Capoeira is a real kick, and a cartwheel, and a back flip and more
As ridiculous as some moves sounded, Fit for Life columnist Nicole Tsong did more than she thought she could.
Learn, do more
Omulu Capoeira: Montlake Community Center, 1618 E. Calhoun St., Seattle; http://www.omulucapoeiraseattle.com/classes
To learn more about the history and practice of capoeira, see the Pacific Northwest magazine story at
AS SOON as capoeira teacher Alan Letran asked me during warm-ups if I was comfortable with handstands, I knew I had either: a) found my people, or b) was in way over my head.
I prepped for my first capoeira class at Montlake Community Center by watching a video of two buff, bare-chested men flowing and flipping around each other. I was interested, but I also was mildly worried about the back flips part of the Brazilian martial art (pronounced kap-eh way-reh).
It was a beautiful, sunny evening, so Letran, a substitute for the regular group teacher, moved our small class to the lawn. We jogged in circles and did a few butt kicks to warm up before hopping into handstands. I do handstands any chance I get, but handstands 10 minutes into class made me wonder if these were my people after all.
The essential move in capoeira is the ginga (say jen-ga), a swaying side-to-side step. It is not complicated, but I felt clumsy trying to keep my arms up to protect my face while syncing them with my feet.
Kicks were more fun. We learned a couple kinds, all of which had Portuguese names I had trouble pronouncing. Many of capoeira's kicks are circular — and your leg, which swings up and over in a wide swath, is supposed to land behind your other foot so you are primed for any other attacks. I felt fierce while kicking, but often landed with a stumble. It got harder once we added defensive moves and worked with partners to blend it all together.
Letran kept layering in more complicated moves, including, yes, back flips. He taught us how to get one partner in a squat while the other person faced away, leaned back, reached for the ground, then flipped over. Cool, yes. Doable? I got over only with a helping hand.
We also worked cartwheels. The capoeira cartwheel is lower than the elongated cartwheel most of us know, and to get us to fold at our hips, Letran moved us into one-handed cartwheels, leading with the front hand. My yoga strength only went so far in cartwheeling five times down the lawn on one hand, then five times back on the other. Then he started us with the rear hand going over first. It's easier than it sounds, but takes some faith. He reassured us the unnatural motion would be helpful. Helpful for what?
Oh, something called aerials, or no-handed cartwheels. Ha. Ha. Hahaha.
As ridiculous as some moves sounded, I did more than I thought I could, even if my feet frequently landed with a thunk. Letran had a lot of tips that helped me get a sense for each trick. The regulars also were sweet about slowing down to work with me.
And unlike most fitness classes, there's a lot of talking and not just about capoeira. It was my first time there, but I felt a genuine sense of community. Add music played by Mo Chang on the berimbau (a wooden bow with a single string), the circle at the end of class (when students pair up for "combat"), and a short tutorial on chanting, and everyone can find an element that works for them.
At $10 for two hours, it's also a steal. I've been working on my cartwheels; I'm ready for Round 2.