*For 3D effect, listen to Negro No Cais (click to listen) while reading *
On Saturday, December 1, 2012, I attended my first ever batizado. In Capoeira, a batizado is a three day event that welcomes new students and tests advanced students for belts, accumulating in a graduation ceremony were capoeiristas and mestres gather to commemorate the game.
That morning I parked my car in South Philly not exactly sure which building was Mestre Dotour’s school. When I got out of the car I could hear the sounds of the berimbau and drums from 2 blocks away, all I had to do was follow the music. I did so with a mixture of pride and respect swelling up inside; already I felt a sense of honor being a part of this Capoeira community.
When I got inside a group of students were in a large circle completing a dance workshop. I paid for the next class and found a spot in the corner to take in the scene. I watched as the instructor entered the middle of the circle, his movements’ fluid and fast, flowing with the pace of the drums. He swung his arms side-to-side over his tucked head with expression and ease, the onlookers clapped in time. I smiled as he exited and one of his students entered with confidence, the mark of a good teacher.
Then I took in my surroundings. The school had no mirrors. The floors and walls were unfinished sheets of plywood with beautiful pieces of Capoeira art tacked to the wall. It felt rustic and alive. It was also a powerful visual too look at all the students dressed in white, traditional attire for a batizado. It felt baptismal, sweat replacing holy water.
Before my workshop began, Mestre Dotour introduced the instructor; his protégé who had canceled a trip to Paris to attend the batizado because the Mestre told her he needed her to be there. I watched him talk about his student with such pride that the feeling from earlier swelled inside. The workshop was rewarding as I got to train with people outside my school, learning new moves/techniques. After the workshop we broke for lunch. When I got back, the amount of people in the school tripled, the space seeming significantly smaller.
Quickly, the mestres directed the crowd and formed a large roda (a circle of bodies in which the game of Capoeira is played). I piled forward with the rest of the students and sat on the ground behind the first teir of people forming the roda. I have learned three important things about a roda: 1. it’s your job to feed energy into the roda by clapping and singing. 2. As people shift around, it’s your job to fill in the spaces accordingly making sure the roda keeps its circular form. This keeps the energy of the roda alive. 3. Pay attention or you might get kicked in the face.
I kept these rules in mind as I clapped and watched little capoeiristas-two years of age and up- play mestres for their belts. The majority of mestres were men, and most rather large. The contrast of their leg span with these little kids was comical and endearing. The surrounding parents took pictures and clapped as their kids received the honor of a belt. This ceremony went on for six hours with nonstop live music and song. I was awestricken; a game originated by Brazilian slaves in self-defense evolved into a game celebrating community, music and tradition amongst mixed races/ethnicities.
A Warrior Princess