if you aren’t actually the one playing capoeira at the moment. You should be engaged, but not so entranced that you get mesmerized and stop actively thinking about what’s going on in the game (and don’t realize, for instance, when the song’s changed, when they’ve moved around in the roda and someone’s about to land on you, etc.). Instead, you should be “distanced” enough that you’re able to observe when someone could’ve done something and didn’t, when a sly, subtle trick was played, or when an unwritten rule was somehow broken—then be inspired to buy in and change your own game for the better.

Graver: “To understand the ontological complexity of the actor’s body on stage we need to look not for two forms of existence there but (at least) seven. Actors are…characters, performers, commentators, personnages, members of socio-historical groups, physical flesh, and loci of private sensations.”

Simple enough: so are capoeiristas. Capoeiristas are characters invoked by their apelidos, and performers in the roda as well as a different type in public shows. They are commentators on capoeira through the ways they practice and teach capoeira, and they are personnages through the individual reputations they gain or cultivate in the capoeira world. Capoeiristas are “members of socio-historical groups”—to say the least, on several levels; and the last two are pretty self-explanatory.  Actually, I will expand a little and say that it was capoeira that made me realize my body (“flesh”) can do things. Before—and I know I’m stealing this from some source I can’t remember—my body basically was just a mobile vehicle for the rest of me.  But through capoeira, I’ve started to come to an appreciation of it for itself, like the physical muscles and joints and so forth, and what it can actually do (if I make it!).

Garner: “Phenomenology is the study…of the world as it is lived rather than the world as it is objectified, abstracted, and conceptualized. […] If theater is always…the house of false images, it is also the site of a radical actuality that surrounds and arrests the flight into otherness.”

Phenomenology = study of experiencing. Greg Downey describes his book as a phenomenological study of capoeira, because half his research was obtained by the actual experience of becoming a capoeira student and then a capoeira teacher, not just reading concepts and abstractions about capoeira. According to Garner, the “experience” of each moment in watching a play is what lets audiences appreciate theatre as a “house of false images” while fully realizing reality and thus not getting sucked into the “otherness” that is that world of the play.

In a way, the roda is the opposite of what Garner says theatre is: it’s a “house of true images”, so to speak. While theatre is set up to offer a form of experiential fiction, it is while experiencing a game in the roda, as it’s often said, that people become the most real.  Although the roda or game itself may arguably be a “contrived” situation (with the deliberate forming of the circle, etc.), it’s exactly our awareness of what the situation involves that makes what happens in it more real.

Sir Philip Sidney: “So that the right use of comedy will, I think, by nobody be blamed, and much less of the high and excellent tragedy, that openeth the greatest wounds…that maketh kings fear to be tyrants…”

Sidney is most known for his piece “In Defence of Poesy”, poesy being comedy and tragedy as the two classical genres of theatre. He wrote it to defend literature and theatre from his age’s version of “video games will corrupt our kids!” (Only in earlier days it also went, “Actresses will turn our women into prostitutes!”). So his message is, basically, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater; poetry, if used correctly, can be used effectively to move and teach people, not corrupt them.

The idea of something that can go well or badly, depending on how it’s used, makes me think of the attitude of suspicion capoeiristas are told to have at all times. I realize the importance of that, but I also can’t help wondering: if we consistently approach capoeiristas from outside and from other groups with antagonistic views to begin with, assuming they mean us harm before even giving them a chance to be friendly, could the “expected” results just then be a self-fulfilling prophecy, none of which would have happened if we didn’t have Bush-like pre-emptive strike grupo-pride attitudes in the first place? (I also realize that may have been a slightly more than idealistic question, but I still think it’s a valid one, too.)

Artaud: “I do believe that the theatre, utilized in the highest and most difficult sense possible, has the power to influence the aspect and formation of things… That is why I propose a theatre of cruelty.”

If Brecht wants the audience to be distanced from plays, Artaud is the exact opposite: he wants you COMPLETELY IMMERSED. By “theatre of cruelty”, he means he wants you to be able to smell the blood, to have the fanfare of a hundred trumpets, cymbals, French horns, and drums blaring right next to your ear, to be in the midst of it all and completely assaulted by all the sights, sounds, and sensations that is the play. Artaud wants SPECTACLE. Imagine watching Gladiator on IMAX, with the latest in surround sound, but all in 3D and LIVE. Artaud wants us to be so affronted by our experience inside the theatre, that we will forever change for the better upon leaving it—such as having been so terrifyingly assaulted with deafening, clashing, surrounding, in-your-face scenes of war, that upon leaving the theatre we will be completely turned off of violence of any kind against our fellow people.

Now, have you ever noticed the amount of sadism that actually occurs in capoeira? Forcing self-conscious beginners to do stuff in the centre of a circle of strangers who can easily kick their butts. Physical borderline torture. Basing new identities on unflattering/embarrassing traits. Making people watch horrible videos of themselves. Withholding water. Merciless teasing. Forcing a tone-deaf person to sing in front of an audience. Randomly tripping people. Pushing someone into the middle of a fight. And yet…somehow…all that “cruelty” makes us better people when we leave our respective theatres. Score one for Artaud. 😛

Alright, I’m going to say we’ve reached the end of the line here. One, because the post is already quite long and I’ve only gone through half the theorists on my list, and two: I should probably consider starting the paper I was writing this post for in the first place!  I hope you got something out of it, and that I didn’t butcher any of the theory too badly if you are actually a theorist yourself. And since we’re on the topic of acting, I’ll leave you with a quote I remember one of my teachers saying to us when I was a beginner-beginner, which I really liked, and was a good mental tactic against being exhausted.  It’s easy; all you do is—“Act like you’re not tired.”





Obrigada Mestre Acordeon (Or: Meeting a Famous Mestre)

31 10 2008

So apparently, a god or goddess in the universe discovered I saved a busload of children, rid Europe of a plague, gave up a multimillion editorial position to feed the poor, and singlehandedly solved the affordable housing crisis in a past life, because recently, I was given a fluke opportunity at a capoeira workshop to meet Mestre Acordeon.

It was like Christmas, only replace the sacks of toys with irregularly shaped parcels of capoeira wisdom.

Okay, I’ll be honest with you.  When I first heard the news he would be there, the capoeirista part of me got about a nanosecond of reaction in before the journalist part of me hijacked the car and took it way beyond overdrive: “INTERVIEW!!!  YOUR BLOG!!!  YOUR READERS!!! THE SCOOP!!!!!

(So as not to lead you guys on, I’ll say right now that I didn’t actually get to do an interview with Mestre Acordeon, after all.  I know.  I’m sorry.  My heart broke a little bit, too.)

What was it like, seeing and hearing a famous—legendary—capoeira mestre in person for the first time? Well, I think that was the first and only time I’ve been “starstruck” by a capoeira mestre. So much so that I actually let the entire first of only two days go by before even just going up to introduce myself! Much of it was because Mestre Acordeon has broken ground (to put it mildly) in all THREE of this blog’s (so by extension, in a way, my) raison d’être: capoeira, gender equality, AND writing/publishing!! For me, meeting Mestre Acordeon was like meeting three stars/role models in one.

It was kind of surreal, actually.  He told us an anecdote I recognized from one of his articles—and it was the story, told to us firsthand.  When he sang—it was the CD track/voice, live in concert. And the capoeira?  Well, yes, it was our profesor disarmed and down in three seconds flat.

Slight correction to something above: although I didn’t get to do a bona fide interview with Mestre Acordeon, I did get to speak with him for maybe five minutes, which was about four minutes and thirty seconds longer than I would have ever expected. (See?  I do love you guys. :P)

There was one question particularly burning in my mind, and so on the last day, at the end no less (as people were pulling on their jackets and shoes and our teachers were kicking everyone out to avoid overtime rental fees), I slipped myself into a small group sitting on the ground in front of M. Acordeon, storytime-style, listened to the end of a story he was telling, waited out the usual “Look!  It’s Mestre and me!” photoshoot, then walked up and introduced myself, and asked my question.

Basically, I asked him about the whole “tradition vs. ‘modern-day’ values” issue in capoeira. I described some of the ideas we’d been struggling with here, such as changing capoeira and cultural appropriation, and asked him, essentially, how a capoeirista today can reconcile “modern” values like gender equality without losing the importance of “tradition” in capoeira?  I’ve run into this question several times since starting this blog (ex. here and here), and I figured, who better to answer it than a capoeira mestre of M. Acordeon’s reputation, experience, and standing?

A lot of what he said in response was, I think, more or less what you’d expect to hear. In the end, what it all came down to was this quote that stuck the most in my mind, which he’d also said in a talk earlier to everyone at the workshop:

Change is important, and capoeira has to change, because if something doesn’t change, then it grows stale, and dies.

(I was going to get into a discussion of that quote here, but I think it would go a little beyond the confines of this post, so I’ll save it for one of its own!)

In the end, I decided against asking Mestre Acordeon for an interview even if there had been more time, because while he was talking, it just seemed…like it wouldn’t really be right.  Not morally or anything like that, but just in the sense that he took time out of what’s probably an extremely busy life just to come to the workshop, and everybody wants to talk to him when he’s not already surrounded by the other mestres and teachers, and so it didn’t seem quite fair nor courteous to ask for even more of his time, on such short notice, to ask straight-out for answers to potentially heavy questions so I could publish what he said online.

However, one can always hope…!  Thus, just for interest’s (and temptation’s) sake, these are the other questions I had prepared to ask Mestre Acordeon in the event that a god or goddess in the universe had found out that in addition to all those things I did in my past life, I would one day in a future life save the universe from imploding into a giant black hole of DOOM (Feel free to add in Comments any burning questions of your own 😉 ):

Mestra Suelly was the first woman to become a mestra outside of Brazil.  As the mestre who graduated her, what reactions or controversy, if any, did you encounter from this?

What do you think about all-women rodas, or events?  Do you believe they are truly beneficial, or help to perpetuate sexist gender stereotypes in capoeira?  Do you think gender equality is a shrinking issue as capoeira spreads in North America and Europe, or if not, what needs to be done to address it?

In one of your articles, you mentioned the “extraordinary political potential” of capoeira.  I think that is one of the most exciting things to think about in capoeira, but how exactly would someone fully explore or even start to draw upon, I suppose, this potential?  What do people actually mean by saying “capoeira is a tool of civilization”, and how do you see this happening today, in real life…or is this something we have to wait for that will come in the future?

What do you think it is about capoeira that not only draws so many different varieties of people, but draws them all with the same incredible amount of strength and attraction to the art?

***





Why “Sexist Capoeirista” is an Oxymoron

28 05 2008

Or: Why Sexist Capoeira Teachers Should Not Be Promoted

Capoeira is

A short while ago, my friend and I had a conversation about capoeira teachers who are sexist, who treat their female students as inferior to male students of the same level (and below…so to male students in general). One of the things that struck me about the conversation was when I heard that other (male) students and teachers had excused a contra-mestre’s behaviour by saying he just “didn’t know how to act” (being new from Brazil and all, since, you know, obviously treating students equally takes special skill and talent there compared to all other parts of the world). [On the off-chance that someone read that as being really offendingly politically incorrect, please note the dripping sarcasm!]

My friend’s (and my) response to that: How can you be a contra-mestre and “not know how to act” when it comes to teaching? Even leaving aside if you’re naturally inclined to be sexist, or genuinely hold sexist views, you’d think somewhere along the way you would’ve learned what’s acceptable and what’s not, especially in such a position of responsibility (and power). (Not that I think pretending to be not-sexist is great, but if that’s what it takes, then better than nothing.)

This is a perfect example of what Faisca mentioned in his post on teaching capoeira: “15 years does not [necessarily] a good instructor make.” However, let’s take this a little bit further:

Forget good instructors. Does 15 years a good contra-mestre make? Does 30 years a good mestre make?

To be a qualified teacher, one should know what it means to teach, and what teaching is about. More importantly, they should know what their subject is about, and know it through and through.

Being deemed and respected as a mestr(a/e), contra-mestr(a/e), or any of the nearby levels implies that you have what verges on a deep, profound knowledge of capoeira, and have at least a better than average notion of what capoeira is all about.

Well, what is the one thing that capoeira is MOST touted for being all about, by beginners and advanced capoeiristas, old guard and avant-garde alike?

Universality. All-inclusiveness. “For men, women, and children.” (-Mestre Pastinha, in case anyone forgot)

In that case, wouldn’t that mean that a capoeirista who is sexist (or racist, or in fact discriminatory in any rights-violating way), and lets it show in the capoeira environment, lacks true understanding of one of the most basic, fundamental concepts of capoeira?

And thus is not prepared to be granted the recognition and responsibility that comes with being deemed a “full”/”good”/”advanced”/”true” capoeirista in the way that today’s capoeira systems do?

I mean, think about it. Beginner and novice capoeiristas are expected to be well-rounded in terms of the “physical” aspects of capoeira in order to be promoted; they need to know both movements and music. Even if they have great floreios and great game, they won’t go anywhere if they can’t hold a berimbau or sing any songs.

As you progress in capoeira, this required all-roundedness expands to include the metaphysical—that is, capoeira philosophy. Well, a basic part of the philosophy of capoeira is that it’s for everyone: girls as well as boys, women as well as men. So, wouldn’t promoting a supposedly philosophically advanced capoeirista who doesn’t understand that concept be akin to promoting an esquiva-challenged beginner capoeirista to novice level?

Of course, none of that applies if a certain mestre or contra-mestre or so on really believes that capoeira is not for everyone, and that “true” capoeira philosophically does mean Brazilian Males Only.

But otherwise…just saying. If capoeira is truly universal, as we all love to say it is, then please hang up your bigotry, or abada. Because a sexist capoeirista is, arguably, no capoeirista at all.

Picture source:
http://www.casafree.com/modules/xcgal/displayimage.php?pid=2555





I Dream of Capoeira…

4 05 2008

I dream of capoeira...day and nightYou live capoeira. You breathe capoeira. Is it really any surprise, then, that you dream capoeira as well? Or do you? Dreams are often based on pieces of information we are most preoccupied with at the time, or on fragments of our days, or on hidden yet strong and influencing notions or worries in our subconscious minds. So with all the thinking and feeling we do for capoeira nearly everyday, how can some of it not follow when you enter the Sandman’s soporific realm?

Here are three dreams that I’ve had about capoeira:

It’s daytime, and I’m in a line-up in the usual training room at the community centre I train at. It’s a long line-up that winds across the room to the door, and leads to a table at which my two teachers are sitting. People are lining up for…their apelidos. They arrive at the table, are given their nickname, it’s recorded on paper, and they leave. I finally reach the table, and am given my name: “Toca” or “Tugada” or something similiar-sounding. “What does that mean?” “Little Penguin.” [Note: I looked it up afterwards when I woke up and the words don’t match up at all…would’ve been amazing if they’d had!] I feel disappointed because I knew the person in line right in front of me had been named “Penguin” and I’d wanted my apelido to be unique.

~

I dream that I’ve returned home from travelling, and bring with me friends I’ve made along the way. These friends are also capoeiristas, but from a different group than my own. We arrive just in time for my group’s batizado, and the first person we see is one of my regular teachers. He’s not too thrilled about the new capoeiristas, but quickly gets over it, and we all go to the public show our group is putting on. When the show starts, to my shock, one of my new capoeira friends has been put into the percussion band by someone. However, he keeps messing up…and I desperately want someone to replace him so the show can go on and because he’s making his own group look bad, but no one does.

~

There is a big meeting with everyone in my capoeira group in the city, and it is announced that due to some sort of emergency, every teacher and every advanced student in the group must immediately fly to London, England, for an indefinite period of time. This leaves myself, a first-belt student, and another woman, also a first-belt student, in charge of our class at the community centre. I’m completely panicked, but one of my teachers who’s leaving says we’ll be fine.

~

Those are the three capoeira dreams I remember most, though I’ve had many others! I hope you enjoyed that voyeuristic peek into my crazy subconscious mind. Have you ever dreamt about capoeira? Share with us in the Comments!

Picture source: http://pics.novica.com/pictures/2/p110363_1.jpg