True love is unconditional, cleansing fire is impartial. Burn that weak heart from out of your chest!
- Low Country Capoeira Angola Society
Now is the perfect time to plant the seed of Capoeira Angola in the Black communities of the United States. Desire, commitment, development, and wisdom are the attributes which will root Capoeira Angola within these communities. However, I believe there are four things we should keep in mind and adhere to:
1. When teaching in Black communities, our skills must be impeccable.
In order for the roots of Capoeira Angola to grow strong in the Black communities of the United States, it must be respected by the communities in which it is taught. If we tell the communities we are working in that Capoeira Angola is a danced fight done to music, many community members will expect our Capoeira Angola to demonstrate grace and power, intelligence and strength, fearlessness and funk. As such, if one is interested in bringing Capoeira Angola to the Black communities of the United States he or she has to train hard every day! Black communities deserve the absolute best that Capoeira Angola has to offer.
2. Students must be required to attend at least two classes and one roda every week.
By establishing an order in which at least four hours of class time and two hours of roda are required each week, we will ensure the steady growth of group cohesiveness and individual development within the communities we work. It also sends a clear message to our communities that Capoeira Angola is serious business, and only serious people need apply.
Within some groups treinels in their late 20’s and early 30’s are so overweight and out of shape that they cannot demonstrate the movements they are supposed to teach. In other groups, elder students only attend rodas. Refusing or unable to take training seriously, these elder students and treinels display an empty, lax type of Capoeira Angola that bears witness to their laziness and arrogance, while undermining the overall quality of Capoeira Angola in the United States. However, if we are to successfully root Capoeira Angola in the Black communities of the United States, we can be neither lazy nor arrogant.
As for the roda, we must not fall into the traps of having it once a month or becoming discouraged when there are five people or less attending. The roda is the group’s paycheck, party, and spa all rolled into one. The roda is where lessons learned during the week are reinforced. It is also the place that the community should be invited to see the work you are doing. Bring food to your roda, acknowledge births, graduations, sons getting out of jail, new jobs, marriages, and transitions at your roda. Every roda should be a celebration, and your group should feel that the most important roda in the world is the one they are at.
3. Do not hire teachers from outside of your community to teach in your community.
Hiring outside mestres or teachers to teach will not in any way help maintain the health of your group, let alone help Capoeira Angola become rooted within the Black communities of the United States. By outside mestres or teachers I mean those who are not involved in the day to day struggles of the group with which you work. In other words, if your group sees a mestre or teacher only three to five times a year, then he or she is an outside mestre or teacher as far as your community is concerned. This applies even if your group wears the same t-shirt as the mestre or teacher you are hiring to teach, or if the outside mestre or teacher you hire is the one who taught you Capoeira Angola.
On its face this may seem counterintuitive. Many of those interested in bringing Capoeira Angola to the Black communities of the United States have through the years looked upon this or that mestre with awe and admiration. Often, these mestres and teachers are affable, charismatic, and extremely knowledgeable about Capoeira Angola. However, at some point those interested in doing the serious work of planting the roots of Capoeira Angola in the Black communities of the United States have to put emotions to the side, and do the knowledge. The question is, in what direct way has hiring outside mestres or teachers helped to root Capoeira Angola in Black communities?
As a case in point we can look at the ICAF group in Atlanta. Over several years ICAF Atlanta hired Cobrinha, Mestre Valmir, Mestre Jurandir, Contra Mestre Alcione, Treinel Beto, and others to teach classes or workshops. However, even with all of the in and out of these various teachers, today the ICAF group in Atlanta is defunct. The LA branch of ICAF, which has also closed down, has a similar story. In both cases hiring mestres to come “support” these groups could not make up for either of these two groups’ lack of vision and weak leadership. I would argue that in some ways both groups had their growth stunted by looking to mestres and teachers from outside of their communities for leadership, instead of developing strong leadership from within.
It is important to note that hiring these outside mestres and teachers is not the root of the problem, but symptomatic of the lack of self-confidence that plagues many Black communities in the United States. As stated earlier, in most cases these outside mestres and teachers are incredible sources of Capoeira Angola knowledge. I recommend that serious angoleiros go visit these mestres and teachers in their own academies as much as possible, and bring the knowledge they gain back to the community in which they work. Likewise, these mestres and teachers should be welcome to visit your weekly open roda whenever they desire.
Those interested in rooting Capoeira Angola in the Black communities of the United States need to do more than teach their communities to do the movements of our art, play the berimbau, and sing in Portuguese. The Black communities of the United States need Capoeira Angola to be used as a tool to foster self confidence and promote community healing.
Any group that consistently hires outside mestres or teachers models a lack of self-confidence to the community at large. It subtly conveys the message that Black communities must look outside of themselves for energy. It also diverts precious internal resources that should be utilized for skill development, towards event planning and fund raising. Allowing Black communities in the United States to become part of the Capoeira Angola teachers’ workshop/conference circuit that has developed over the past several years is dishonorable and unsustainable. If we are committed to helping Capoeira Angola take root in the Black communities of the United States, our investment must be towards a daily passion and long term commitment that builds our communities’ Capoeira Angola from the inside out. We should avoid attending showy events and hiring name brands unless we can justify how doing so will serve our communities’ needs.
4. Teach For Free!
Besides the cost needed to maintain or rent a space, we should not charge Black communities in the United States money to practice Capoeira Angola. To engage in this type of pioneering work one must have a sense of urgency and a spirit of sacrifice. Capoeira Angola is magic, money is mundane. At this early stage of helping to root Capoeira Angola in the Black communities of the United States, the only currency we should trade in is mutual love and respect.
Written by Chicago. Chicago is a member of the Low Country Capoeira Angola Society, located in Philadelphia, PA, USA. He can be reached at Lccapoeira@yahoo.com or (912)596-2142.