Thursday, June 25, 2009
Capoeira: An exercise and cultural experience
Capoeira's mix of music, dance, games and martial arts makes it a "very energizing" activity.
John W. Adkisson | The Roanoke Times
Mirna Hosny (center) practices with a partner Thursday afternoon during a capoeira class led by Hany Hosny at The Water Heater in Roanoke.
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It is a ritual. People in white clothes form a circle, clap, play tribal music and sing in Portuguese. Meanwhile, two jump into the center, concentrate, throw kicks and avoid each other with cartwheels and dancelike moves.
They fight, yet they never touch the other because the game is about respect, expression, energy and dependence.
"In capoeira everything is implied," said instructor Hany Hosny. "I could have kicked you if I wanted."
Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art that combines elements of gymnastics, combat, dance and music. African slaves taken to Brazil created the style in the 16th century, when it was considered illegal. It was accepted in the 1920s, and since the 1970s, capoeira started to gain popularity throughout the United States.
Hosny established a group in Salem at Roanoke College in September 2005. He had learned capoeira while he lived in Chicago.
The group collapsed in May 2007, but three months ago, he began a group in Southwest Roanoke at The Water Heater. About 10 students attend his class two times a week.
Capoeira newcomer Neal Turnage, 31, started about a month ago, but he already sees and feels some changes in his body.
"It offers a kind of connection to art and to sport that you don't get from any other activity," Turnage said. "This is helping me get in the best shape I've ever been."
Turnage runs marathons, a training that does not compare to the hour and a half spent practicing capoeira, he said.
"You can't do capoeira by yourself. It is very dependent on participation," Turnage said. "It brings people together."
The benefit instructor Hosny sees in capoeira is its multidisciplinary characteristic.
"To me capoeira is the most whole, complete of all the sports I've played," he said.
The training builds flexibility, strength, stamina, grace and coordination.
In the human circle, or roda, is where those elements are tested.
"I'm looking for some good compelling things," Hosny tells his students. "Let's go! I want to see capoeira. Sing like it matters."
Video: Capoeira class at the Water Heater
Video by John W. Adkisson | The Roanoke Times
Besides the hand-to-hand movements, kicks and flips, the students play the berimbau, a one-string percussion instrument resembling a bow; the atabaque, or a single drum; and the pandeiro, or tambourine.
They set the tempo by singing in call-and-response style or narrating in Portuguese. If the music accelerates, the intensity grows in the center of the roda.
"Being in a roda can feel like a year if you are not in shape," Hosny said.
Brandy Hickerson, 27, has been practicing capoeira for about two years.
"This takes a lot of stamina," she said. "You use a lot of parts of your body."
She said capoeira has been an excellent physical activity because it expands her creativity.
"There's a total room for expression," Hickerson said. "It's very energizing."