Brazilia Beats

Alex Brown

Mystical tribal music plays as a storm of legs flies through the air. No, this isn’t a Bruce Lee film; it’s capoeira, “a combination of martial arts, dance and music,” as described by Mestre Marisa Cordeiro, founder and director of Gingarte Capoeira in Chicago.

Imported by African slaves to Brazil as a “zebra dance,” in which men would engage in mock fights for the right to marry, over time the martial art incorporated dance movements so as not to alarm the plantation owners for whom the slaves worked. Singing and playing of the berimbau (a one-stringed instrument from Angola) and the atabaque (a tall drum) were also fused with the physical aspect of capoeira to shape its modern form.

Cordeiro founded Gingarte, Chicago’s first capoeira academy, in 1991 and has noticed an increased interest in the Afro-Brazilian practice. “We started out with a small group of students and not many people knew what it was,” she says. “Recently, though, there have been a lot more groups offering classes and it’s becoming more well-known.”

Weinberg freshman Ian Epstein, a capoeirista since January, has participated in several large, inter-academy rodas (circles of singers and players) in New York and Connecticut. When he first gave it a try at the persistence of a friend, he found it “fulfilling and addicting.” Epstein, along with Weinberg sophomore Dena Trugman, is attempting to form a capoeira group on campus. Epstein and Trugman are currently interviewing potential instructors.

Although most of the moves in capoeira are kicks, no one gets hurt because it’s a non-contact martial art. Gymnastics also are incorporated through backflips and cartwheels that can be done in the roda. Whatever the movement, an important rule of capoeira is to stay with the rhythm of the music.

“It helps people to relax,” Cordeiro says. “The music is a very important part, which helps relieve stress. Also, it exposes you to the African and Brazilian cultures through the songs and the terms used.”

Gingarte Capoeira is located on the second floor of 2909 N. Milwaukee Ave., and can be reached at (773) 924-3220. Classes are $10 each, but more cost-efficient monthly packages are available.