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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Capoeira is a fluid mix of arts

By Krista Jahnke
Detroit Free Press

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Michael Rufino, right, performs with capoeira master Daniel Ramos under the watch of Paulo Da Silva, another master.

Advertiser library photo

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Few modes of fitness allow you to not only get in shape, but also preserve an ancient, multidiscipline art form.

Capoeira is at once a playful dance, a form of martial arts, a game, a musical experience and a great workout. At least, that's the impression you get watching a class taught by Jose Dantas, who goes by the name Mestre Caboquinho. Caboquinho works full time teaching the Afro-Brazilian art form to people in Detroit and Ann Arbor, Mich.

Capoeira traces its roots to Brazil 500 years ago when Africans enslaved by the Portuguese used it to train, undercover, in martial arts.

"When the Portuguese would see Brazilians practicing, they would say, 'Oh, are you fighting?"' said Roshiani Dantas, Caboquinho's wife, who translated for him. "Africans would say, 'No, no, we're not fighting. We're dancing.' There are a lot of tricks involved."

Those tricks happen in a roda, or circle, of people playing instruments like drums and a berimbau, which looks like a long rod with a wire and weighted ball strung on it.

Two people will meet in the roda to play capoeira they spin, do handstands and kick, all in apparent synchronization. One kicks high, the other ducks. One spins left, the other right. It's like a dance and that's the point.

There is no contact, no violence, only the hint that the same moves could be used to fight. Beyond the physical, capoeira is a mental exercise. Caboquinho can't answer questions about the practice without becoming philosophical. Take his explanation of how quickly newcomers can pick it up.

"You have to put together the truth with the lies," Roshiani Dantas translated. "That's how life is, and he's saying it's the same thing in capoeira."

Anyone can sign up, and it draws people both with and without Brazilian roots. Many, like Dione Robinson, come to get in shape and to experience something authentic.

"The music, the culture, the exercise," said Robinson, a 29-year-old student from Wayne State University. He has been doing capoeira for four years and said it has helped him lose nearly 100 pounds. "I'm witness to this, because I used to have a bad knee and my knee's not hurting anymore because I've been doing this."