Smile Politely

Play, fight, dance: Capoeira in C-U

Someone once described “capoeira” to me as a mix of martial arts and b-boying. When I asked capoeira instructor Aisha Chiaramonte if that was true, she corrected my definition: “There are similar movements between capoeira and b-boying… but they are very different. They have different goals. B-boying you perform by yourself. With capoeira, you need other people.”

Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art form that is a combination of acrobatics, dance, and music. When I saw my first capoeira exhibition, it almost felt like the people participating were a part of a game. While the atmosphere was lively and playful, the movements seemed both like a fight and a dance.

Aisha Chiaramonte and her husband, Denis Chiaramonte, teach capoeira classes through the U of I dance department as well as teaching classes open to the community through their space in Champaign. “The capoeira community in Champaign is very diverse and open. There are people from 4 years old to 71 years old.” explained Aisha.

To celebrate capoeira and Brazilian culture, the 12th Annual International Capoeria Conference is being held at the University of Illinois from April 10th-13th. Practitioners from all around the globe are stopping by Champaign-Urbana to be a part of the conference, as well as international guests. Mestre João Grande, who is the equivalent of Bruce Lee in the world of capoeira, will be teaching at the conference as well.

Events include different classes in Capoeira, Afro-Brazilian dance and music, open to UI students as well as the Champaign community.

When asked what people should bring to the workshops, Aisha suggested comfortable pants, shirt, and an open attitude. There is no belt system in capoeira like tae-Kwon Do or karate, but Aisha thinks the reward is something better, “The reward from capoeira is joy… and a great workout. It improves your stamina, flexibility and also builds your confidence and discipline.”

During my first capoeira lesson, it was obvious that capoeira was very unique from other movement or martial arts classes. There was a live band playing music as Denis lead the beginners in basic movements. After stretches and an introduction, we were paired off with a partner to do defensive leg sweeps and blocks. Everyone was very supportive and all smiles; it was like being part the friendliest street fight/ dance party on campus.

Immediately, I could see why capoeira has appeal to so many age groups and people of all walks of life. Regardless of who you are on the outside, during capoeira, you become a family. Moving to the same beat, learning how to play with someone, helping someone learn– the sense of family was what gave the capoeira community warmth.

The CU Capoeira community welcomes everyone to the 12th Annual International Conference. For a full schedule that includes workshop times and live performances, please visit:

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