CAPOEIRA: CONCEPTUALIZATION AND PRESENTATION OF THE BODYUrška Stolnik
, 2015, doctoral dissertation
Abstract: This thesis is the result of twenty-one months of fieldwork among the capoeiristas in Brazil, primarily in the city of Salvador, between 2003 and 2013. Combining historical accounts with the experiences of the present, the work focuses on changes in the social perception of body and mind in both capoeira and wider society. The intricacies of society and the politics of a particular epoch are clearly reflected in this Brazilian national game: sometimes in terms of incorporation or acceptance of specific social hierarchies, and other times of exclusion or rejection of them. A tension between the black and white worlds is constantly present, as it is between the male and female ones. Even when these separate realms in different historical eras of capoeira seem to come closer, they become separated again through new forms of institutionalization. Perceived sometimes as a martial art or dance, sometimes as a game, and yet other times as a sport through which one can gain health and beauty, capoeira evades a firm and permanent definition. Such evasion resembles capoeira’s three main, cunning characteristics: malandragem (trickery), malícia (deception) and mandinga (seduction).
Cunningness, as a tactic to overplay the opponent, is a means of intentional opening and closing of the body in the game. Although opening and closing might seem exclusive, they are, on the contrary, very much inseparable. They coexist in symbiosis not just at the level of a capoeirista playing the game, but also at the level of roda, academia, a capoeira group or school, at the level of capoeira as a practice, and finally, at the level of wider Brazilian society. All of these bodies are striving to be fechado (closed) and secure, but cannot accomplish that before opening themselves first.
Being dexterous in the simultaneous alternation of opening and closing one’s own body is a skill that can be learnt through a long-term and continually engendered process of practice, experiences and interaction with others and the environment at large. That skill, associated with the capoeirista’s awareness of
constant vulnerability, is closely related to learning the specific way of perceiving and responding. The capoeirista cultivates and embodies capoeiristic habitus, which emphasizes the necessity of being permanently attentive to several things at once. This is possible when all senses work together in synthesis. At that time, the capoeirista uses peripheral sight and is aware of peripheral sounds. The skill of heightened sensitivity and keen perception enables the capoeirista to negotiate between the opening and closing of his body. Opening and closing the body at the right time and taking the advantages of an unstable situation in roda can be accomplished only by simultaneous thinking and performing, which is the outcome of the incorporation of capoeira movements.
The socio-economic situation of Brazilian society based on racial and gender discrimination enhances the cultivation of capoeiristic habitus and dictates the need for the acquisition of capoeiristic skills and attitudes in order to cope with, understand, and live within an unequal world. Capoeiristic habitus can also be learnt and acquired as a by-product of capoeira training. But it remains important whether the environment in which a capoeirista practises tolerates or inhibits the cultivation of capoeiristic skills.
Keywords: capoeira, body and mind, game, sport, movement, opened and closed society, perception, historical changes, Salvador, Brazil
Published in RUNG: 22.01.2016; Views: 5381; Downloads: 305
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