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What is Capoeira?

Beginning in the sixteenth century, over 4 million people from the African continent were enslaved and brought to Brazil by Portuguese colonizers. The three groups of captive Africans, the Sudanese (Yoruba, Dahomey), Islamic civilizations (Mandingo, Hausa) and Bantu (Angola, Congo), were deliberately intermixed in Brazil to make it harder for them to organize rebellions.  Capoeira was created by these enslaved Africans. Incorporating elements from their diverse regions, languages, and cultures, they found common ground with which to build skills and to fight for freedom.   Capoeira combines self-defense, dance, music and creative thinking.  Its traditions were passed person-to-person, master-to-student, with no written history until the 19th century.  In the mid 20th century, touring folkloric shows such as “Viva Bahia” and “Oba Oba” exposed audiences around the world to samba, capoeira, Orixá dances and more.  A number of artists involved in these shows emigrated to the US, Asia and Europe.  In 1972, capoeira Mestre Jelon Viera relocated to New York City and taught the first students outside of Brazil. 

"Jogar Capoeira" by Johann Rugendas

Capoeira was brought next to the Bay Area, where Mestre Bira Almeda became the 2nd capoeira master teaching in the US.  Many Americans were attracted because of its dance and gymnastic physical athleticism.  Percussion, rhythms, and songs, essential parts of capoeira, attracted others.  Traditions of Afro-Brazilian dances and music are carried on by capoeiristas.  Capoeira has expanded globally to every continent and today is found in countries around the world, recently even returning to Africa.  In 2014 capoeira was named a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.xt and edit me. It's easy.

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Our Mestre

Donald Coley “Bengala,” is a capoeira mestre (master) who has been training, performing and teaching capoeira for over 30 years. Because he was already in his mid thirties when he started training, he thought that he would just try it out for a little while, and then quit when it got too hard. He soon discovered that the mystery, challenge and the variety that the art form offered made it irresistible. Donald became a member of the second generation of capoeira students in California when he enrolled in classes with mestre Marcelo Pereira (founder of Capoeira Mandinga) in 1985. His interest in all things Brazilian grew over the years and he was able to participate in a number of special workshops and events both in the United States and in Brazil. He has performed capoeira in the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival and in the Young Audiences program for California schools. For almost ten years Donald served as an officer on the Board of Directors of the nonprofit Capoeira Institute. In 2012 he received his 1st degree mestre’s belt. He has conducted workshops at capoeira events in San Francisco, Rochester, Detroit, Tucson, Beijing, Chiang Mai and Auckland. In 2022 he co-founded the Capoeira Collective Bay Area. He loves to share the art with students at all levels from beginners to advanced. In capoeira, there is always something new to learn and he continues to be an eager student as well as a master of the art.

Portrait of Mestre Bengala by Zachary Present
Capoeira Workshop photo by Cybil Fresnido
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