This topic is circulating through my mind since a couple of weeks. Maybe it is due to me leaving my first Capoeira group more than a year ago, which lead to me visiting groups and training with different groups – also regional, which is not really my line of Game. Anyway, during those times I started to see Groups and Academies differently. It is not that I do have a problem with all the typical group issues which can come up when you are in one (see Mandingueiras page for this, she has some pretty good posts in there!). I just thought about one question, and that is the question I am gonna contemplate upon in this post:
Does Capoeira really have to be stuck in Academies?
I know it is a provoking thought, questioning about 80 years of Capoeira History and a lot of teachers would decapitate me with a clean martello for this, but Capoeira did survive because people did have the flexibility of thinking in another way. So that’s what I am doing right now: Thinking the other way.
Of course “Bring Capoeira Back to the Streets” is a very placative exclamation and more an eyecatcher for you people than meant that way. No, I think without academies Capoeira would still delve in the marginality in which Mestre Bimba did find it 80 years ago and did lift it up into publicity. Without academies only some special ethnologists or Brazil-fanatics would even know what Capoeira is, nobody would play it and I would still not be able to do a handstand (and would have not chosen any sport at all for my life!). So academies do have a pretty big influence on what Capoeira IS today. Actually, Capoeira is almost only to be found in academies (or at least groups). In Europe and North America much more than in Brazil. I will later come back to the advantages of academies for Capoeira (I think most of you do intuitively know it anyway…). But much more interesting is: Why do I come up with the Streets at all? What is what Streets can give Capoeira?
I’ll name three advantages of Capoeira on the Streets and then name some disadvantages and why the academies are exactly at the right spot for this.
Pro: Capoeira on the Streets
a) The first thing one have to think about is that Capoeira does actually come from the streets – or at least has spent a lot of time on the streets, in suburbian Brazil, on the docks of Bahia, Rio, Recife. Of course, I as an Angoleiro do say that Capoeira comes from African slaves, but some major changes were coming exactly from the time when Capoeira was played on the streets. It grew up in marginality, being chased down by the police and being frowned upon by “general” society. Then, some brilliant mind called Mestre Bimba did succeed in pushing through the academies and although society did not really accept Capoeira, yet academies were ok. It was some people doing that stuff between walls, out of the sight of the public (and if, then it was some kind of folklore demonstration…at least that was what people might have thought). It was a Capoeira being under control. If there was a problem with Capoeiristas you did not have to hunt down a solitude Capoeirista, but just go to his school – and the problem was solved. This everything was good for Capoeiras survival, and once it survived and was tolerated, it could start spreading around. Yeah, but on the other side it is now stuck in this academies. Even in Brazil you have so many academies and groups that usually there is always a Capoeira school some kind of Capoeirista belongs to. Does it have to be like that? Is not Capoeira, learned and practised on the street, some kind of a more authentic way of Capoeira? Less ‘imprisoned’?
b) And this leads to my second point in arguing for Capoeira on the streets. With Mestre Bimba’s academy, and the thousands of spawning academies which basically do form the Capoeira Regional and Contemporeana scene of today, a whole other way of teaching entered the Capoeira world. There were groups before, and the one or other teacher might have taught Capoeira in a more structured way. But the real structured way of teaching came to Capoeira in the wave of the academies. What is wrong with this? Well, structured and standadized ways of teaching do usually not concentrate on a single student’s needs, problems or strengths, but somehow takes “the average student” which is a non-existing prototype. After a while in the standardized training method, each individual student does come closer and closer to “the average student” leading to a whole bunch of students, which play alike! And that’s what is the problem of academies. You can actually see where a Capoeirista comes from, when you know a specific group’s style. That is true for every size of group, but when you have groups with thousands of students, then this becomes a problem. Capoeira is born and lives from its diversity. Thus, uniformity does kill it. And that is something which can’t happen that easily on the streets. When people learn by playing other people, they might take over techniques of one specific capoeirista, but there will be the influence of a lot of other players – leading to more diversity.
c) The last point I have is actually the most important, to me. With Capoeira in Academies you have one problem. They are not out there. And if they are, then Capoeiristas are part of a show, with sometimes defined people (who plays the berimbau? who does the acrobatics? who’s playing whom? and so on…). That is not the same as we are playing in our Rodas amongst Capoeiristas, right? This way Capoeira will have it hard to integrate into any society other than the Brazilian society. We are here, outside of Brazil, playing Capoeira since 30 years, and still I have to explain people what Capoeira is. It gets better, but most people actually have no idea about Capoeira, until they have trained it… for years. But if Capoeira is part of street culture, people will be able to recognize the sound of the Berimbau, be able to link Capoeira to Brazil and will get interested easier. It will stop being a rare phenomenon and finally find its place in the middle of society.
So, now enough advantages. There are also major drawbacks of Street-Capoeira.
Contra: Capoeira on the Streets/Pro: Academies
a) My first pro-point was that Capoeira was something that was belonging to the streets before Mestre Bimba came along and did make some serious changes. It is, of course, a romanticized view to say that everything was better. Street Capoeira was having an existence in marginality. And this was not only because it was a black sport. It was also a violent game. This inherent violence made it troublesome, threatening and suspicious for ‘general society’. And these were good reasons to chase Capoeiristas. At least for the ‘society’. (That a lot of Capoeiristas did the things they do out of poor desperation, or because there was no other way, that is something people do forget easily, but that is another topic.) Now let us go 10 years into the future and think of a Capoeira street scene somewhere in a major Norht American and European city. And suddenly violence does occur. Two groups/gangs of Capoeiristas do make use of knives in the Roda, or of shotguns… Well, welcome back to the situation of Rio in 19th century. I am exaggerating a bit, but where I am coming down to is this: Without academies there is no control of Capoeira at all. That is sometimes good for Capoeiras freedom, but we all know that Capoeira was also used for other purposes. And when Capoeiristas do become a source of trouble in other than Brazilian societies the reputation of Capoeiristas will drop into a grey area we all do not want to belong to. And it just needs a couple of stupid people for this! How does the oriental saying go? “When one idiot does throw a stone into font, ten wise men will not be able to get it out.”
b) Another disadvantage of a street capoeirista is quite obvious and was obvious to a lot of old Mestres when they first saw regionalistas (the phenomenon is still existent today, though I think in a lesser degree than in the past). Street Capoeira does not teach you how to do things efficiently or beautifully or anything else. The degree of technique taught in a Capoeira Academy is – because of a streamlined and structural way of learning – higher than on the streets. Because of this we have more highly developed Capoeiristas than ever before. There is even still a difference between Regionalistas and Angoleiros. Angoleiros do usually receive a less structured lesson than Regionalistas. This does lead to the fact that Regionalistas learn playing and do achieve high performance faster than Angoleiros. Learning Capoeira Angola does need more time – with the advantage of pretty individualized styles. But even Angoleiros today do have much more structurized training than people had before.
c) The last point I have against a street capoeira scene is actually a direct response to my last pro argument. Capoeiras integration into society and a street Capoeira scene in Europe and North America (and Asia, Africa or Australia) would change Capoeira itself. It would generate some kind of local Capoeira, which is in danger of losing its roots. As an Angoleiro I am very considered that nobody forgets what Capoeira was, what the traditions are and that the Game does not lose its characeristics. Without an Academy the danger of losing Capoeiras identity is very high. When you think about it, MEstre Pastinha’s academy did evolve especially because there was a need of saving Capoeira Angola was felt. Maybe only this and the efforts of people organized in academies did save Capoeira Angola. And that is something I should not forget myself – e.g.when I am contemplating about Capoeira on the Streets yes or no. Capoeira might loose its cultural roots.
So where do we land at the very end. Should Capoeira go back to the streets? Yes and no – as it is with everything in the world, right? I think the invention of academies did save Capoeira and make it so big and this will continue. Without the academies the Capoeira world will shrink, diffuse or drift into a position where it is folklore or a violent game. Both nothing we really would like to have. And what can we do about this. Well, first of all: Belong and do not lose contact to one or other academy. They are the basis of Capoeira today and there are pretty good reasons to leave it like that. And on the other side – if your teacher does allow it – play on the streets. Do play with other people, meet up and do something. Let’s live Capoeira!