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:

Ie viva meu Mestra, Part 6: Mestra Paulinha

7 01 2008

Something interesting I noticed while researching Mestra Paulinha and Mestra Janja is that it was a lot easier to find information about recent or current things they had done/were doing, than it was to find things in the past that they had done (like a plain old biography!).  I found this really intriguing because normally, for capoeira mestres/mestras, all you can find is their stock biography, plastered word-for-word all over the capoerista’s World Wide Web.  Furthermore, most of the information I did find was about projects or events they had done or were part of, rather than accounts of their capoeirista journeys leading up to them becoming mestras and having their own group. 

I suspect this is connected to my last post about how capoeira (angola), at least for Mestras Paulinha and Janja, is inherently about bringing about change, and to say the least, they do more than just talk about how it is and actually show how it is.  I really admire how they have found a way to seamlessly merge career, academics, capoeira, and working for change all into one!

Mestra Paulinha of Grupo Nzinga CapoeiraMestra Paulinha, like Mestra Janja, is a veritable force to be reckoned with in the fields of social issues, academia, and (of course) capoeira. Last year marked her 25th in capoeira angola, and in that time she: earned a master’s and doctorate degree in Sociology (from the University of Bahia and University of São Paulo, respectively); became a distinguished professor at the University of Bahia; gave lectures on various topics in various settings; published scholarly articles; and worked with Mestra Janja to focus attention on (anti-)racism, youth, higher education, identity, black culture, and women in capoeira.

Mestra Paulinha began training capoeira near the start of the 1980s, in GCAP (Grupo Capoeira Angola de Pelourinho), also with Mestres Moraes, João Grande, and Cobra Mansa. She became a contra-mestra in 1990 and moved to São Paulo in 1998, where she became a coordinator of INCAB (Instituto Nzinga de Estudos da Capoeira Angola) along with Mestra Janja and Mestre Poloca. In 2002, Mestra Paulinha moved to Salvador, and leads a core group of Grupo Nzinga Capoeira there. She is the grupo’s designated sociologist, and has maintained constant dialogue with other capoeira angola groups in order to further INCAB’s goals.

Editor’s note: INCAB is not, as was implied in Mestra Janja’s write-up, the same as Grupo Nzinga Capoeira. INCAB is a larger, umbrella organization that encompasses several smaller associations, such as Grupo Nzinga Capoeira and the Nzinga Berimbau Orchestra.

http://buscatextual.cnpq.br/buscatextual/visualizacv.jsp?id=K4785350J1 (with Google translation)
http://www.chamadademandinga.de/04frauentreffen/04_info/bio_pt.htm (with Google translation)

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Can Capoeira Change the World? Part 2

6 01 2008

Grupo Nzinga Capoeira AngolaIt has been all along, right under our noses—just not our regional ones!

From FICA Archives: Celebrating 25 Years of M. Paulinha:

M Paulinha writes about the growth of Capoeira Angola as an ever-widening vehicle for marginalized social expressions following efforts by the Brazilian state to turn capoeira into a “national sport”. She traces Capoeira Angola’s growth as part of the black movement, as a growing space for women (in large part due to the work of Paulinha and Janja themselves), and most recently, as a zone of international and cultural understanding. Here is a bit:

In the beginning of the 1980s, the creation of the Grupo de Capoeira Angola Pelourinho (GCAP) in Rio de Janeiro and later in Bahia marked a significant change in the situation. Founded by Mestre Pedro Moraes Trinidade (Mestre Moraes), GCAP implemented a series of actions promoting the re-valorization of Capoeira Angola and the recognition of the importance of old and famous mestres, such as Mestre Pastinha himself. With an ideology that affirmed capoeira’s African roots and denounced the injustices suffered by so many capoeiristas and Afro-descendents, this group was the precursor of a movement that became wide and diverse.

Through the realization of events in homage to Mestre Pastinha, GCAP managed to reunite old practitioners of Capoeira Angola and attract new admirers and people interested in learning the traditional game. The format of these events was innovative because it created bridges between the practitioners of Capoeira Angola and other segments of society such as: religious leaders, especially those linked to the Candomblés of Angola; anti-racist organizations of the “black movement”; organizations involved with other forms of black culture; intellectuals and scholars; and governmental organizations, especially in the cultural area. In some years, these events gained larger proportions, assuming a national and international character, and began to be held by other nascent groups of Capoeira Angola, mainly during the 1990s. Such events were established as an important part of a regular calendar activities that helped to construct the new community of “angoleiros”.

One important aspect of the ideology and actions implemented by the Capoeira Angola groups created in this period involves the denunciation of racism in Brazil. The events promoted in memory of Mestre Pastinha, carried out on the date of his death (November 13th), soon became part of the agenda of commemorations and reflections of the National Day of Black Consciousness (November 20th). More than a coincidence of dates, this approximation reveals a process of growing politicization in the universe of Capoeira Angola, synchronized with the general trend in the black cultural scene in Bahia…

… This community became very heterogeneous – including people of various ethnic and racial origins, social classes, nationalities, genders, ages, and sexual orientations- and this has been the backdrop for the construction of the angoleiro’s identity. Therefore, affirming oneself as an “angoleiro(a)” today implies dealing with diversity, rejecting any ideal of purity and homogeneity.

I think I joined the wrong style…!  (Kidding, but it’s food for thought.)

Follow-up to come—eventually.  I was doing research for a write-up on Mestra Paulinha and couldn’t just sit on this!

Click here to read “Can Capoeira Change the World?” (Part 1)

Video: Grupo Nzinga and Mestra Janja

3 01 2008

Following yesterday’s post, this is a great video from Grupo Nzinga, and for me it was a fascinating glimpse into the world of capoeira angola, which I’d never really fully realized before was so apart and different from the world of capoeira regional.  It was really interesting doing the research on Mestra Janja yesterday as well, and I definitely hope to learn more about capoeira angola as this goes on.  Make sure you don’t miss the footage of Mestra Janja conducting the Nzinga Berimbau Orchestra in the last part!

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Ie viva meu Mestra, Part 5: Mestra Janja

3 01 2008

I almost made a huge oversight in this series–so far all of the mestras or contra-mestras featured have been players of capoeira regional, but of course there are angoleira mestras as well, and they are amazing!  Apologies to any angola capoeiristas who read this blog, and much thanks to Shayna McHugh of Capoeira Connection and Bahia-Capoeira Blog for bringing several angola mestras to my attention! 

Today I want to tell you about Mestra Janja, who has done/is doing so much inside and outside of capoeira that I hardly knew what to talk about first.  And she’s not the only one, so please look out for following posts in this ongoing series!

Mestra JanjaMestra Janja, or Rosangêla de Araújo Costa, is a well-known and much esteemed mestra in the world of capoeira angola. A former student of renowned Mestres João Grande, Moraes, and Cobra Mansa, she began training in Salvador during the early 80s. In 1995, Mestra Janja founded the Instituto Nzinga de Estudos da Capoeira Angola e Tradições Educativas Banto (Grupo Nzinga de Capoeira Angola), along with Mestra Paulinha and Mestre Poloca. Instituto Nzinga, an NGO based in São Paulo and named after a 16th century African queen, works towards an anti-racism and anti-sexism mission statement beyond the preservation of capoeira angola and its traditions.

Mestra Janja plays a major role in social issues related to capoeira. She has coordinated projects such as affirmative action for black students’ entrance into university, and leads the Network of Women Angoleira (RAM). In addition, Mestra Janja has helped to organize events such as last year’s VI Congresso Badauê of Women Capoeiristas, for which she also taught workshops and organized an international conference in Atlanta, USA. Last year, celebrations were held in Salvador to commemorate Mestra Janja’s 25th year in capoeira angola.

Beyond her superlative capoeira skills and extensive social work, Mestra Janja is known for being a top scholar in the field. She completed a master’s and doctorate’s degree in Capoeira Angola at the Federal University of São Paulo, and graduated from the Federal University of Bahia with a degree in History. A university professor and published scholar, Mestra Janja is Grupo Nzinga’s historian and co-publisher of Real D’Angola magazine. She also conducts the Nzinga Berimbau Orchestra, which performs pieces that create links between capoeira and other types of Afro-Brazilian music, such as jongo, tambo-de-crioula, and bumba-meu-boi.

http://www.chamadademandinga.de/04frauentreffen/04_info/bio_pt.htm (with Google translation)
http://www.dicadeteatro.com.br/feafro2.htm (with Google translation)
http://www.auniao.pb.gov.br/v2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=5798&Itemid=35 (with Google translation)
http://www.joaopessoa.pb.gov.br/noticias/?n=5660 (with Google translation)

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Ie viva meu Mestra, Part 4: Contra-Mestra Marisa Cordeiro

26 12 2007

I can’t believe I almost forgot about Contra-Mestra (or Mestranda) Marisa Cordeiro, considering she was the other woman interviewed in the documentary I saw, and so part of the inspiration for this post series. I know it’s been a while, but better late than never, right? Thanks again to Mike for reminding me about her!

Contra-Mestra Marisa CordeiroMarisa Cordeiro was born in Curvelo, Brazil, and began training with Capoeira Cordão de Ouro in 1985. She was a lucky pupil of renowned Mestre Suassuna, as well as of his students Mestres Cangaru Domingo, Flavino Tucano, and Urubu Malandro.

The talented Marisa soon joined Oba Oba, a Brazilian performance group that held shows around Latin America and the United States. Two years after performing in the U.S. for the first time, Marisa returned to Chicago and founded the city’s first capoeira school, Gingarte Capoeira, in 1991.

Eight years later, she received her Contra-Mestra’s corda from Cordão de Ouro. Today, Gingarte Capoeira has grown since its fledgling days at the University of Chicago, and Contra-Mestra Marisa Cordeiro is known as one of the highest ranking female capoeiristas in the United States.



P.S. I could only find one video of Marisa Cordeiro playing, but I had to agree with one of the commentators that she didn’t really seem to play like someone at her given rank. She also seemed to split off from her teachers’ school a lot sooner than any of the other mestras/contra-mestras I’ve featured, and I can’t help wondering if this might have been detrimental to her in the long run?

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Documentary Trailer: Cigarra Capoeirista

8 12 2007

To follow up on her biography, this is an awesome video I found while looking for more information on Mestranda Marcia. It’s for a documentary about her and Abada Capoeira San Francisco, called Cigarra Capoeirista. My favourite parts are the maculele performance about half-way in (I love, love, love, love, love maculele), where they use real machetes (sweeeet), and the jogo with razors about two thirds in. Enjoy!

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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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Ie viva meu Mestra, Part 2: Mestra Suelly

6 12 2007

Unfortunately, there is way less information out there that I could find on Mestra Suelly than there is on Mestra Edna Lima. However, I will make up for it at the end by directing you to a beautiful article on her final troca de corda, written by Mestre Acordeon himself!

(L to R) Mestra Suelly, Mestre Acordeon, Mestre Ra
Suellen Einarsen, or Mestra Suelly, is the first North American woman to become a capoeira mestre. She currently runs a United Capoeira Association academy in Berkeley, California, along with Mestres Acordeon and Ra. Mestra Suelly was also one of Mestre Acordeon’s first students in the United States, when she joined his class in San Francisco, 1983.

A professional dancer by the time she started capoeira, Mestra Suelly took naturally to the fluid, expressive art. She continued developing her dance career as her capoeira experience accumlated, eventually helping to found the widely successful Joe Goode Performance Group.

Since then, Mestra Suelly has toured, performed with, and left the group (1997), and of course–earned her mestra’s cord, which ocurred in 2000. For an incredibly compelling description of the occasion, please read Mestre Acordeon’s article, “Mestra Suelly: The Making of a Mestra“.



Postscript: The one (slightly disappointing) issue I have with Mestre Acordeon’s article is (as you’ve probably guessed), his reference to Mestra Suelly as “being my woman”. I honestly have no idea what that means! Does he consider her “his woman” patronizingly, since Mestre Acordeon “brought up” Suelly capoeira-wise, and helped her be the first American woman to reach the rank of mestre? Or does he mean that they are in a relationship (which, however, still doesn’t make it sound better)? If anyone could clarify, I’d greatly appreciate it!

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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: www.abadacapoeira.com

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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