A few blocks away from the Takoma Metro station, the sound of chanting and the steady rhythm of iron-accented percussion drift into the street. The smell of fresh paint wafts out of a doorway, propped half-open by a fan.
Inside the International Capoeira Angola Foundation’s newly leased space at 6906 4th St. NW, Mestre Cobra Mansa convulses at the center of a performance circle, surrounded by about 25 of his students, all clad in yellow T-shirts announcing the group’s logo. They sit attentively as Cobra Mansa and a student play in the ring, stand on their hands, slide through each other’s legs, block kicks, crouch down, flip backward, and attack, barely missing each other’s heads. Berimbaus, drums, and tambourines give energy to the call and response of the participants.
Capoeira Angola is a danced fight, a ritualized battle rooted in the traditions of the Bantu people from Angola, Mozambique, and Zaire. After being captured and taken to Brazil, the Bantu developed the fight-dance as a tool of resistance.
Cobra Mansa began studying the form 25 years ago and has since dedicated himself to teaching classes in the martial art, which emphasizes dance, singing, and respect for the ancestors. Most of the students didn’t even know how to do a cartwheel when they came to class for the first time, he recalls. But time, plus lots of applied wisdom, has turned them into graceful warriors, capable of not only cartwheels, but complex moves from the esquiva to the rasteira
“Today in this society people want to learn everything fast, and they want to be able to do everything too fast, and capoeira takes time, takes energy, takes patience,” Cobra Mansa says. “And sometimes it’s my challenge to make people understand: Good things come with time.”
After leaving Brazil in 1994, Cobra Mansa began teaching capoeira classes to children and graduated to adults after many expressed interest. His classes then grew to the roughly 30 active students today, and now Cobra Mansa finds that life as the only person in D.C. who teaches Capoeira Angola can be very busy.
The group is branching out beyond capoeira to offer classes in samba, drumming, and Portuguese. And now that it has a central location, the group plans to create a multipurpose research center, with an extensive video library and access to a variety of publications and instruments. The students and their teacher have made the place their own, with a photo display of old masters and the people who started capoiera in Brazil. Instruments hanging here and there on the wall make it clear that you are entering a musical space. “Everything [is here] so people can come here and see that it is a capoiera school,” Cobra Mansa says.—Ayesha Morris
The International Capoeira Angola Foundation will host a grand opening of its school on Saturday, July 10, with workshops from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, July 11, from 3 to 6 p.m. For more information call (800) 920-3277.