Arts & Culture

Club teaches self-defense, acrobatics, dance

Capoeira Club holds three training sessions per week, teaching Afro-Brazilian style of self-defense

Contributing Writer
Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Donnie Senna, the Capoeira Club’s instructor, splits his time working with a professional group in Warwick and the University’s club.

Thursday night, in Studio 2 of the Nelson Fitness Center, the Brown Capoeira Club held an open practice in hopes of attracting new members and showcasing their craft to the Brown community.

Fusing combat, acrobatics and dance into a dynamic, culturally reverent artform that is practiced all over the world, capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian form of self-defense that sets elaborate fighting maneuvers to music, noted club instructor Donnie Senna, who is known to his students as “Tatu.” Still in conversation with its roots as a form of “martial arts that was disguised as a dance by slaves” in 16th-century Brazil, capoeira at Brown exists as more than an art form, but rather as a powerful means of cultural expression, Senna said.

An expert practitioner of his craft, Tatu splits time between training with Grupo Ondas, a professional capoeira group in Warwick, and overseeing the club at Brown. With eight active members, the Brown Capoeira Club holds training sessions three times a week and welcomes novice walk-ins — no dance or combat experience is necessary to participate in practices. Tatu prides himself on fostering a tight-knit community where capoeira enthusiasts feel comfortable leaving their worries outside of the studio, he said. “It’s pretty fun,” Tatu added. “The kids have a good time.”

But the “good time” descriptor may be an understatement. As old school hip-hop blasted through the studio, setting the tempo for the fast-paced fighting sequences that were about to take place, giddy participants expressed their excitement both vocally and through dynamic movement. When asked about his experience so far, Vanya Cohen GS said, “I didn’t expect to be this sweaty.”

After a round of stretching exercises, the practice split into two groups. Tatu took Cohen aside and attempted to teach him the art of the cartwheel — a constitutional arrow in every aspiring capoeirista’s acrobatic quiver, Tatu noted. Meanwhile, Tatu’s more experiencedstudents chatted while “sparring” — a form of shadowboxing of sorts in which capoeiristas enact the motions of combat without actually making contact with one another. Such intricate maneuvers undoubtedly require a penchant for rhythm, precision and peripheral awareness in the face of Tatu’s technical critique, which often reiterated  the importance of fluidity and exactitude. If the capoeiristas weren’t delivering corkscrew-like kicks to the air beside each other’s knees, they were effortlessly vaulting into cartwheels to escape their opponents’ reach. “Stop watching his feet,” he commented in reference to a participant’s sparring method. “You want to keep surprise on your side!”

Club president Lucas Kang ’18 had no dance experience before joining the group, but once he got involved, he was hooked. “It was really interesting because there was more than martial arts involved,” he said. “There was history and culture and I got to know a lot of people.”