Videos: Mestras Edna and Suelly in Action

7 12 2007

It dawned on me that my previous posts on Mestras Edna and Suelly were kind of like trying to teach someone about an artist without showing them a single one of the artist’s paintings. Thus without further ado, I’d like to present to you the following videos!

This first one shows Mestra Edna Lima playing (now-) Mestranda Marcia, which is perfect as she’s whom I’ll be writing about next! It’s an old 90’s video from a roda in California. Mestra Edna is the one in the sports top, and their game lasts for about the first 50 seconds. This video is cool also because it shows Mestre Marcelo playing after, capoeira’s own real-life video game character =D:

Second, we have Mestra Suelly in a batizado roda from earlier this year. I like the double kick she does towards the end!

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Why Write about Female Mestres? The Feminist Catch-22

5 12 2007

Catch-22 (noun): a no-win situation

If you read the “Update” section on Mestra Edna‘s profile (previously the first half of this post, but I moved those paragraphs for clarity’s sake), they lead up to the main dilemma I encountered while writing about her: Why?  That is, why should Edna Lima be singled out and featured, among all the other mestres comparable to her and who might have accomplished just as much or more?  According to my own blog, it’s because she’s not just a mestre, but a female mestre.  But isn’t writing about her just because she’s a woman just as tunnel-visioned as ignoring her just because she’s a woman?  Aside from the slightly more justified qualification that Edna Lima is not only a mestra, but the world’s first (a reason that won’t apply to the other mestras and mestrandas I intend to write about), I think my response to that would be yes, to a certain extent, but it’s tricky because right now, the world seems to be stuck precariously in a stage between stasis and regression, feminism-wise. 

We are not so advanced that women are free from discrimination and harassment in business and the workplace, in politics and the government, in entertainment, in the media, in advertising, and in many cases everyday life; yet, we have progressed just enough since the days of the suffragettes for many people to believe that more talk of women’s equality is completely superfluous.  That’s the catch-22: if women really were equal, we wouldn’t have to keep stressing “a woman did this!  a woman did that!”  The actual stressing itself emphasizes the divide.  Yet if we don’t say anything, the divide still remains, and becomes ever more entrenched.  People know, for instance, that women can be CEO’s, doctors, and engineers—but they don’t know that on average, they’d have much lower salaries than male counterparts doing the exact same job, with the same qualifications and experience.  (Apparently, the same goes for short people and tall people, which absolutely sucks because I’m female and short.)  Then there was an article I read about how even though women can run for government, it’s much harder to and they are asked less to than men are, so the overall atmosphere itself still provides an obstacle to a level playing field.  Finally, look up anti-Hillary Clinton groups on facebook, then read this from Antigone Magazine.

Returning to Mestra Edna and the all the rest, I’m not saying that there’s some sort of hidden sexism in capoeira, and I’m happy to say I’ve never encountered anything even near it myself during the whole time I’ve been doing capoeira (although I’ve heard it said, for example, that a teacher would have long been graduated up a level by now if she were a guy).  On the other hand, one can’t really deny the nature of Brazilian culture that of course pervades capoeira, and when Mestra Edna mentioned in an interview that “music is one area in which women…still take part significantly less than men”, it did occur to me that I’ve only ever seen one woman play in or even practice for my group’s performance band, and I haven’t seen that many women play the berimbau during “official” (as opposed to just in-class, for-practice) rodas, either.  Granted, it’s fair enough to say that’s only due to lack of personal initiative on their parts and nothing else, but looking at the big picture, it might still be something worth noting. 

So I guess the conclusion I’ve drawn, then, is that while at times it might seem like making mountains of molehills, or purposely trying to draw things out of thin air, the overall state of things still seems to require that attention be brought to certain issues, lest people settle into casual apathy and slip obliviously into the state of regression mentioned above.  It shouldn’t be that capoeira mestres are spotlighted specifically for their gender, but until society collectively achieves a mentality where gender truly doesn’t matter (aside from the obvious, e.g. repopulating the human species–which itself might be a dubious goal to a lot of people), this seems like the best we can do.

Ie viva meu Mestra, Part 1: Mestra Edna Lima

4 12 2007

The more I read about this woman, the more I can’t believe I’ve never heard of her before! She has done so much, and in such a seemingly short time that I can’t help wondering just how slanted all the glossy write-ups on her might be…
However, spotlight first, shadow-chasing later!

Mestra Edna Lima 

Edna Lima loved sports as a child and first encountered capoeira at the age of twelve, in her hometown of Brasilia, Brazil. She trained with Instrutor Dentinho for eight months, first secretly (using money she told her parents was for books) and then openly, with her mother’s wholehearted support. As the only girl in the class, Edna thought early on that capoeira might be “only for boys”, but her mother quickly relieved her of that thought, and fended off admonition from friends and relatives for allegedly risking her daughter’s “femininity”.

Lucky for Instrutor Dentinho, as he left Brasilia only after requesting that Edna take over teaching the class! However, two months later Edna herself left, in order to further her training with Mestre Tabosa of Capoeira Senzala. In 1981, it was he who gave Edna her corda vermelha (red), making her the first female capoeira mestre in the world, as well as the first mestra in Capoeira Senzala. Edna, barely 20 years old at the time, played hard for her belt that day. Capoeiristas came to her ceremony from all over Brazil, in order to test or just to see her: “‘Who is this girl getting a Mestre in capoeira?!’ The guys freaked out!” Happily, they got over it soon enough: “When people came to check me out, they got checked. Then, afterward, they would support me.”

It probably didn’t hurt that Mestra Edna was a black belt in karate as well as a master capoeirista. Edna started karate just eight months after starting capoeira, alternating her three weekly training days with four days of training capoeira. As she travelled throughout Brazil to increase her experience in capoeira and in the roda, she won five national karate championships along the way. That was when she decided it was time to move north: “With an extended visa, a burning desire to learn English, and no friends in North America, she travelled north to experience ‘the city that never sleeps’.”

Upon arriving in New York, Mestra Edna met Mestre Jelon and toured for some time with his performance group, Dance Brazil. (For capoeiristas who happen to be movie buffs as well, she also appeared in Rooftops.) Several years after, she joined Abada Capoeira, Mestre Camisa’s group branched off from Capoeira Senzala (Edna had also trained extensively under Mestres Camisa and Joao Grande). In 1997, she became one of the world’s first Mestrandas, or Contra-Mestras, and one of the first in Abada. Mestra, or Mestranda, Edna then went on to found an Abada Capoeira group in New York City, in addition to developing several other programs using her capoeira knowledge and experience, combined with her Master’s degree in sports science and physical education.

Today, Edna teaches capoeira at her academy in New York–where students of other Mestres occasionally drop in for a class or game or two–and leads workshops and batizados in countries around the world, including Spain, Israel, Japan, and Canada. She is an Adjunct Professor in the Dance Department at Long Island University, and has been inducted into Black Belt Magazine’s Hall of Fame. She has seventeen international karate championships under her belt, including three Pan-American gold medals, and in 2000 the City of New York recognized her accomplishments with a Proclamation, during Black History Month.

For more information, please visit:

Update: The following paragraphs were originally written for the post after this one, but for purposes of clarity I’ve decided to merge them into this post and take them out of the other one.

There are just a few things I wanted to mention about the write-up I did on Mestra Edna Lima.  First of all, I know that my list of sources are not going to be winning any research awards!  If you are very concerned, you can check out this additional list of articles, but they all say basically the same things.  Second, one part I slightly glossed over was the other “programs” Mestra Edna developed with her knowledge of capoeira and degree in phys ed.  To be specific, they include: a capoeira program for school children instilled in at least ten public schools in Brazil, which she had the schools hire capoeiristas to teach; a capoeira program for youth; and…a trademarked capoeira aerobics workout program, of purported scientifically proven effectiveness. 

I have to admit I’m not crazy about that last one, and I can’t think of any capoeirista I know who would be, especially when such a program spawns articles like this one.  However, I suppose that having done that one thing does not diminish any of her other accomplishments.  Speaking of which…I have always been under the impression that it takes thirty or forty years to become a mestre; maybe twenty at the absolutely minimum.  So it seems very surprising that Mestra Edna received her corda vermelha at age twenty–eight years after her first capoeira class.  Needless to say, I’m not meaning to cast aspersions, but it’s interesting.  Thoughts?

Also, as I finished writing the profile/biography, I realized that my lead-in to it wasn’t quite true, on two counts.  First of all, I had heard of her before, briefly: she was interviewed in a documentary that I’d seen recently.  (The documentary, by the way, was great!  If you ever get a chance, definitely check out Mandinga em Manhattan.)  Second, I realized that it’s actually somewhat reasonable that I’ve never heard of her, considering the generation of mestres she belongs to.  After all, most of the names common to capoeirista knowledge, aside from the mestre(s) of one’s own and affiliated groups, are historical figures, whose experience in capoeira can be traced back to the days of Mestres Bimba and Pastinha themselves: Jelon, Joao Grande, Joao Pequeno, Camisa, Camisa Roxo, Gato, Sorriso, Waldemar, Leopoldinha, and Accordeon, for example.  Their students, however, and their students’ students, are the ones actively teaching and leading us today, and I know for a fact that there are plenty of capoeiristas out there who have not heard of my grupo’s mestre, and I haven’t heard of theirs. 


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Ie Viva Meu Mestra, Camara

1 12 2007

Remember that pop quiz in this blog’s introduction post?  Never be caught unwares again, after we’re through with Ie viva meu Mestra, Mandingueira‘s very first post series!  Focusing on the lives and accomplishments of female mestres, or mestras, around the world, this series seeks to redress the balance of prominent figures offered to capoeira students as hero(in)es to revere or look up to.  From Mestra Suelly, the first and possibly only (please correct me if I’m wrong) North American mestra, to Mestra Edna Lima, the first mestra ever, these women should have wider recognition for what they have done, as inspirations to women and meninas everywhere who do capoeira today.  Please come back soon to read our first profile and biography, on Mestra Edna Lima!

Update: Just so there’s no confusion, mestranda and contra-mestra are terms used for the same rank in different grupos, indicating the level right below mestra. 

Ie Viva Meu Mestra: Archives

Why Write about Female Mestres? The Feminist Catch-22

Part 1: Mestra Edna Lima
Part 2: Mestra Suelly
Part 3: Mestranda Marcia/Cigarra
Part 4: Contra-Mestra Marisa Cordeiro
Part 5: Mestra Janja
Part 6: Mestra Paulinha
Part 7: Contra-Mestra Susy
Part 8: Mestra Jararaca

Part 9: Contra-Mestra Cristina 


Mestra Edna Lima, Mestra Suelly, and Mestranda Marcia
Mestra Marcia/Cigarra
Mestra Janja and Grupo Nzinga
Mestra Paulinha
Contra-Mestra Susy (Grupo Vadiacão, Capoeira Angola)
Mestra Jararaca