Santiago’s Got Rhythm: Capoeira in Chile

Even as a newcomer to Santiago, it’s easy to notice cultural influences from Chile’s large Northeastern neighbor. Capoeira brings Brazilian music, sport and dance to Santiago. The city boasts an array of classes and public events, while impromptu Capoeira get-togethers in city parks are also common.

 Capoeira in Parque O'Higgins (photo: Camila Ulloa)
Capoeira in Parque O'Higgins (photo: Camila Ulloa)

Known as the “Dance of War,” Capoeira is a martial art with acrobatic, theatrical and athletic elements. Music is an essential accompaniment, and includes singing and traditional instruments such as musical bows called berimbaus and tambourines called pandeiros. Participants and observers typically sing, clap and chant in a group while capoeiraists perform the elegant moves.

One recent Saturday afternoon, Parque O’Higgins was booming with Brazilian music and singing as about fifty people in white uniforms gathered to do Capoeira in the balmy summer air. The Federación Nacional de Capoeira Sul da Bahia, or FENACAP, invited their members and the public to participate in their 2013 kick-off event.

 Capoeira in Parque O'Higgins (photo: Camila Ulloa)
Capoeira in Parque O'Higgins (photo: Camila Ulloa)

Capoeiraists of all ages gathered for a warm-up, then to play against each other in a large circle. The game is played with certain etiquette, focusing on skill rather than on beating the opponent by force. Much like in an improv session, players cycled through the action by tapping one partner on the shoulder to take their place. More experienced players teamed up with beginner pre-teens, to usher them into the group.

Capoeira is characterized by rhythmic steps that keep the player in constant motion. Using speed, power, and leverage, Capoeiraists execute their moves in time with the music. They integrate flips, kicks, and knee/elbow strikes to interact with and dodge their opponent.

Professor Eduardo Concha addressed the group at one of the breaks, saying ““It’s not only physical, but social and mental as well.”

Concha is a Chilean capoeira professor, affiliated with FENACAP since 2011. He says that the sport has a large following in Santiago, and that FENACAP draws people from many of the city’s communities. At this particular event, there were participants representing Las Condes, El Bosque and La Reina, among others. The organization also has groups around the country in Punta Arenas, La Serena and Temuco.

 Capoeira in Parque O'Higgins (photo: Camila Ulloa)
Capoeira in Parque O'Higgins (photo: Camila Ulloa)

Started in 1996 by Brazilian Mestre Maxuel, FENACAP practices the contemporary style of capoeira. This style differs from the traditional capoeira that started in 16th century Brazilian slave communities. Originating from a style of tribal fighting in Angola, the traditional style is played to slower music. The contemporary, or regional, style incorporates elements of martial arts and usually has faster music.

“I practice capoeira to exercise, but it has also helped me with some personal problems,” says Alexis Gómez at Saturday’s kick-off event. Gómez is a student from El Bosque and has been practicing capoeira for three years. “Part of the training is to have your mind in another place.”

FENACAP holds semesterly public events to get people together and to raise money. They also have a listing of capoeira classes around the city on their website. Other informal capoeira gatherings are known to happen on Sunday afternoons at Plaza Brasil and at other street fairs around the city.

Federación Nacional de Capoeira Sul da Bahia

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