Frevo, capoeira, e…Irish dancing?

Yesterday was a great event for me! Escola de Capoeira Perna Pesada had a women’s encounter that included some of my favorite things: capoeira, frevo, and even Irish dancing! I was invited to teach an Irish dance class as part of the day’s activities and I was really happy to have the opportunity to share a bit of my culture with the group. It all came circle for me.

My first introduction to capoeira (and Brazilian culture in general) was in Ireland when I was doing my Master’s in Traditional Irish Dance Performance at the University of Limerick. I was reading a book chapter about Laurie Booth, a British dancer and choreographer who used capoeira to develop his technique, and I thought, “Capoeira? What a funny word. What is that all about?” I was intrigued and asked my course director if I could do capoeira for my second semester elective. She found a teacher for me, Mestre Piau of Grupo Candeias in Limerick, and so it began.

I returned to the US and started training with Mestre Curisco’s Grupo Capoeira Mal√™s in Chico, CA and then the same group in Washington, DC. And it was through capoeira that I was introduced to frevo—someone said to me, “You should try frevo because it’s more like Irish dancing”—that is, more vertical, lots of footwork and kicking, heels and toes, etc. I think the implication was that I didn’t quite have the ginga (or swing, swagger) for capoeira; I’ve always struggled to “get low.”

So I did a bit of research on frevo and immediately loved it. I thought, “Hey, I can do that!” Until I saw the big leaps and squatting movements. That’s another story ūüôā

In any case, this is why is was very special for me to be able to teach Irish dancing at a capoeira event, and we even had a frevo+capoeira class at the end. The frevo+capoeira was taught by Professora Paula who was visiting from Halifax and I had a great time mixing the frevo moves I’ve learned with the “game” of capoeira. The game felt liberated from the aggressiveness of capoeira but also from the pressure of having improvise a solo in frevo—I could play off of my partner so there was more action/reaction. I got a chance to see how effective the move abre alas is in practice. It works! It made me understand a bit better, experientially, how capoeira could have turned into frevo back at the turn of the 20th century.

There was also a lecture at the end about Valdemar de Oliveira’s Frevo, Capoeira e Passo book from 1942 about the development of frevo from its capoeira origins. She explained something I hadn’t thought much about before—that is, how capoeira in Pernambuco is (and has been) different from capoeira in Bahia. I think the capoeira from Bahia is more widespread now, even in Pernambuco, but historically they were very different. So when we are thinking about how frevo could have developed from capoeira, it is important to remember that not only did it not develop from the capoeira we know today, but did not develop from the capoeira that may have existed at the turn of the century in Bahia. Pernambuco has, of course, its own specific context.

So it all came full circle for me. A perfect end to my six months here in Recife.

One month to go!

I have a little more than a month left in Recife and things are speeding up more and more as I approach the end of this research trip. A lot has been happening since my halfway point reflection so this is my “three-quarters point” reflection.

The month of May has been filled with interviews which have been fun, informative, and overwhelming. I spent the first couple months here just soaking things up and getting a lay of the land (also called “deep hanging out,” to quote anthropologist Clifford Geertz), and then I spent the next couple months in dance classes every day to dig into the “participant observation” phase of my research. Now that I have met some people, and I have a better idea of what is going on here, I have been able to approach some important figures in Recife’s frevo world to ask them some better-informed questions.

Eduardo Ara√ļjo and Luc√©lia Albuquerque from Guerreiros do Passo offered great insight into their group and their commitment to ensuring the continued legacy of Mestre Nascimento do Passo.

Ferreirinha do Frevo spoke passionately about historical and current cultural context of frevo in Recife and explained some of the “darker” history of frevo, indicating that frevo is not all smiles and colorful umbrellas.

Valéria Vicente comes to frevo as a foliã (someone who enjoys carnival and dances frevo in the streets) and is also a dance artist and scholar who has created works and written books about frevo. Her scholarship and artistic work has been very informative for me, as she touches on themes of resistance as well as the somatic experience of frevo.

Bruna Renata is the director of the Companhia do Frevo de Recife and practices many different dance styles besides frevo, including ballet, jazz, dança de salão (ballroom/partner dancing), and more. She offered a unique perspective on modern influences on frevo and innovation within this genre of dance.

J√ļnior Vi√©gas directs his own St√ļdio Vi√©gas and is my frevo teacher at Escola Municipal de Frevo. He is an artist who works primarily within the frevo genre—he is extremely active in the frevo world and he talked to me about his experiences directing his own company, teaching at Escola Municipal, and offering “viv√™ncias” for visitors at the Pa√ßo do Frevo (a museum dedicated to frevo).

La√©rcio Ol√≠mpio comes to frevo as a foli√£o and is also our professor with Guerreiros do Passo. He demonstrates inspiring creativity and ability in his dancing that brings a certain carnival “spirit” to the space. He spoke to me about the differences between the frevo of previous generations and frevo today, offering great perspective on what has changed and what has stayed the same.

Fabinho Soares spoke to me about cavalo marinho and maracatu rural from Zona Da Mata. Fabinho is one of the best dance teachers I’ve ever had because he combines historical/cultural/political context with the nuances of the movement and he teaches us how to respect these traditions. He offers an important perspective for better understanding the multiplicity of cultural expressions in Pernambuco.

And I still have more interviews to go! The amount of information I’m learning from each of these people is overwhelming, and each one shapes my understanding of frevo in unexpected ways. I’m grateful that they have all been so willing to speak to me and share their knowledge.

As a result of these conversations, I have also been pointed in the direction of many important books and articles written about frevo and popular dance in Recife/Pernambuco. In case you think my days are filled with dancing (those are my evenings, haha), I have been trying to cram as much reading in as possible. This is no easy task for me in Portuguese, but I’m managing.

(By the way, Evernote is my best friend, and I am not being paid to say this. I don’t know how I’d organize all this information: articles, photos, notes, video links, journal entries, etc. All tagged and compiled into digital notebooks.)

Meanwhile, I am continuing to take dance classes nearly every day and my body is in pain, but happy (good pain). We are also going to capoeira classes at Mestre Perna Pesada’s academy in Encruzilhada, which has been great fun. It has been awhile since I’ve trained capoeira and it feels good to get back in the jogo (game). My introduction to Brazilian culture was through capoeira, so it’s been interesting to go back to that world after having been in Brazil for a few months.

I am planning a couple more trips for my last month. At least one of these will be purely recreational—I still have not spent time at the beach, besides a short walk in Jo√£o Pessoa, and I am also hoping to swim under a Brazilian cachoeira (waterfall). Festa Junina is also coming up throughout the month of June so we are planning to travel to some other cities in Pernambuco that are known for great music and dancing. I’m ready to dance some forr√≥! ūüôā

Long weekend in Salvador

Pablo and I just spent a long weekend in Salvador, Bahia! I have wanted to visit this city ever since I was first introduced to Brazilian culture through capoeira in 2008. This was more of a trip for leisure and less for research, although of course I learned a lot that informs my research in Recife.

The first thing we did was visit the famous area of Pelourinho, which was filled with beautiful architecture, artisan shops, ice cream (!), and just an overall great vibe. I felt immediately that the energy in Salvador is unique.

Chair with the famous lembranças do Senhor do Bonfim ribbons at the Igreja do São Francisco

I got a fitinha (ribbon) tied to my wrist within 10 seconds of stopping in Pelourinho; I made three wishes that will supposedly come true with the ribbon finally falls off. We also visited the Igreja do Senhor do Bonfim, which is in the neighborhood of Bonfim, and people tie the fitinhas to the gates and say a prayer.

View from Igreja do Senhor do Bomfim

We walked through the streets of Pelourinho on Friday night, and I could hear capoeira music coming from many windows and doorways. Hearing the berimbau and atabaque was incredible—there is nothing like capoeira music and all that it evokes. We stopped by the original academy of Mestre Bimba, who created what is today known as capoeira regional. It was very cool to see the tiny space and imagine all the history that happened there.

Centro de Cultura Física Regional da Bahia РAssociação de Capoeira Mestre Bimba

I was also excited to see a short performance of the Bal√© Folcl√≥rico da Bahia at the Teatro Miguel Santana. They performed a variety of styles, from orix√° dances to capoeira and maculel√™ to samba de roda. They had some incredible percussionists (I was especially impressed by the guy who played “Asa Branca” on the berimbau) and two beautiful singers. This video by AFP gives a sense of their work:

We visited the brand new Museu da Casa do Carnaval, which just opened its doors this February. The museum gives a video interactive tour of the history of Bahian carnival, and the displays were filled with incredible costumes, instruments, and decorations. I could have spent the entire day there! It was very interesting for me to learn how different carnival in Bahia is from carnival in Pernambuco—and it is no less rich than Pernambuco. The creativity is awe-inspiring. We also had a fun dance lesson at the end of the visit—we entered a dark room and we were instructed to put on some of the carnival masks and hats that they had available. Then they played a dance lesson video on the big screen and we learned a bunch of the popular carnival dances from over the years! #bootyshaking

It was also interesting to visit the Casa do Rio Vermelho, which was the house of famous Brazilian author Jorge Amado. The house was filled with collectible art pieces from around the world, had a toad pond in the back yard, and had a beautiful garden. My favorite part was a little gazebo/grotto in the garden that was filled with silver ornaments symbolizing the orixás (from candomblé), which twinkled in the breezy sunlight.

Of course I had to try the food in Salvador! Here is Pablo’s acaraj√© and my abar√° (which might be considered the “lite” version of the fried acaraj√©). Everyone was right—it was delicious!

I also had a real Bahian moqueca which was made with fresh local fish and was, again, muito gostoso.

Even though it’s April, I even got to experience a bit of Salvador carnival while I was there! Ivete Sangalo is a famous singer/performer who has performed at every carnival in Salvador for the past 26 years. This year, she had to miss it because she gave birth to twins. Now that she is working again, they decided to have a special show just for her! We went out to Avenida Oce√Ęnico to await for the much-anticipated trio eletrico—it was quite a show!

The trip was short but we packed a lot in. I would definitely like to return to Salvador in the future and spend more time exploring the city and some of the natural sights surrounding the city.

Frevo, capoeira, e drible

In my last post, I wrote about Ot√°vio Bastos’ frevo cinquent√£o class and how we are playing around with dynamics using the story of frevo’s origins in capoeira. He shared this video on his channel “Mexe com Tudo,” in which he explains what he told us in class about the two styles and “drible.” Check it out!

S√£o Paulo

We’ve just returned from an unforgettable weeklong trip to S√£o Paulo!

The primary purpose of the trip was to do some research at Ant√īnio N√≥brega‘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 agog√īs. I spent the most time playing it safe on the agog√ī (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 S√£o 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 Ant√īnio N√≥brega! 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 S√£o 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 S√£o Paulo.

Let me count the ways:

  • Museums: inspiring Aleijadinho exhibit and permanent art exhibit at Museu de Arte de S√£o 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 Jap√£o; 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 S√©; 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 Mercad√£o Municipal; the variety of musical genres (samba, forr√≥, rock, ax√©, 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 bot√Ęnico

  • Bottom left: fruits at Mercad√£o 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 Para√≠ba with virtuoso guests Carlos Malta, M√īnica 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 Z√© Barbeiro quartet and Edinho Silva at √ď Do Borogod√≥ Bar; and an awesomely heart-pumping and friendly capoeira class with Mestre Kibe at Capoeira Cord√£o 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 √Č Caf√©; amazing ceviche at Rinconcito Peruano; the most incredible northeastern cuisine and beautiful fruit caipirinhas at Recife-owned Mocot√≥ (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) acaraj√© at Tabuleiro do Acaraj√©; a quick coffee at Nano’s pop-up in Vila Madalena; an unforgettable coffee “ritual” experience the Coffee Lab; and famous S√£o 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 Mocot√≥

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