Photos: Daniel Whitson courtesy of Capoeira Nottingham
Stepping into the capoeira workshop on Saturday 12th October, I wasn’t quite sure what I’d let myself in for.
The main teacher at Capoeira Nottingham, Tatu (meaning armadillo – all members have their own ‘nickname’ reflecting their personality) was warm and inviting from the outset. He began by defining the art form of capoeira not as a martial art or a dance, a definition which a quick Google might provide you with, but instead as a ‘game’. And from the beginning, I was eager to play with the intriguing form which also has music at the heart of its ethos.
We were allowed us to dive straight in with a very dynamic warm-up of slow stretches and movements, and I was surprised at how hot I became in comparison to the speed of the movements. I tend to pick workouts such as spinning at the gym, because they’re fast and therefore that equals sweat, right? Just one session of capoeira proved to me that isn’t necessarily the case.
Throughout the class, we learnt a few basic kicks, primarily in pairs, getting to grips with the basics of the contemporary capoeira that the group practices. The most striking thing about the whole workshop was the fact I felt like I’d stumbled on a family; after every section there was some form of encouragement, in the form of a pat on the back or applause, and the general atmosphere was that of a nurturing environment. For the people at the class, capoeira was much more than a way to keep fit, it seemed a genuinely important part of their lives.
By far the most exciting part of the class was the roda - pronounced with an aitch sound at the beginning - meaning wheel, where all members form a circle, with a number of members playing instruments and rotating roles. The idea of the roda is that members can use the skills they have learnt in the classes in a playful way with a partner, with more advanced members trying to catch each other out with nifty moves. We were taught a few lines of song to keep up the rhythm of the roda, but at times I was so ensconced that my musicality went out the window.
Tatu commented that at times capoeira looks choreographed, and often it was difficult to believe that what we were witnessing was improvisation. The idea is that you go with what you are given, reacting to the moves your counterpart throws at you: if they go for a kick, you duck, which can often make it seem pre-planned. There is a delightful fluidity that makes it just as riveting to watch as to take part. Also, though strength is a factor, brute bodybuilder strength is not something strived for in the group. Instead men and women play together, allowing a dialogue between both genders which values skill as much as power.
To pin down capoeira to be only a martial art, exercise class or dance would be to oversimplify what is a richly complicated art form. So if you’re looking for something a bit different to your usual exercise classes and want to try something new, then capoeira should be at the top of your list.
A beginners’ course at the International Community Centre (ICC) on Mansfield Road starts on Saturday 19th October, 11am -12.30pm, for 6 weeks. Courses cost £36, or £30 for students and jobseekers. Alternatively, a non-course beginners session runs every Wednesday 7-8.30 for £8/£6 per session respectively.
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