When Mestre Eclilson de Jesus arrived in Vancouver in 1990, he had very little money, and very little English. But he had an ambition: to share the art of capoeira. His first move was to found the Capoeira Aché Brasil in Vancouver, introducing this Brazilian dance to his new home.
“Capoeira is [a mix of] music, acrobatics, [and] martial arts,” says Eclilson. “Later on, when you have learned it, you open yourself [up] to a different world.”
This happy, musical, choreographed, acrobatic dance originated from the secret rituals of the African slaves of Brazil. But if you think this dance is mainly for adults, you’re mistaken. It’s an art form attractive to children, too.
Children are regularly entranced by its rhythm, its singing, and its empowerment. Parents are delighted to give their children this healthy outlet and discipline where they can focus their energy.
At the Ache Brasil Capoeira Academy, children of five years old can “play” with adults on an equal basis, in the framework of what they call their “meetings.”
A group of 10 or 20 people (including an instructor, adults and children) gather in a circle with Brazilian musical instruments. Two of them spring to the middle of the circle and clasp hands before the acrobatic, theoretically martial arts moves, start.
It is impressive to see a five-year old aim an acrobatic foot kick at the head of a “play” partner six times his age…thirty centimetres away from any remote possibility of hitting his or her adult opponent.
But the trusting relationship is there and nobody is ever hurt. The acrobatics are impressive, to the point that a number of dancers and fitness adepts come to the academy for a vigorous work-out. Capoeira Aché Brasil is well-known in the dance world as a dance troupe.
“Some academies have more emphasis on martial arts, ours is more about acrobatics,” explains Christianne Odehnal, manager of the academy.
“We have always had children in capoeira,” says Odehnal.
According to her there are over thirty in the academy, and the children would always like to stay all day, long after their classes are over.
Parents are active volunteers who are close to the academy’s five teachers. There are parties, camping trips, and even baby showers.
“We are trying to create a community of parents,” says Odehnal.
Louise Leblanc, parent of two “very active” small boys, is one of those parents. For her children she says she didn’t want “a combative martial art…I [know] Brazilian dancing, I love the culture and the African rhythms.” Leblanc says that “the children love it, and it’s a very rich cultural experience for [them].”
With its many musical instruments including the Brazilian drum, marimbas, cymbals, birimbas and short bamboo sticks – which are also used for a kind of single-stick “combat” – this dance is a delightful eyeful and earful for children and adults alike.
“Children love this art,” explains Mestre Eclilson, “when you play capoeira you are outside your daily life. You become aware of the negative and positive energy; do you trust your play partner not to hit you – or not? You learn an awareness of life, to be flexible, to love, to move towards our culture. The spiritual energy, aché, can be called forth by capoeira. It is a way of life.”