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For hundreds of years, visitors to Brazil have witnessed the graceful and violent beauty of capoeira. Now the 500-year-old dance-infused fighting style from Bahia–Brazil’s Afrocentric heartland–has become a red-hot fitness trend around the world.
Originally developed by slaves, capoeira has a unique fluidity that makes it seem more like dance. That is intentional: Knowing their masters would never tolerate self-defense, the slaves camouflaged their movements as innocuous horseplay.
“Capoeira is beautiful and deadly,” says Masumeh, “It’s effective self-protection because you learn to read others, as well as develop killer ways to kick them.” Like jazz, this martial art thrives on improvisation.
Capoeira is performed in a roda, a circle formed by fellow capoeiristas, one of whom plays an instrument called the berimbau, which dictates the tempo. When its played slowly, capoeira resembles tai chi. When is set a quick pace, movements explode in spectacular flying and upside-down kicks, handstands, cartwheels, rolls, and ankle sweeps that would leave Akshay Kumar crying for his mommy.
As an exercise, capoeira will push your cardio to the max while stressing balance, flexibility, and strength. A typical class is one to two hours long, and in that time you hardly ever stop moving. Almost every muscle in the body is used with a maximum range of
flexibility, focusing mainly on your core. “It’s dangerous, sensual, and sexy,” says Masumeh, “in a way strip-mall karate can never be.”