Flying High

The floor vibrates with the varied rhythms of 30 bare feet running in a circle. Foreign music plays through the speakers, highlighting the main instruments used in Capoeira: the pandeiro, a tambourine; the atabaque, a type of drum; and the berimbaus, an instrument resembling a bow.

USF students warm up for Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art, in this fashion. Capoeira is offered on Monday and Wednesday evenings and is new to the Campus Recreation Center’s group fitness schedule this semester.

Capoeira uses elements of dance, fighting, acrobatics and singing. It also involves a great deal of play.

According to the recreation center’s Web site, Capoeira promotes “strength, balance, stamina, muscle tone and flexibility.”

The martial art involves much more than your body, however.

“You feel like you’re learning something. You’re not just sweating,” said Robin Solotoff, a sophomore majoring in biology. Junior Niki Foster said she wants to gain a firm body and some moves from the class.

“And you have the hula hoops,” said Foster.

Smiles and giggles abound when the hula hooping begins in class. Students have to hula hoop around their waist and also their arms.

When they switch arms, a few students lose control, and the hula hoops roll to the front of the class. The students run close behind them.

The hula hoops are used to loosen up the waist so the students can perform the Capoeira movements, said instructor Jessica Ortiz.

Ortiz, also a USF student, has been practicing Capoeira for two-and-a-half years under Mestre Lazaro da Bahia at Capoeira Brazilian Pelourinho, a Capoeira academy in Orlando.

Capoeira began when African slaves were brought to Brazil and needed a way to defend themselves against their masters. The dance-like and playful qualities were incorporated to disguise the martial art. Slave masters would assume the slaves were dancing and fooling around.

Capoeira was prohibited in Brazil until 1920. Those who practiced Capoeira were given nicknames to conceal their identity from the police.

Ortiz’s nickname is Paraiba, which refers to a place in Brazil where women are aggressive and beat up on the boys.

Ortiz seems capable. Her fluid movements present a solid understanding of Capoeira. She turns cartwheels and kicks with ease.

But she said she hasn’t always been this good.

“When I first started it, I didn’t know how to do anything. No balance. No coordination,” Ortiz said.

But she learned.

“It made me believe in myself,” Ortiz said. “That’s why I tell people to believe in themselves. It’s all about the mind. Don’t follow anyone. Just follow yourself.

“Everyone has talent. Everyone can do Capoeira. The key is to try.”

Ortiz said she wanted to bring Capoeira to USF not only for its benefits to students’ health and self-esteem, but also to bring some of the Brazilian culture to the campus.

Students of Capoeira also develop friendships, Ortiz said.

“You meet friends that become family to you,” she said.

Bringing Capoeira to USF began with an e-mail to Aaron Craig, fitness coordinator for the Campus Recreation Center.Craig, after taking some time to familiarize herself with Capoeira, said she wanted Ortiz to come in for a demonstration.

For the demonstration, Ortiz brought in her Mestre and peers from the academy she attends in Orlando.

According to Craig, they demonstrated their advanced Capoeira.

“They blew me away,” said Craig.

She then explained to Ortiz that she needed to see how Capoeira could be taught to the various fitness levels at USF. So Craig had Ortiz perform a second demo, this time as a class taught at the beginner level to her and other recreation staff.

After that, Craig said OK. The class began at the end of August.

“I’m very pleased with the participation and the comments from the regulars,” Craig said.

Craig attributes the success of the class to the wide range of lessons it offers.

“There’s a respect component, a friendship component — it’s more than your everyday fitness,” Craig said.

Smisi Odu, a biology major, said he comes to Capoeira, in part, for the acrobatics. He said he is going to learn how to flip in the air.

“All I need is time,” Odu said.

Eva Tamayo, an English major, said she is looking for something different.

“I hope to find a new hobby. A hobby I can develop and enjoy for a long time,” Tamayo said.

Contact Kristan Bright at