Capoeira, Culture, and Language in My Life

–> Olivia Shetler

As a child, I used to be rather awful at sports; I had a hard time understanding certain rules and methodology and I found using tools in physical activities to be cumbersome. For a while, I thought I would give up on organized team sports and instead relegate my time to other studies. It wasn’t until I discovered capoeira that I found a sport I could truly fall in love with, and it isn’t necessarily because of its style, but also because of its community, and the dedication that unites so many people from various backgrounds.

I began training at ABADÁ Capoeira San Francisco right before I turned seventeen, and at first I thought it would be such a daunting challenge, trying this sport that uses so many complex techniques. I feared it might be even more difficult than any other sport I had tried, and in a way it still is, but complicated in a different sense, more tied to dedication and understanding of culture and your own body than strict outlines and rules. After nearly four years of training with ACSF, I have seen my life develop and become so much more fulfilled after having found something I truly love outside of what I normally do.

Training in capoeira has not only inspired me to learn Portuguese, but in a way has forced me to need to learn it, and this was especially useful when I visited Brasil this past August for the Jogos Mudiais. The need to understand the culture and names of movements has prompted so many like me to pick up the language, and this has been one of the greatest aspects about playing capoeira. The atmosphere in Rio was so different and yet so familiar because of this culture that linked us not only to Brasil, but to so many other countries that were being represented. It was truly spectacular to see people compete from all over the globe, hailing from countries like Angola, Haiti, Sweden, France, and Japan (amongst others) who all spoke the same physical language of capoeira, and in many cases we had all learned Portuguese in various degrees. It is truly humbling and inspiring to be amongst so many people who form such a worldwide community of artists, all interested in the one sport that has brought us all together, and my life has forever been changed for the better.

About the author:

Olivia Shetler (apelido: Vagalume) is currently a third-year undergraduate at UC Berkeley studying Film and Art. She has been practicing capoeira and maculelê at ACSF for almost four years now and recently visited Rio de Janeiro in August for further training, as well as for the experience of a cultural immersion in Brasil after learning basic Portuguese.


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