By Joshua Rapp Learn, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Capoeira in Rio de Janeiro has evolved a lot over the past century. It went through a particularly rough period in the early years of the twentieth century when the government and police prosecution virtually destroyed its practice, driving underground the few Capoeiristas who continued to train in the city.
Meanwhile, in Salvador, Capoeira managed to survive largely through the efforts of Bahian Capoeiristas to redefine the martial art as a kind of cultural activity, disguising Capoeira as a folkloric dance.
As such, Capoeira managed to survive through the first quarter of the twentieth century in Bahia, at which point several important figures began to take steps towards reestablishing it in Brazilian society.
During this period, several styles or genres developed, defining Capoeira as it exists today across Brazil.
In Bahia, Capoeira began to take on more artistic elements, partly in an effort to disguise the martial art as a ritualistic dance complete with music. In the 1930s, Manuel dos Reis Machodo, known as Mestre (master) Bimba, created the first Capoeira academy.
Bimba believed in restoring the status of Capoeira as a martial art for self-defense that he called Regional. Regional sped the game up from the largely folkloric dance that it had become and introduced new movements. Bimba’s efforts to increase the cultural status of Capoeira were eventually noticed by dictator Getúlio Vargas, who desired to create a new Brazilian cultural identity. He invited Bimba to perform at the presidential palace in 1937, and Capoeira was legalized shortly after.
Mestre Pastinha, the godfather of modern day Capoeira Angola, opened his first academy in the early Forties shortly after Bimba’s success in having the martial art legalized. His Capoeira differed greatly from that of Bimba, however, as it was slower and less focused on sequences. His brand of Xapoeira was more ritualistic, and he believed the best way to learn was the way it had always been learned – merely learn from observation.
More and more students began to study with Bimba and Pastinha, and many of them began to bring their skills to different parts of the country. New schools developed, incorporating new movements and changing the traditional style of Capoeira. In Rio de Janeiro, many academies tend to mix elements of both Angola and Regional into their styles. Some people call this mix Capoeira Contemporânea, a term used somewhat loosely to incorporate the various modern interpretations of the martial art.
Finding a school that’s right for you:
When looking for a school that’s ideal for you, the best thing to do is shop around. Although it’s still easy to find an academy that concentrates on Regional or Angola, many academies in Rio tend to instruct their students on both.
Grupo Senzala was one of Rio’s oldest and most prestigious schools, and is arguably responsible for propagating what is today referred to as Contemporânea.
They have a number of different masters who run classes from the academy in Leme. Information can be found at http://gruposenzala.org/masters.html.
Just behind Senzala’s academy off Ladeira Ary Barrosco trains Angola group Brincadeira de Angola. Their schedule is posted online.
Nestor Capoeira was once a student of Senzala, and after he became a master he wrote several books about the martial art. His school trains in Gávea at the Galpão das Artes Urbanas
If you are in Niteroi, another international group led by masters who trained with Senzala is Capoeira Brasil.
There are also several Angola groups that train in Catete near the station. Flor Da Gente has a website.