What It’s Like to Play Capoeira for the 1st Time

Brazilian martial arts dancing? Sure, why not!
Brazilian martial arts dancing? Sure, why not!

I couldn’t feel my legs after the first 10 minutes, which made the next two hours… complicated.

But I figured I better pay attention through the pain, because in an hour, I had to do this:

It’s called capoeira (cap-oh-wear-ah… you’re welcome. Those guys make it look graceful. Me? Not so much.

So how did I get here. Great question. My pal Levi wanted to try it, and as new things go, they’re almost always more enjoyable when you enlist a buddy. As you know, I am usually down for anything. Even something as horrifying as this.

As a comedy writer and improviser, Levi has zero issues getting on stage. However, he’s secretly always wanted to try dance and martial arts. I guess he feels self-conscious about doing something with his body that isn’t about getting laughs. So, we decided to dedicate the second Hey Eleanor webisode to killing two birds with one stone: trying capoeira.

Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian mash-up of fight, dance, rhythm and movement. It’s sort of like Karate Kid meets West Side Story. Before Levi and I are unleashed into full-on capoeira class, Caruja—the director of Omulu Capoeria in Minneapolis—taught us the basics.

Within seconds, our thighs were on fire. Who knew capoeira was basically doing a permanent squat for an hour?

Caruja taught us the moves we’ll need to know: Ginga, which is essentially home-base. There’s esquiva and nagativa, which you use for ducking under kicks.

Wait… what? Are we going to be getting kicked at?

As it turned out, yes.

Fortunately, capoeira isn’t a contact sport. They talk about it as a conversation between two people, where you basically play fight. But don’t be fooled. Kicks occasionally land where they’re not supposed to. Like your face.

After an hour of instruction and 30 minutes of conditioning drills, Levi and I are let loose in the final roda (pronounced ho-da… like Kathie Lee’s co-host on the TODAY show). We circle up with a dozen much more experienced capoeira players. The drums start, then the birambau (which is that weird boingy, bowed instrument). Next everyone begins singing. And then we’re supposed to hop into the roda and start kickin’.

What happens next? Watch the video & enjoy the awesomely awkward moments.

I’d say entering the roda is intimidating, but it’s not. Everyone is so welcoming, encouraging and respectful. It’s a collaborative environment that thrives on setting up your partner for success. In fact, it’s a lot like improv, except for more sweating.

It was actually really fun. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. And neither could Levi. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s already been back. (Have you, Levi?).

Taking a capoeira class tapped into one of my biggest insecurities: looking foolish in front of others. But as I’ve learned over and over again, nobody pays as much attention to you as you think they do. Get over it, nobody cares! And few things are more enjoyable than watching a person try something you’re passionate about (fact: I don’t think there are any people who are halvsies into capoeira. I could be wrong, but everyone seemed super passionate about it!).

What’s actually way more embarrassing than trying hard and failing is not committing. You have to own it to sell it, and when you don’t own something, it’s horribly awkward for everyone.

So try something new. Own it. Who cares if you make an ass out of yourself. Find a supportive environment and go for it. Trust me, when you stop caring what other people think, everything becomes a lot more fun.

Huge thanks to Omulu Capoeira in Minneapolis for guiding us through our first class (and not kicking us in the face). And by all means, sign up for one of their classes!

Two thumbs up for Levi’s bravery. Check out his podcast, The Pratfalls of Parenting, & Comedy Suitcase, his theater dedicated to comedy for all ages.

And of course, I big shout out to Matt Houchin and his whip-smart editing skills. Need a video? Hire him.

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Question: what have you always wanted to try, but have been too embarrassed? Share in the comments!

PS Remember on the last Hey Eleanor webisode when my Uncle Whitey made his wife dinner for the first time? He’s made her dinner since (meatloaf is his new specialty!) and even helped my dad cook dinner for our entire family. Nice work, White One!

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Comments (3)

  • Jennifer S. 6 years ago Reply

    I learn so much from your blog, it’s amazing. thanks!

  • Bruce Mogren 6 years ago Reply

    This was a very fun segment! I totally agree with your attitude about trying something new for the first time, put your ego on the shelf and go for it, no one else really cares what you look like if you are trying your hardest and keep a good attitude. Keep up the good work!

  • Annie D'Souza 6 years ago Reply

    I definitely share Levi’s fascination with capoeira. I used to be mesmerized watching my friends do it in Spain, but didn’t try it myself until a couple of years ago.

    I was/am so uncoordinated, but it was still really fun! 🙂

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