"Capoeira Angola is featured in upcoming seminar

The martial art of Capoeira Angola combines musical performance, dance and theater in its self-defense applications. Sometimes it looks like yoga or pilates, sometimes like karate or kung fu, sometimes like nothing you’ve ever seen.

Awarded the title of Contra-Mestre in 1998, local instructor Iuri Santos moved from Brazil to Indiana and began teaching both in Bloomington and Indianapolis. A pioneer in Indiana for Capoeira Angola, he continues to teach courses at Indiana University in Bloomington, and travels hundreds of miles each week to keep his schools alive in both cities.

Because Capoeira Angola represents an amalgam of artforms, Santos’ classes are varied and rich. Often the focus is fitness and proficiency in the movements necessary to the fluid practice of the art. Some of these movements imitate animal movements such as those of crabs, cats, camels and crocodiles. Other moves are more familiar to martial artists: kicks, blocks and leg sweeps. But Santos demonstrates these movements with ease and clarity, and encourages students through the more physically difficult moments.

Other classes focus on learning to play the instruments integral to the performance of Capoeira Angola. The berimbau is a one-stringed instrument resembling a bow with a gourd on the bottom. Striking the string with a stick and touching the string with a coin or rock gives different tones, much like picking the string of a guitar and applying pressure to a fret. The gourd acts as a speaker, amplifying the sound, and is pressed against the body to change the tone of the instrument. The atabaque is a large drum that resembles a conga in size and shape, but authentic ones are a work of art in and of themselves, made with materials native to Brazil and covered in goat skin. The reco-reco is a hollowed length of bamboo trenched with ridges, which are scraped with a stick to provide a unique sound added as percussion. The pandeiro is a tambourine, the agogo is like a forked cowbell, with two bells attached by a bent metal rod. All members of the group are encouraged to learn to play these instruments and learn to sing traditional songs that help to preserve the culture of Capoeira Angola.

Finally, the culmination is the roda. The orchestra plays and sings while two of the members at a time rotate in and out of the orchestra to take part in the game. Part respectful exchange of technique among friends, part competition, part theatrical exposition of the art, the game of capoeira preserves a rare part of African and Brazilian history, imparting life-affirming values within the community.

Iuri Santos’ next workshop and performance takes place as a part of a self-defense seminar hosted by the Indianapolis Martial Arts Institute at Broadway Methodist Church on Feb. 24 from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tenth Degree Grand Master Robert J. Cooper from New York will also teach a workshop on basic self-defense and another on knife and gun defense. Info: myspace.com/indymai.

Santos’ group, North Star Capoeira, holds classes at Broadway Methodist Church on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6-8 p.m.; see www.northstarcapoeira.org.

Local musician Jason Michael Thomas of X-Ray Roger Jimmy has been taking classes with Iuri Santos for two years.

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