One experience I can never forget occurred the very first time I had ever gone to Brazil, and I was around the age of ten. I remember walking down a stone path with my parents in the small town where we were staying. In the distance, I heard the beat of a drum, and when I looked to where the sound had come from I saw a large group of people crowding around something. As my parents and I started to walked toward the group, the drum got louder and louder, and I began to hear the people shouting and cheering. That was before my growth spurt; so I could see nothing over the group of people, but it was when I found a nearby bench and climbed on top of it that my eyes widened, and my face revealed shock and horror.
I looked on as two guys were in the most intense fight I had ever seen before. They were kicking each other, swinging their arms and feet at one another, flipping backward and forwards trying to kill one another. I could not understand why everyone surrounding them did nothing to stop the fight, but instead cheered on and clapped with the music. It was then that I realized the two guys had never actually hit one another while they were fighting. They were dodging each others attacks so gracefully that it almost looked practiced, and they were flipping and kicking to the beat of the music that it looked as if they were dancing.
Dancing was, in fact, exactly what they were doing. That was the first time I had ever witnessed the extreme Brazilian dance called Capoeira. (attached is a link from the Brazilian movie about Capoeira called "Only the Strong")
Capoiera is a mix between break dance and martial arts. The two people act as if they are fighting one another while a drum, bedumbow, and other instruments create a beat. After the two people really start to get going the audience begins to clap and sing along with the beat. If the two people are really good at Capoeira, they will begin to do back flips, side kicks, and even flips using no hands... it seems impossible for them to barely miss hitting the other person. You realize how good these people have to be to not get seriously hurt... and this dangerous dance is what, ten years later from my first experience, we were about to try for ourselves.
We initially thought we were just going to watch a Capoeira performance in the Plaza of Fortaleza, but it was when the instructor turned to our group of Americans and asked for volunteers that we all looked around at one another speechlessly. Randy (AKA Mr. Brazil) was the first one to step out into the middle of the plaza ready for the challenge. The rest of us were still a little apprehensive but followed his lead.
The instructor started off by getting us all to do some basic stretches. At that point I realized these "basic" stretches were very difficult and making me sore already... and we had not even started the dance. I think from the lack of flexibility our instructor may have noticed from these stretches (mainly from me), may have caused him to be easier on us when we started to actually learn the dance. We began with simple cart wheels.
We were separated into two lines, and we each had a dancing/fighting partner. He would call out a number, and if your number was called you and your partner would do cart wheels across the floor along side one another, which symbolized the beginning of the fight. Everyone going before us made it look very easy. But it was after me and my partner, Natalie, cart wheeled across the floor... or TRIED to cart wheel across the floor... that I switched to playing the cow bell.
Some of our group had practically mastered this dance by the end of the lesson, and Abbey actually ripped her shorts because she was getting so into the cart wheels. In the end I wonder what other Brazilians walking by the plaza thought of our group... some might have been impressed by our attempts to dance Capoeira, some might have laughed hysterically at our cart wheels, and some might have thought we were suffering some sort of epidemic and convulsing on the dance floor. Either way, we can all at least say we survived dancing Capoeira. (This link is another professional Capoeira dance group. Just kidding its our attempt!)