Deivison dos Santos Braga, 32, began participating in capoeira, a Brazilian martial art with West African roots, when he was 10.

His father enrolled him in a capoeira class to keep him off the streets in the favela of Narandiba in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.

“I graduated from the kids’ program and continued to pursue my ‘formatura,’” dos Santos Braga said in Portuguese, through an interpreter. “The project is based around the principles of Capoeira Regional, and it offers to children that structure and responsibility and just citizenship in general that they may be lacking.”

After graduating from the children’s program, dos Santos Braga continued to study Capoeira Regional and eventually became an instructor for Projecto Capoeré, which brings the martial art that combines dance with music to at-risk children in Salvador.

The program uses examples like his to show kids other options in life, dos Santos Braga said.

The program “just gives them a home and figures of authority they may be lacking, and structure and opportunity. It lets them see what their options could be outside of their neighborhoods, which can be very violent and very dangerous,” he said.

For just over a week, dos Santos Braga, also known as Professor Dentinho, or “small tooth,” will be in Fort Worth for an event hosted by Filhos de Bimba Escola de Capoeira, a school that teaches capoeira to youth and adults. 

The event featured courses for the community and on April 29 celebrated the Festa de Batizado, or baptisms, for the adults.

Deivison dos Santos Braga, 32, right, and Lindsay Puente, left, pose on April 26 inside the Filhos de Bimba Escola de Capoeira. Puente teaches capoeira, a Brazilian martial art, in Fort Worth. Dos Santos Brage teaches in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

The first “game” that capoeira practitioners are invited to play is known as the batizado, which is later celebrated with family and friends in what is called the Festa de Batizado.

It is an honor practitioners work toward, Lindsay Puente, the owner of the Filhos de Bimba school in Fort Worth and a professor at TCU and TCC.

Puente, also known as Profesora Borboleta, or butterfly, began practicing capoeira in 2003 at her university in California. She had an extensive history with dance and martial arts, so when she decided to take a Portuguese course, a classmate suggested she try capoeira.

She loved it.

“I signed up for it blind since I didn’t really know anything about it. And then, the first class I was just hooked,” Puente said. “The combination of rhythm and movement just captured me immediately.”

Puente started teaching capoeira in 2010, but joined the school Filhos de Bimba in 2014. Her “formatura” with the school was in 2018, making her an official Formada and a fully recognized representative of Filhos de Bimba.

Her school opened at McPherson Avenue in 2014 as Fort Worth Capoeira but was officially recognized as a nucleo of Filhos de Bimba in April 2017.

It is difficult to track down exactly who, when and where capoeira was founded, but it is widely known among practitioners that capoeira has West African roots, Puente said.

“Specific to the journey of the enslaved from West Africa into Brazil, and bringing with them all of their memories and experiences and refusing to be just objects in the system of slavery but to be full humans with all of their cultural knowledge and all of their strength and beauty,” Puente said. “And so retaining these arts, nn Brazil, what we end up with is capoeira.”

Slavery is not the foundation of capoeira, but rather a moment in its history, Puente said. From the music to the instruments to the performance style, the West African roots are undeniable.

“I do think that in a system of white supremacy and colonialism, we have been conditioned to cut things off before the roots. So, we talk about things like slave food, not realizing that so much West African food is based on stew and okra and greens,” Puente said. “This is not just the leftovers. This is a culture in and of itself.”

An adult student and child perform capoeira on April 25 at the Filhos de Bimba Escola de Capoeira. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Deivison dos Santos Braga now teaches capoeira in Plataforma, a neighborhood in Salvador. For him, the martial art kept him from committing petty crimes as a kid.

“There’s a big lack of government structure in the peripheries. This is things like cultural activities, green spaces, sports, but that also extends to things like basic goods, basic sanitary options and things like that,” dos Santos Braga said.

In these communities, every member of the family is expected to contribute financially as soon as they can, which pulls children out of schools, into gangs, to commit petty crimes and other harmful behaviors, dos Santos Braga said. 

“Capoeira comes in and provides a sense of family but also a sense of purpose,” dos Santos Braga said. “All of us who work within capoeira recognize the importance of cooperation on this. What we’re trying to share with our students is not just the movement but also the ways in which you can provide opportunities in your life for whatever it is that you may need.”

When teaching capoeira, dos Santos Braga said children are learning their own history. 

“It really is an important thing for children to see themselves reflected in history to see the beauty and creativity of their history and their ancestors and not just these histories of trauma and violence,” dos Santos Braga said.

Children perform a fisherman dance on April 25 inside the Filhos de Bimba Escola de Capoeira. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Jessica Grady, a mother of a student in the Filhos de Bimba capoeira school, enrolled her son in class because he will learn about history outside of his own.

Her son has been practicing capoeira and has already gone through his Festa de Batizado.

“Everybody who comes here has their own history, has their own identity, of course, but what is important is this space becomes a space that is full of respect. Of course, there are always differences, but then it becomes a space of equality,” dos Santos Braga said. “It’s not just the Black population that needs to understand Black history. It is also all of the other populations that need to understand the interactions and where we all fit in together.”

An instructor and child practice kicks during a capoeira performance on April 25 at the Filhos de Bimba Escola de Capoeira. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Capoeira Regional

Capoeira Regional is an art form with many elements, including fighting and defense techniques with strikes, take-downs and moving with control and expression to rhythm. In capoeira, performers are given nicknames called a ‘nome de guerra,’ a name of war, or an ‘apelido,’ a surname. The foundations of capoeira are: Respeito, Ritmo, and Ritual, or respect, rhythm and ritual.

Respeito: The art is a cultural manifestation born of the African descendants brought to Brazil during the time of slavery. Its history is deeply rooted in an oral culture, where the elderly were revered for the knowledge brought to the community. The artform demands that the players respect the rhythm, obeying the cadence as they place their strikes and dodges. It is structured around respectful bouts between players.

Ritmo: Rhythm is a principal feature of capoeira. Our xaranga, or orchestra of instruments, is made up of just one berimbau and two pandieros, or Brazilian percussion instruments. Some rhythms are fast-paced with lots of strikes and take-downs. Other rhythms are more relaxed and allow for a more floriado, or folkloric game. Obeying the rhythm demands discipline and practice.

Ritual: Capoeira is a game invented and practiced to preserve the cultural and social roots of a people forcibly removed from their home countries. The traditions have been passed down by communities and families. These traditions uplift and revive cultural practices of those that have suffered discrimination. Capoeira Regional is a tradition of strength, respect, community and growth. It teaches teamwork, perseverance, self-confidence, creativity and control.

Source: Fort Worth Capoeira

Cristian ArguetaSoto is the community engagement journalist at the Fort Worth Report. Contact him by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Cristian ArguetaSotoCommunity Engagement Journalist

Cristian is a May 2021 graduate of Texas Christian University. At TCU, ArguetaSoto served as staff photographer at TCU360 and later as its visual editor, overseeing other photojournalists. A Fort Worth...