Brazilian capoeira movement finds its way to U

Capoeira consists of dancing, sparring, song and music – played on drums and string instruments and sung in Portuguese.

by Emily Ayshford

Kelly Ketterer learned how to do martial arts, sing, play instruments and speak Portuguese, all in one class.

“There’s something in capoeira for everyone,” she said.

Capoeira began as a form of self-defense for slaves in sixteenth century Brazil. They disguised their training as a ritualistic dance where capoeiristas would throw spinning kicks, narrowly missing their opponents. The audience would sing, clap and play drums and instruments to keep the beat.

Capoeira gained popularity in the United States during the 1970s, and is now practiced in schools across the country.

Mike Linden, president of the Capoeira Club at the University, said the club has been around for about two years. Linden said he was interested in studying a form of martial arts and heard about capoeira from a video game.

“I thought it was one of the coolest things I ever heard of,” he said. He began practicing it a year and a half ago, but said he was still pretty low in the ranks.

Linden said he enjoyed capoeira because it is considered a noncompetitive game.

“It allows for a lot more freedom of movement since everyone doesn’t have to specifically break someone’s face,” he said.

The game culminates in a “roda,” a circle where capoeiristas play instruments, clap and sing while two people mock fight in the middle. Traditional capoeira songs are sung in Portuguese, and the instruments are a one-stringed bow, drums and a tambourine.

“If music isn’t being played, it’s basically not capoeira,” Linden said. The rhythm of the drums determines the style of the game the capoeristas are playing, Linden added.

Ketterer, a political science senior who has been playing capoeira for a year and a half, said she likes capoeira because it is high-energy and multifaceted.

During classes, members of the capoeira club count their push-ups in Portuguese.

“We try to operate as much as we can in Portuguese because it gets you involved in the mindset of capoeira,” Ketterer said.

Ketterer said they learn a new song every week, but do not start to learn how to play instruments until later in the semester.

Beginner students need to pass the batizado, or baptism, in order to advance in ranks. They receive their first cords, which vary in color depending on rank if the master thinks they are far enough along.

Master is the highest rank of capoeira and only a master can determine if a person is ready to advance in ranks.

Ketterer said she thinks she’ll be playing capoeira for the rest of her life.

“I’m addicted to capoeira,” she said.

Emily Ayshford welcomes comments at

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