While studying abroad last spring on Semester at Sea, GoNomad.com editorial assistant Izzy Dunne traveled to Salvador, Brazil during the final, wild day of Carnaval. She got to join the 2 million people that flood the streets of Salvador for the biggest party of the year, and learned about local traditions as well. Izzy was able to get a beginner’s lesson in Capoeira, a form of martial art and dance that is unique to Salvador that is fun and very exhausting. She even go to enter the ring with a true Capoeira student!
Below is part of her story.
I love getting to know a city by its native art forms and for a dancer like me, a trip to Salvador would not have been complete without a Capoeira class. Capoeira is a part of the Afro-Brazilian tradition that is so strong in Salvador, because it was at one time the South American center for slave trade.
It is the city with the highest percentage of African Brazilians in all of Brazil at over 80%, making Salvador the center of Afro-Brazilian culture.
Capoeira is a form of martial art, but it is also a lot like dancing. It was created by African slaves in Salvador as a way to maintain their defensive abilities and strength, though the slave owners forbade actual fights.
There were Capoeira demonstrations throughout the squares of the old city, but I really wanted to take a genuine class rather than just watching from the sidelines. So early on the morning of my last in Salvador I walked through Pelourinho with a few friends to find ourselves a beginner’s class.
We found a small school called the Associação de Capoeira, which was on the top floor of a storefront building, and consisted of an open studio and a tiny reception office. We paid the 15 reals (about 6 USD) and got an amazing hour-long intro class.
Our instructor’s Capoeira nickname was Mestre Bamba, and he was amazing. He spoke very little English but was a great teacher; he was able to communicate brilliantly and didn’t let us half-ass it — we were working hard the entire time.
I thought I’d be fine because of my ballet training, but the class was intense! We did lots of squatting and kicking, cartwheels and tumbles.
The way Capoeira works is that one learns a repertoire of both defensive and offensive moves, and then during demonstrations and in-class exercises, you match up against another, enter the ring, and free-style fight using the moves you both know.
My friends and I got to experience this first hand at the end of the class; the last exercise of class paired each of us against an advanced Brazilian Capoeira student, and we took turns entering the ring and free-style fighting.
All us newbie Americans were really nervous, but it was so fun. The Brazilians were as nice as can be, and helped us out by going for a duck first, so we could kick, and then they would reciprocate.
It was such a great local experience, something that is so unique to Salvador. It made for a beautiful last day in Salvador, which became calm, charming, and laid-back after the Carnaval party-goers left. I was ridiculously sore for weeks, no wonder Mestre Bamba is in such good shape!