São Paulo

We’ve just returned from an unforgettable weeklong trip to São Paulo!

The primary purpose of the trip was to do some research at Antônio Nóbrega‘s Instituto Brincante, which included classes in music, dance, and poetry. The space itself is gorgeous and inviting; I immediately felt a great energy when I walked in. They have a few classrooms and dance spaces, lined with Brazilian percussion instruments and other costumes, props, and set pieces. I loved the staircase, where photographs and other memorabilia were displayed.

I participated in a number of classes. First, I attended a Brazilian percussion class for beginners with instructor Luis Zanetti. We started with some warm-up clapping exercises and gradually built up to more complex Brazilian rhythms, eventually splitting up into groups and playing different percussion instruments, including alfaias, caixas, shakers, tamborins, and agogôs. I spent the most time playing it safe on the agogô (already familiar to me from capoeira), but also tried a bit of tamborim, which was a bit more complicated but really fun to play. It always feels good to connect to other people through music and percussion.

I was most excited to attend Alisson Lima’s frevo & capoeira class, since my introduction to frevo was through capoeira, and specifically because I’m interested in frevo’s roots in capoeira and the connection between the two as “dances of resistance.” I’d seen this video from Instituto Brincante last year as I was preparing my research proposal, and I’d never seen anything like it! The idea of playing with frevo and capoeira together, and dancing frevo with a partner like in a capoeira roda, really appealed to me. Part of that appeal comes from my personal preference to approach capoeira training as a dance rather than a martial art (although I appreciate and respect both approaches and their histories). Check out the video:

Alisson is a great teacher and when I interviewed him one afternoon, he told me about his somatic research and dance pedagogy. What he articulates about his experience as a dancer and performer comes through in his classes. I was able to participate in two of his frevo/capoeira classes, the first of which focused on frevo and the second of which focused on capoeira. We started each class with playful exercises that warmed us up and also broke the ice a bit: solo improvisation, group improvisation, jump rope (it had been years since I’d jumped into a rope!), etc. We learned some frevo moves and some capoeira moves, which were familiar to me from previous classes I’ve taken in each style. However, what struck me the most was his encouragement to play with the movements and express ourselves. In class, he had us dance to all kinds of music—not just frevo or capoeira music—so it opened up a lot of possibilities that I want to continue experimenting with. I wish I could continue the semester in São Paulo to experience the journey he has planned for the class.

Finally, I attended a Brazilian poetry class with the great dancer, musician, poet, actor, and artist Antônio Nóbrega! I will admit that I was a bit star-struck. He is one of the foremost frevo artists in the world! The poetry class was quite a challenge for a struggling beginner Portuguese speaker like myself (rhyming in a foreign language is hard!), but it was incredibly inspiring to spend three hours in a small classroom with him. He not only spoke about poetry, but also about music, dance, theatre, art, and performance—and how they are all connected. I could see that connection in his body as he spoke and moved. He talked about erudite and popular culture in Brazil: where their different lineages have intersected and where they have branched off, and how they continue to do so. Besides learning about some of the technical nuances of grammatical, metric, and strophic forms in Brazilian poetry (!!!), it was a thrilling experience to hear him speak and sing—and even see him dance a bit.

Besides visiting Instituto Brincante, we also, of course, explored São Paulo. The trip involved catching up with our friend Lucas, meeting new friends, visiting a handful of museums, hearing live music and dancing (of course), and eating a lot of good food. We have to thank Lucas for being an incredible host and shepherding us through this enormous city! We certainly took advantage of our seven days in São Paulo.

Let me count the ways:

  • Museums: inspiring Aleijadinho exhibit and permanent art exhibit at Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP); incredible African and Afro-Brazilian art and artifacts at Museu Afro Brasil; gorgeous architecture and a wide variety of modern Brazilian art at Pinacoteca; the calm and tranquility of Casa de Japão; and the beautiful rose garden of Casa das Rosas

  • One of my favorite pieces of art at Museu Afro Brasil:
    part of
    The Veterans Series by Gerard Quenum of Benin
  • Parks, landmarks, and cool spaces: the fun and colorful graffiti at Beco do Batman; the impressive Catedral de Sé; the beautiful landscape and fun exercise equipment at Parque Ibiripuera; the Renaissance, Baroque, and Art Nouveau architecture of the Teatro Municipal opera house

  • Beco do Batman
  • Markets and shopping: the Japanese neighborhood and market of Liberdade; the endless rows of delicious exotic fruits and insanely enormous mortadela sandwiches at Mercadão Municipal; the variety of musical genres (samba, forró, rock, axé, indie rock, heavy metal, reggae…) and people-watching on Avenida Paulista on a Sunday; a few shopping malls (obligatory part of any Brazilian city experience, it seems); and a unique flower and plant boutique at FLO atelier botânico

  • Bottom left: fruits at Mercadão Municipal /
    Top left: humongous mortadela and chicken sandwiches /
    Right: ceviche tower at Rinconcito Peruano


    Samba roda on Avenida Paulista

  • Music and dance: a stunning concert at SESC Pinheiros by Quinteto da Paraíba with virtuoso guests Carlos Malta, Mônica Salmaso, and frevo master Spok; an intimate and warm evening of samba and chorinho (with some rusty but always fun samba de gafieira dancing with Pablo) to the sounds of the Zé Barbeiro quartet and Edinho Silva at Ó Do Borogodó Bar; and an awesomely heart-pumping and friendly capoeira class with Mestre Kibe at Capoeira Cordão de Ouro Matriz
  • Sweaty capoeira class with Mestre Kibe
  • Food and drinks: drinks at Fast Berlin and Salve Jorge in Pinheiros; a pleasant afternoon chat over coffee and kombucha at Isso É Café; amazing ceviche at Rinconcito Peruano; the most incredible northeastern cuisine and beautiful fruit caipirinhas at Recife-owned Mocotó (where I sampled the tiniest bit of sarapatel, which wasn’t bad, but definitely doesn’t taste like chicken); authentic (so my Bahian expert friends say) acarajé at Tabuleiro do Acarajé; a quick coffee at Nano’s pop-up in Vila Madalena; an unforgettable coffee “ritual” experience the Coffee Lab; and famous São Paulo pizza at Carlos Pizza
  • Fruity caipirinhas, an unforgettable lunch with old and new friends, and photo with chef Rodrigo Oliveira at northeastern Brazilian restaurant Mocotó

Needless to say, I’m tired! But also refreshed and ready for the next phase of research in Recife.