Brazilian dance practiced in Northwest Arkansas

Senior Rebekah Veldhuizen has found a new passion in an art form known as Capoeira.

Combining rhythm, dance, martial arts and cultural history, the Afro-Brazilian practice attracts many different people for many different reasons.

The Brazilian Arts Foundation says of Capoeira, “If you ask 10 people to describe Capoeira, you will most likely hear 10 very different answers. Capoeira has been described as a martial art, a dance, an art form, a form of self-defense or any hybrid of these.”

Veldhuizen gave her take on Capoeira: “It’s an Afro-Brazilian martial art. Essentially, African slaves in Brazil started using it to gain freedom. Obviously, they weren’t allowed to train or fight, so they disguised it as a dance. It’s more than just a martial art; it’s music, culture, history.”

Culture, history and tradition are very important to Capoeira. Its roots go back 500 years, and those who engage in the phenomenon – capoeiristas – know its past.

“Although there are few official history records, it is known that Capoeira was created in Brazil by African slaves (mainly from Angola). To hide what was really going on said, “[They] used their traditional music, singing and dancing. Thus, the Capoeira continued its development and soon became not only for self-defense but for rebellion.”

“After slavery, Capoeira was used by gangs in Brazil that would hold razorblades with their toes,” Veldhuizen said. “It had a very negative connotation because of the gang’s use of the art form, but they can be happy dances now!”

The Brazilian Arts Foundation reports that, in response to the rebellious nature of Capoeira, the government made active practice illegal, and that, “It was not until the 1930s that Capoeira’s shady reputation began to improve when Manoel dos Reis Machado, better known as Mestre Bimba, opened the first Capoeira academy in 1932.”

Taking into account 500 years of history, Capoeira’s introduction to the United States did not happen very long ago.

The Brazilian Arts Foundation said, “Capoeira made its debut in New York City and San Francisco during the mid-1970s through the work of Jelon Vieira, Loremil Machado, Bira Almeida and other Brazilian mestres who introduced this unique art form to a generation of Americans only familiar with Asian martial art forms like Tae Kwon Do or Karate.”

Veldhuizen has known about Capoeira for a long time, but only recently felt inspired to figure out how to participate.

“I really doubted that there were people in the area, but the more I tried to do stuff, the more I realized that it’s really hard to learn on your own,” Veldhuizen said, “There are so many parts and aspects, so it’s hard to learn alone.”

In her search, she came across a group at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. The group of six people including Veldhuizen is planning an upcoming trip to Ft. Worth, Texas.

Veldhuizen said she’d love to introduce anyone wanting to know more to Capoeira.