CAPOEIRA POSITIONING ENVIRONMENT, BLACKNESS, GENTRIFICATION IN DCFall 2019
Last month I saw a work of contemporary dance performed - I had composed its score of field recordings for the choreographer earlier in the year.
Around the same time, late spring, I was spending time at Universal Capoeira studio on U st. I’m not sure I recognized the connection between the two until MAYFEVER was performed, because of an ask the choreographer made of the audience before it began. She asked us to get up from our seats, to walk around the room. To first wander, and then over time recognize our place in the room, a fluid position, and recognize our surroundings as fluid. Eventually she asked us to find someone near by and get so close we could touch, but not to.
Friends of mine from high school told me afterward they weren’t sure they would’ve known how to digest the performance without that experience.
I think the work happening at Universal Capoeira Angola Center accomplishes a similar goal.
Dale Marcelin runs the studio, he teaches capoeira, and he prepares people to re-enter and exist in the world. Capoeira is undeniably a Black art form, and he knows its history. The movements are both immaterial guides for moving through a hostile, racist social structure, and simultaneously material techniques for keeping the mind and body present and aware.
Dale is a farmer - he owns some land and splits his time between Virginia and U St. These are specific environments. Enslaved people probably plowed that land in Virginia, not long ago. Dale owns it now, and he works it beautifully (I’ve seen pictures). He talks about working with nature, and the way the stars shine at night. And then there’s nighttime on U St - the neighborhood is known as DC’s nightlife hub, and it has undergone intense gentrification since Universal Capoeira opened its doors almost 14 years ago. I spoke with a Rob, a student who lives in the area about how people interact when you pass by. We had just sung together, Rob, Dale, and myself, and had looked into each others eyes when deciding what parts to sing and when to join in all together and when to stop. It’s that kind of recognition he misses from his neighborhood.
The kind of almost-touching felt right before that performance of MAYFEVER - it’s about finding your place, physically. Capoeira is a practice with movements that put you underneath someone one second, legs over someones back the next… these positions are fluid, and emotional, too.
The practice strengthens our answers: What’s my place in society? What role do people have on earth?
Nicolo Scolieri is a sound designer and audio technician.
Entering the capoeira school. Dale sings a ladinha, a song that often opens capoeira sessions.
Instrument history, workers’ and farmers’ scientific creativity. [Corrido “Santo Antonio Eu Quero Agua”]
“Cavalaria” is a rhythm historically used to signal nearby police presence.
Universal Capoeira is a “full community center” on U st. Speaking to the history, past mestres, and lineage. Keeping it going.
The studio positioned in nature, and what that means in a city. [Corrido “Me leva Pra Angola”]
“Capoeira is a rhythm” and it exists interpersonally, and on the street… “microcosm of the community” and gardening. [Closing song “Vou Me Embora”]
Thanks to Amalia Cordova at the Smithsonian for help translating some names from spoken to written.
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