The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Anais Zhang '24 RGLP Reflection - Culture and Capoeira: Leaning Into Discomfort

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Fua Nascimento, master of capoeira, crooned at the top of his lungs while tapping a steady rhythm on a conga drum and stomping his bare feet on the sleek hardwood floor. My peers and I stood in a circle around him, captivated by the lilt of his voice as he sang traditional songs. In this experiential learning session of RGLP, through the practice of capoeira —a Brazilian form of martial arts — I learned to let go of my inhibitions, to approach a setting with openness and curiosity, and to dive into the culture of another country.

Prior to learning the physical movement of capoeira, we were introduced to a series of songs that involved a sequence of call and responses. These were songs rooted in the history of the enslaved peoples of Brazil: songs that they sang while working in the fields, songs of endurance, of sorrow, and of hope. The Portuguese words initially seemed rough and awkward, catching in my throat. Because of my unfamiliarity with the language, I was hesitant to sing confidently and to let go of tenseness in my body. Sensing my discomfort and that of my peers, Fua encouraged us to focus on the melody, to continue chanting even if we stumbled over the words. Unlike in English, there was no vocabulary in Portuguese to describe awkwardness or even a concept of an inside voice, he told us. Upon hearing this piece of information, I marveled at how differences in the values of Western and Latin American cultures could hinder deep engagement with the cultural practices of others. Realizing this, I began to grasp what Fua hoped to elicit from us.

He wanted to see us fully engaged in capoeira, embracing the experience and bringing our awareness to the lyrical musicality and physical movement of the traditional songs. He never expected us to become experts in the practice of Brazilian martial arts in an hour, nor did he believe we would be fully comfortable in such a space. Rather, he deliberately hoped to challenge us, to stretch us in novel ways so that we would develop greater cultural competencies and a deeper appreciation for the history, values, and culture of Brazil.



The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences