Capoeira comes to Markham

Community News & Features Dec 7, 2018 at 7:58 pm
From left: Stacey Armstrong (Professor Saci) head of Capoeira Camará Toronto, Marifé Villagonzalo (Sorriso), Elaine Ticzon (Calada), Marinaldo Da Silva (Mestre Bola) founder and head of Capoeira Camará

From left: Stacey Armstrong (Professor Saci) head of Capoeira Camará Toronto, Marifé Villagonzalo (Sorriso), Elaine Ticzon (Calada), Marinaldo Da Silva (Mestre Bola) founder and head of Capoeira Camará

Afro-Brazilian Martial art combines dance, music and acrobatics

By Lawrence Garcia
The Philippine Reporter

“Are they fighting or dancing? Are they playing a game?” Typical curiosities of a first-time spectator to a roda—the circle.

The roda is created when capoeira practitioners come together and form a makeshift circle to engage in a game of fight and dance. They’re enclosed by other players, some of whom playing traditional instruments as they and others sing along together. The rhythm dictates the style of play. The game, or o jogo in Portuguese, is characterized by smooth, flowing movements and graceful acrobatics complemented by rhythms from instruments like the berimbau (which leads the roda)—a wooden musical bow with a single steel string strung on each end.

Accentuated by sounds of other instruments like the pandeiro (a type of tambourine), the atabaque (a tall hand drum), the agogo (hollow iron cones that are struck with a stick), and the reco-reco (a section of bamboo cut with grooves where a stick is rubbed back and forth). The collaborative rhythms often dictated the pace of the players’ movements.

Long arching kicks, spins, swinging strikes, slick acrobatics, feats of dexterity and agility and the flowing interaction of players; just seeing that is inspiring enough. Add to that the traditional songs and unique instrumental sounds that range from mellow and hypnotic to the kind of upbeat that energizes your soul; capoeira is truly something to behold. Such was the spectacle I witnessed at a capoeira event at Randolph Academy back in 2001. That was the first time I saw Elaine Ticzon and Marifé Villagonzalo—known in capoeira circles as Calada and Sorriso (Quiet and Smile in Portuguese)—partake in a roda as they performed with their group onstage in front of an awed audience. That was at the Batizado (lit. baptism) where some were “baptized” officially as copoeiristas in the group.

Capoeira1Seventeen years later, I’m watching videos of Calada and Sorriso giving a demonstration with their teammates. They are teaching at the opening day of Capoeira Camará North, the new branch of the Capoeira Camará organization and a new place to learn and practice this unique art.

Capoeira (Ca-poh-eh-ra) is an Afro-Brazilian art form that combines martial arts with acrobatics, dance, and music. It was developed in Brazil over four centuries ago but didn’t arrive in Canada until the 1990s. On the surface, it appears to be a choreographed fight/dance between two people. To its practitioners, capoeira is a dialogue between two players where kicks, strikes, lunges, dodges, and acrobatics are the phrases in a language of constant motion. There’s a challenge that doesn’t only lie in the capoeirista’s ability to apply fluidity in communicating these movements, but to also have them reply accordingly to their partner’s “sentences.”

Capoeira’s origins are strongly influenced by the fighting spirit of West African slaves brought to Brazil by Portuguese colonists nearly half a millennium ago. Forbidden from observing many of their customs and traditional practices like martial arts, the slaves disguised fighting positions, footwork, kicks and various strikes as dance, performed with singing and simple instruments. With musical expression, dance, self defence and more, capoeira began as a hidden tool to counter oppression and became for some—notably among the many slaves who escaped and created communities outside Portuguese control—a means for freedom. Refined in Brazil through its diverse traditions and history, capoeira became a revolutionary symbol for Afro-Brazilians.

“It’s so many things,” said Calada when asked about her passion for capoeira. “The music, the language, the culture, the people and that connection we have with each other.” She spoke of the strong bond formed from the cumulative dedication to the practice and the continuous learning with her capoeira family. “It’s so multifaceted that different members tend to focus on different things. Like at the start, Sorriso really took to the musical aspect of it.”

Copoeira-Martl-Arts_ActionsCalada and Sorriso were among the first students of Mestre Bola, the founder of Capoeira Camará. “We’ve been with him from the start since 2000 until now,” said Calada, “since he came to Toronto and started teaching us capoeira when it was still relatively unknown here.”

I actually met Bola through Calada and Sorriso at an introductory class they invited me to back then. I vaguely knew about capoeira from a low budget martial arts movie called Only the Strong. The film impressed me but seeing it live was something else. It was an experience that had me hooked. I became a student and began 1-on-1 training sessions where Professor Bola (he wasn’t a Mestre yet) would come and give me lessons at the party room of my building. Unfortunately, my capoeira endeavor (and hopeful mentorship) was premature. It was abruptly cut short due to an unforeseen circumstance. I was still able to spectate in the occasional roda and performances like those at the Batizado—the annual event where new students are recognized as capoeiristas, and Troca de Corda where the more experienced ones go up in rank.

Capoeira Camará has since branched out internationally, but just opened Capoeira Camará North in Markham on December 2nd. Which is great, really. After watching videos of the demonstration and lessons Calada and Sorriso did there, the interest that laid dormant caused by disappointment of my inability to continue to practice was woken up by a suggestive possibility. A new local venue for capoeira classes taught by these two skilled, experienced and knowledgeable practitioners? My hopes of learning to be a true capoeirista are revived.

Capoeira Camará North is located at 7780 Woodbine Avenue, Unit 9, Markham (Inside Markham West Fit Body Bootcamp). Classes are held every Monday and Thursday from 8:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. and they’re FREE throughout the whole month of December. For more information, contact capoeira.north@gmail.com or check out www.capoeira.to. Classes are also taught at 35 Golden Avenue (High Park area) by Professor Saci.

The Toronto chapter of Capoeira Camará was in Markham to celebrate the opening of the new classes taught by Calada and Sorriso.

The Toronto chapter of Capoeira Camará was in Markham to celebrate the opening of the new classes taught by Calada and Sorriso.