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The Martial Art of Dance

Off the Cuff with capoeira instructor Colin Van Ert

Sep. 1, 2015
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Photo by Olin Vanert

Colin Van Ert is one of many participants in Grupo Capoeira Nagô Milwaukee, a nonprofit organization that provides weekly capoeira training and music classes throughout the Milwaukee area and participates in cultural and educational performances. He became involved with capoeira while he was a student at UW-Milwaukee as a means to explore a new and exciting way to get in shape.

What is capoeira?

That’s the golden question! I’ve been doing this for seven or eight years now and it is always super hard to explain exactly what it is. Essentially, it’s an Afro-Brazilian martial art that combines many different movements. There’s dance, acrobatics and fighting involved and it’s all set to musical rhythms. For me personally, capoeira is a body ritual and a sort of “game” that’s played between two people. It’s a martial art and it’s a dance and it can be aggressive but, at the end of the day, it’s all good fun.

How did you become interested in capoeira?

It was all by chance. I got involved when I was a sophomore in college. I wasn’t in a ton of athletics or involved with a lot of team sports so I started exploring things at UWM’s Sport and Rec Department. I got into yoga and I was also looking for martial arts, which was something I’d always been interested in, and capoeira was listed there. I went on YouTube and watched videos to find out more about capoeira and was blown away by what these people could do.

Why is capoeira beneficial for its participants?

There’s this idea of body intelligence, and possessing the ability to express oneself through body movements, which in my opinion is just as important as a formal education. Capoeira is a great way to really understand that. Capoeira is the most holistic art I have ever come across. It’s not only physical conditioning, martial arts and dance; it’s also a learning experience. You learn about the history of Brazil, the language, the culture and much more. In terms of physical training, it’s made me more of an athlete than anything else I could possibly have done.

What impact do you think it’s had on the Milwaukee community?

Capoeira provides that outlet for people who want to move a little differently. It’s a sanctuary for people that are looking for something a little more unique and exotic. For me, it’s good to do something that’s completely different from anything else I can do in this city. However, spreading awareness of capoeira is a bit of a struggle in the Milwaukee community. In more globalized cities such as L.A., New York or Miami, capoeira is huge and is easily embraced. The mindset in Milwaukee is just a little different. Something like capoeira is very foreign to a lot of people. While many can appreciate it, most people would never think of getting involved with something like this. But there is a small niche that are willing to learn more and develop an appreciation for something completely new and out of the ordinary. It’s the idea of learning to appreciate different cultures. I think that’s the biggest effect capoeira has on the community.

For more information, visit mkecapoeira.com.

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