Some people might think I have something against dances. I assure you I have not; I only claim we should carefully distinguish between true dances, and wrestling styles, such as capoeiragem or batuque boi/pernadas.
As a point in case, today I will introduce you to a dancing style than I like very much.
It is almost unknown today; yet, it was one of the styles that started the 'breaking' epidemics in the 80's. To me, it is also one of the most interesting 'street' dances; certainly more interesting that the sterile 'breaking' you see today.
As the title says, the name of the dance is Brooklyn rock; it was also called Uprock (Attention: Uprock is NOT the standing part of b-boying! That would be toprock!) or 'Rock dance'. It originated in Brooklyn, and it is an 'interpretative' dance that simulates a combat between two men. While they do the characteristic shuffle step of the 'rock, they use gestures to pretend they are punching each other, stabbing with knives, shooting guns or bazookas etc. There is no contact. The one guy who 'outdances' the other - is more on beat, shows more interesting combinations - wins.
The above is a true dance. What determines the winner - the goal of the performance - is the quality of movement; the creativity etc.
Constrast that with capoeiragem, where the goal is - or should be - hitting the opponent or throwing him on the floor. Quality of movements doesn't matter; if it is inside the rules,it doesn't matter if you are dancing polka, rolling on the ground or having seizure. Unfortunatelly, this root of the game is commonly forgotten today, and people stress the 'quality of movement' or 'beauty' etc.
In a fighting art, what is important is not so much virtuosity of movements; but timing, tactics, identification and reaction etc. These are not part of dancing.
Back to Brooklyn rock.
This is an old-school stylish tutorial of Uprock that explains it quite nicely:
And this is a video of an actual Uprock battle.
It is interesting to compare Brooklyn rock - and capoeira - with another dance, this time of Brazilian origin. It is Frevo, danced in Pernambuco.
Frevo originated in the 1907 and is said to have been influenced by the 'gang type' capoeira of the 1900's, similar to Carioca; borrowing the movements from it in the beginning.
It is instructive to look at the Frevo: Now, this is TRUE dance! Anybody can see that this belongs to the same group as the above Brooklyn rock (even down to the basic step).
On the other hand, it is extremely dissimilar to the capoeira(gem) it allegedly originated from. The most important difference being that there is no fighting intent.
[Neither the movements are there. "...com a mão jogavam a tapona, com a perna a trave, o calço, com os pés a rasteira e o temido rabo de arraia" - with their hand, they wield tapona; with their leg, trave, calço; with their feet rasteira and terrible rabo de arraia; says Fernando Pio in Meu Recife de outrora(1969). Tapona is a slap; trave and calco are probably thesoura and dourada; rasteira and rabo are self-explanatory. None of these are visible in frevo.]
There are people who find Frevo 'similar to capoeira' - yes, if by capoeira, you mean the modern 'dance of capoeira'; the flips and maneuvers executed in the air, for an aesthetic effect. But this is a modern invention....as anybody reading these pages should know.
[These people are probably trying to 'reconcile' modern capoeira and Frevo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCt8uTvoex8 ]
What really pisses me off is that people say 'look, these are the movements that were influenced by capoeira' - while pointing out movements of modern capoeira; are they unaware that capoeira in the 1900 - the time when it allegedly influenced Frevo - looked nothing like this?
If there was something influenced by capoeiragem, it is the base of Frevo - the changing of the legs and squating down, which seems to be inspired by the peneiracao (ironically, not present in modern capoeira at all!)
To contrast, this is Danmye from Martinique,1936:
Some people like to compare it with capoeira.
This is clearly NOT a dance. It is a fight; they are trying to hit each other. The little 'dance' they do is just a movement to trick the opponent and psyche him out; the objective is to catch him with a kick or sweep. There is no 'choreography', no 'enjoying the movement', no 'aesthetic factor' involved. (All aesthetic is the aesthetic of combat - as it should be!)
If you want to see how the old capoeiragem or batuque boi rodas looked like, I guess this could be very close.
But unlike capoeira, the essence of danmye wasn't destroyed by ritualization(as Angola was), streamlining the movements(as Senzala was), or transforming to a circus show(as modern capoeira was).
This is why Danmye today looks like a combat sport - the essence is the same as in the 1936 videos:
And this, I have to add,is probably also why capoeira is today all over the world, and Danmye is virtually unknown.
I repeat, because it is worth repeating: Danmye is a perfect comparison, because it shows what capoeira would have looked like today, if it took a 'proper' way through the 20th century; if it wasn't mangled by the Senzala generation and the next 'global' generation.
I read a theory that might explain this whole 'capoeira being a dance' confusion. It says that modern people - say, from 1970 onward - are 'homo aestheticus' - I prefer to call it narcistic: They judge things by how aesthetic ("cool") they look. Thus they can only perceive and judge capoeira - even the old capoeira - by its external form; unable to concentrate on the purpose. But of course, we will have none of that here. We are interested in what things are, not what they look like.
Interestingly, some people seem to be very fatalistic, stating things like 'that is just the way things are', 'you cannot turn the clock back' or 'that is just how capoeira evolved'. Unlike them, I do not think that the way things look today is some kind of fate, unalterable, that we must accept as something that was,is and will be. On the contrary - we can mold the future to our liking! Future can take any shape we want it to take - including the return to the forms used in the past (see classicism returning to the forms of Greek art, for example).
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