The Dance of Defense: Capoeira Classes Come to MC

by Meghan Sackman


In a room with wood floors and a wall fully covered in mirrors, two partners face each other and attack and react to each others’ movements in fluid motions. Upbeat Brazilian music plays loudly over the speakers as students participate in learning the art of capoeira. Instructor Marco Cisneros explains the original names of the moves and their meaning saying, “The first move you learn is the basic move: the jinga. The second move was a kick, it was called meia de frente- it means half moon in the front.”

If you, like many others, are looking for a fun alternative to the tedious repetition of traditional cardio, you can now look to the culture rich art of capoeira. This mix of martial arts and dance is rich in Afro-Brazilian history that will occupy the mind of the participant while simultaneously benefitting the body in more ways than one.

This physical art form can now be experienced on the campus of Manhattan College. Student Marco Cisneros is the initiator of the weekly group exercise class that is now accessible to the rest of the student body.

“It combines different aspects from other different art forms like gymnastics, self defense techniques, and African dance so it’s all combined into one whole different art form,” Cisneros said.

The informed junior jumped right into the extensive history of this mix of dance and martial arts. “Capoeira started its early roots in Africa in the country of Angola. When the slave trade brought slaves over to Brazil from Africa, the slaves were oppressed, so as a way to disguise their martial arts training they brought their dance elements into it… when they were ready they would use the martial art aspect to attack the slave masters and after that it became a martial art. Many people use the expression that [Capoeira was pregnant in Africa but gave birth in Brazil,” he said.

Capoeira is one of the most popular forms of physical activity that is performed in Brazil, only having the sport of soccer as more popular. Cisneros speculates that the reason for this popularity in Brazil was because at one time it was illegal to practice. This is because the slave owners became aware that it could be used as resistance and not purely as a dance.

Aside from its significant history and background, the art form is very relevant in the United States today and proves to serve as an effective yet entertaining form of exercise. Particularly on a college campus, capoeira is a convenient and easy way to stay fit and healthy.

“I think it is [a good form of exercise for college students] because I would say it’s a quick and easy way to try something new all the while working out; mix it up a little,” Cisneros said.

Along with the benefit of being a quick and fun exercise, there are many seemingly hidden benefits of the art brought to light by group leader Cisneros, who described some of the unexpected advantages of the art.

“Capoeira works your whole body so aside from the fitness level you also get balance, you get reflex skills, you get your cardio respiratory endurance up, you get flexibility, etc,” he said.

If you wish to be a part of this exceptional piece of Afro-Brazilian culture or just wish to find a new creative way to get your exercise in, come by the mini gym (room 202) in Alumni Hall to participate in capoeira on Wednesdays at 5 p.m.