Is it dance, acrobatics or self-defense? Chances are you’ve noticed a group practicing capoeira at Liberty or Sugar House park—a group of people wearing white pants, colorful cords as belts and singing in a drum circle. Spotting the Brazilian flag, you can assess they aren’t singing in Spanish, but in Portuguese, which is considered a pluricentric language, meaning it has evolved with several interacting countries and cultures—with a compelling, powerful history. The same goes for what they’re doing: capoeira.

Meet Mestre Jamaika

At the age of 15 and before being given the title Mestre, Jamaika was traveling throughout Brazil to train; later he won three consecutive titles in the Brazilian Capoeira Confederation Championships.  Now he’s been teaching for more than 25 years—you may recognize him from films, music videos, or as Shockwave’s Capoeira Fighter 3 video game character “Jamaika.” Living in Salt Lake City with his wife, Amanda, Mestre Jamaika hopes to share Afro-Brazilian culture and strengthen the community through capoeira. Salt Lake Capoeira—Volta Miúda saltlakecapoeira.com IG @mestrejamaika

“It hits the best of everything,” says Mestre Jamaika (Mauro Romualdo) founder, Capoeira Mestre of Volta Miuda capoeira, and born in Brazil, Jamaika started training at the age of seven. The history of capoeira extends to Africa and tribes from Angola, he says, “Slaves living on Brazilian plantations weren’t allowed to practice self-defense openly, and disguised their training by combining it with dance-like movements, singing, and the rhythms of drums and traditional instruments.” Like sparring without contact, capoeira resembles a “game” of fluid movements, spinning kicks, aerials and hip hop ground moves like the coffee grinder and head spins all while being encircled by the claps and singing of spectators. As Mestre Jamaika says, “Growing up, my involvement with capoeira saved my life. No matter where I travel in the world if I find a group that practices, I feel like I’m home.” 

But what really is capoeira? Watching is delightful, but participating is kind of the point for those of any age, culture or gender, during the class. Mestre Jamaika shouts out to me, “I know you want to try this!” And while I haven’t attempted a cartwheel for a while, he says it never is too late to join; my heart skips a beat, “Meu Deus é bom!”

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