Twenty years ago almost no one outside of Brazil had hear of capoeira. Suddenly though, it seems to have spread across every corner of both North America and Europe. The unique combination of dance, music, and martial arts has made it popular among a variety of people and it can be found in dance studios, gyms, martial art training centers, and on random sunny days at your local university campus.
The origin of capoeira is a little bit controversial but everyone seems to agree that it came from Brazil and in particular was developed by African slaves brought to the Americas by Portuguese traders. Most likely, it developed in or around the area of Salvador, Bahia in Northern Brazil. This was the first colonial capitol of Brazil and one of the largest slave markets in South America.
Many people comment that the culture of Salvador, which has a lot of Afro-Brazilian influence, feels more like a Caribbean city than one on the Atlantic coast of Brazil. This is actually the third largest city in Brazil and has more colonial architecture than any other major Brazilian city. The city is known as “Brazil’s capitol of happiness” and is famous for its lively street festivals.
Even if you haven’t ever hear of capoeira, you will quickly figure out what it is when you arrive in Salvador. The dance can often be seen acted out by street performers in the historic center. Hostels also offer classes and performances for backpackers nearly every night of the week.
Capoeira has roots that trace back to the 16th century and was both influenced by African slaves and native Brazilian tribes. The slaves coming from Africa where usually from the West coast but from a number of different tribes and regions which all added a bit to the capoeira form. The martial arts dance has been suggested as a way African slaves kept in shape and their strength up to continue under the aggressive and oppressive rule of the slave owners. Run away slaves formed their own communities deep in the Brazilian territory where they were further able to develop the art form and where it probably picked up some of its native influences.
Before the end of slavery, it was calculated that around 30% of all slaves imprisoned where held on the charge of fighting through capoeira. After the end of slavery in 1888 the practice of capoeira was actually strictly outlawed as many saw it as an unfair advantage in a fight and a way for ex-slaves to seek revenge.
Capoeira has improved its reputation greatly over the decades. It is know seen as one of Brazil’s important cultural traditions. Capoeira masters travel the world giving lessons and spreading the art form. Thousands of students visit Brazil every year to practice with the masters and see the birthplace of capoeira.
Much of the capoeira tradition still lives on in it’s likely birthplace – Salvador. The city hosts master classes and performances throughout the year. If you are visiting Brazil and serious about capoeira, you can not miss a visit to the city.
Couple Travel Tips
- Sign up for a couple’s lesson in capoeira. It is a really fun, energizing activity that you can show off to friends back home.
- Ask a local where capoeira groups practice. Watching both beginners and experts practice will help you to see the way the dance/performance is put together.
- It might look like fun, but remember that capoeira is a very serious sport and true masters treat it more as a fighting martial art form than a dance performance.