Flying Feet May Threaten Spectators, But Our Hearts Leap at These Feats

In capoeira, the Angolan-Brazilian martial art performed to heady music and singing, players swerve or flip onto their heads or hands, parrying each other's machete-like kicks. At Capoeira Foundation's 2004 batizado, hosted by Jelon Vieira and Instructor Tiba, beginning students—from kids to young adults—are initiated, and developing trainees joyfully spar with advanced players, instructors, and masters, receiving the colored belts indicating new levels of skill. Board member Carl Awolowo Johnson calls capoeira a "medicine keeping us in constant contact with the earth—our mother." Onlookers marvel at bodies of flesh and bone, as graceful as dolphins or as lethal as buzz saws, flexible, fearless, and accurate. Without warning, music, chants, moves—one's own breathing!—escalate to warrior pitch. Bodies sometimes fly too close, and students, sitting at the roda's rim, rear back onto your feet. Capoeira is a vortex, and there's no escape.

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