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“Free your body”

“Free your body”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/ Illustratie Janneke Swinkels


UM Sports opened the doors of the new university sports centre one year ago. Each week, Observant shows up in sports gear to participate in one of the sessions, and will do so until the summer. Today: capoeira. 

The beginner: “You are going to do what?” Not every colleague has heard of capoeira. A combination of martial arts and dance, of art and game. Players try to hit each other, but it has to be to the rhythm of the Brazilian music playing in the Exercise Studio of the UM sports centre. We start with a warming-up. Stretching really well. “In capoeira, you use your whole body,” says instructor Giovanne Da Silva. But the mental aspect is important too. He gets us to shake our arms, legs, hands, and every part to loosen them. “Forget everything that you did today.”

After the stretches, we practice moves. Standing on one leg, we turn the other. After four turns, we change legs. “Make long movements, find your balance. We are siting hunched up all day. We are now going to open everything up, free your body,” Da Silva calls out. Then, mockingly to the reasonably stable reporter: “What other sports do you do?” “Yoga.” “Of course!” Later on, he says that many capoeiristas do yoga too. It is not difficult to understand why, it comes in very handy.

Da Silva divides us into pairs. I am paired with Catruga – his capoeira name – who has ten years of experience. He shows me the basic step – side step, other leg to the back, arm in front of your face, and change over. I soon find the rhythm. “You are a natural,” Catruga laughs. At last, a sport that I am actually good at. He shows me how to do a kick and also how to avoid one. Then Da Silva suggests we do some acrobatics – an important part of capoeira.

This is the moment where my au naturel disappears completely. “Can you do a cartwheel?” Catruga asks. I don't get any further than a frog leap, the kind that a crippled frog would make. “The problem is that you are afraid,” he says. That's right, I'm not sure if my arms will hold so I'm afraid to gain speed. Step by step, we do the moves over and over again. Until: “Yes, that's it.” The feet hardly more than 30 centimetres from the floor, if truth be told, but still: it's a start.

The expert: “Capoeira comes from slavery,” tells the instructor Giovanne Da Silva. “The slaves used their bodies as a weapon. The instruments were made from simple materials.” The tradition of giving every capoeirista a nickname, originates from those days too. “If the police came, you only knew people by their nickname.” For a long time, Capoeira was actually banned, even after slaves were freed. These days, it's done everywhere on the streets of Brazil. “That is also how I learned it.”

It is a combination of sports and art. “The culture is important: the language, the music. Usually, after people have trained for about five years, they take up playing an instrument.” During a game, the musicians stand in a circle around the capoeira players. “Everyone joins in, nobody just stands around watching. If you don't play an instrument, you sing.” It is referred to as a game, not a fight or a competition. There are no points to be earned, no winners or losers. “But you do know when someone has scored a point. Contrary to other sports, in capoeira you don't ward off an attack by hitting back. You dodge. The trick is to surprise someone with a movement that they cannot dodge. Then you both know that you scored a point.”

Target group: Men, women, old and young: it is a complete mix in the capoeira. “A beginner can easily play against a more experienced capoeirista. That person might become arrogant and think: that beginner is no match for me. That’s when you might be surprised.” The walk-in class at UM Sports is visited at the moment by a fixed group of three men and joined every now and again by someone who comes to take a look. “We would like to have many more of those.”

The facts: Capoeira, walk-in lesson on Wednesday from 18:00-19:30hrs



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