Capoeira, ice skating, and the power of the “exotic”

I had an amusing moment of exaggeration yesterday.

For a long time I’ve kind of puzzled at the fact that foreigners go wild over capoeira, practice and research it like crazy, and uproot their entire lives and careers and spend thousands of dollars in order to come to Brazil (uh, not that I know of anyone who’s done that… :-p) whereas many Brazilians seem to be just kind of “eh” about it – their attendance at trainings is spotty, they don’t put much effort into practice, etc.

I sometimes think, Bahians don’t know how lucky they are – born and raised in the cradle of capoeira, with some of the world’s greatest mestres and undoubtedly the greatest diversity of styles in Salvador – and they don’t take advantage of it! Granted, I’d put money on it that some of them are thinking, Shayna doesn’t know how lucky she is – born and raised in one of the world’s richest countries, with opportunities to pursue whatever career she wants, make good money and have a great and comfortable life – and she chooses to live in third-world Brazil!

But anyway, yesterday I was watching “Dança no Gelo” (“Ice Dance”), which is a segment on Faustão’s variety show in which they take famous people – singers, athletes, actors – and pair them with ice skating coaches who must teach them a new choreography every week, which they perform on the show. Then they get ranked; the couple with the lowest score is eliminated, and this continues until one wins the championship. Well, I thought it would be entertaining to watch, especially since it’s been almost two years since I’ve seen televised skating.

But I just can’t watch – it’s too annoying!! Faustão and every single one of the judges on the panel (who are not actual skating judges, but other famous singers, athletes, and actors) always spend tons of time talking about how amazing ice skating is and how it must be sooooooooo hard and how they themselves are scared to step onto the rink and how incredibly cool it is that snow flies up when a skater does a snowplow stop and how HARD it must be to dance on ice and how the famous people deserve many kudos for having the courage to learn it and the coaches deserve many props for managing to teach them because of course it is so darn DIFFICULT, and did I mention just how MARVELOUS the whole thing is?!? Aaaaaaaahhh!

I was watching with some of the people in my house, and after the third judge to say something like, “Wow, it’s just so incredible that you’re out there dancing on ice, congratulations!! I mean I could never do something like that. So I’ll give you a 10!” (*applause*), I finally couldn’t contain myself and burst out: “It’s ice skating! It’s not that big of a deal – where I live it’s pretty much a staple winter activity for every kid… STOP MAKING SUCH A HUGE FUSS OVER IT!!! And these guys aren’t even doing difficult movements!”

Everyone just kind of looked at me. And then I remembered that no native Bahian has ever seen ice outside of cube form. Hmmm. Think about that. No wonder people skating on top of a whole floor made of ice is a huge novelty!

This must be like what Bahians feel like when we foreigners go all capoeira-crazy, wanting to train capoeira 8 hours a day and constantly blabbing about capoeira this, capoeira that… they just kind of roll their eyes, because in Salvador capoeira is a common, everyday activity; you see it on all the beaches and streets; the berimbau is a symbol of the city; pretty much every kid knows how to ginga and throw a kick or two…

With that said, I believe that living in Bahia for an extended period of time has significantly modified my attitude towards capoeira and its place in my own life. My love for capoeira is no less strong, but my infatuation with it is definitely over. In fact, it’s exactly like that: the difference between that starry-eyed feeling when you first “fall in love” with someone – you’re obsessed with that person and can’t stop thinking about them; they give you butterflies in your stomach and make your heart beat faster – and the stronger, steadier, more enduring love that makes a lasting marriage.

I have been obsessed with capoeira. I have researched it intensely; I have uprooted my life and traveled to Brazil three times to pursue it; I have stayed months in the “capoeira paradise” that is Salvador doing nothing but training multiple hours per day; I have met and trained under some of the world’s most famous mestres; I have lived the dream that many foreign capoeiristas long for.

And the result of all this is that I no longer feel the desire to stay in Bahia for the rest of my life; I no longer feel the need to train 4 hours a day; I’m no longer interested in digging through historical records to find out where capoeira really originated – in Africa? In the senzalas? In the quilombos? In the cities? – and arguing about details like how exactly the toque of Cavalaria is “supposed” to be played. I also feel no obligation or necessity whatsoever to argue about whether or not capoeira is an “effective martial art.” I know it is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, from what I’ve seen, heard, read, and experienced. Whoever doesn’t know, doesn’t know, and I don’t feel I have to prove it to them.

In Bahia my love for capoeira has grown narrower, but deeper. Narrower in the sense that it doesn’t flood so much of my thoughts and actions on the surface level I described above; deeper in the sense of the way I understand the art and apply it… and also what I feel while playing.