By Hilary Stamper, Staff Contributor
Last year, Paula and Azeitona da Silva, owners of the Dende do Recife Capoeira club in Halifax, were deported back to Brazil. The da Silvas came to Halifax in 2003 to settle their family, become Canadian citizens and introduce parts of their Brazilian culture into the city. The couple were trained in the Brazilian art of Capoeira. In 2005 they opened the Dende do Recife club in the North End of Halifax so that people could go learn about Brazilian culture, music and history, while getting physically in shape. The couple continues to work on their application for permanent residence in Canada from Brazil. Even in their absence, their beautiful impression on Halifax is felt.
The humble space of Dende do Recife is floored in black and white chequered linoleum. There’s a front room for seating and a main room for classes. The main room is decorated with photos, a few mirrors, training gear and musical instruments. Students and teachers of Capoeira are largely responsible for creating their own music – one of the many distinguishing features of the art. Students initially focus on learning the physical movements of Capoeira but soon find that the instruments creating the musical rhythm are just as important.
“It is all part and parcel,” Ross Burns, a senior student of Capoeira, says of the knowledge students of Capoeira acquire. “People start and they want to know how to do this move, or how to be a better fighter or acrobat, but then they end up learning the music, the language, the African- Brazilian history and other important elements of Capoeira.”
Apart from being a student at the club, Burns is also a teacher and has stepped in as one of the managers while the da Silvas are away.
The consensuses among Capoeira teachers of its origins are uncertain, but most agree that it evolved from various African influences during the Brazilian slave trade.
“The mixing of all the west coast African cultures in that turbulent situation in Brazil gave rise to different cultural things, and Capoeira was a result of all those,” says Burns
One theory is Capoeira was a way for slaves to disguise their martial arts training. Burns suggests that Capoeira evolved as a cultural weapon.
The technicalities of Capoeira can be classified as a combination of dance, acrobatics, martial arts and music.
“It’s an improvised game that is very much spontaneous and playful,” says Burns. “Some movements of Capoeira can be more aggressive, some can be more playful, but ultimately there is no one specific goal and nothing is set out or planned before hand.”
Capoeira’s reputation as a martial art combined with physical and competitive demands have led it to be generally male dominated. Paula da Silva, the co-founder and co-owner of Dende do Recife, has become a role model for many women in and out of the Capoeira community. Burns explained that the machismo attitude that sometimes poisons Capoeira clubs usually reflects the small mindedness of the owner and teachers of certain Capoeira organizations.
“The Dende do Recife group, very explicitly because of Paula, has a different atmosphere,” says Burns. “The people attracted to the da Silvas are more like them, more open and relaxed.”
Aside from teaching Capoeira, Burns is also a musician and appreciates the more rhythmic parts of Capoeira. “If you took away the music from Capoeira it wouldn’t be the same thing anymore,” says Burns. “It would be something different.”
However, Capoeira still involves a lot of strength and physical training to be able to express yourself in an artistic way. Just as the African slaves in Brazil developed Capoeira as a cultural force against their oppressors, current students of Capoeira have evolved the art into appreciative form of expression as well.
Like many other sports, arts or lifestyles, in order to understand them you must partake in them. Capoeira is no exception. Those who train the movements, practice the instruments, learn the language and genuinely submerge themselves into the community will be the ones who fully understand the culture surrounding Capoeira.
It is strange that our supposedly multicultural and diverse nation turned its back on the da Silvas, but their community and cultural appreciators will be here waiting for them when they return.