Samba no Mar

There is also another dimension to desire: the mestre’s body may also be an object of sexual desire. Good capoeira is sensual. Good players move their bodies beautifully, in time to the music, in partnership with their opponent. Any skilled player can arouse a sexual desire in the audience by the beauty of their play. Lewis (2000: 54 6-7) writing of Brazil comments:

Capoeira is still primarily a man’s game, and capoeira players are macho men…..Singing, drumming and dancing skills are said to make a man a good lover as well, and tales of virility and sexual conquest are endemic in the capoeira world.


Nestor Capoeira (2002: 51-56) argues that the modern capoeira teachers in Europe can live a contemporary version of the malandro tradition. The malandro is a Brazilian man who dresses sharply, lives by his wits in a twilight area between the legal and the illegal, between the respectable world and the violent criminal world, can use, but not be a victim of, alcohol, drugs, violence and sexual energies. It can be used admiringly, or disparagingly (Da Matta, 1995). The very skills that make great players in the roda are, Capoeira (2002) argues, magnetic for European women. This may or may not be a myth, but it is definitely a feature of Browning’s (1995) response to the three New York based capoeiristas with whom we opened the discussion of self-relatedness.

Desire: Students’ Bodies

In Britain capoeira classes often include samba, and at special events Brazilian dancing is also taught and enjoyed. As the students learn capoeira and get fitter, they are also developing their abilities to move fluently to music and, indeed, to dance. Students can be seen during our fieldwork becoming more comfortable with the sensual aspects of their bodies and their movements as their capoeira skills grow. The culture of the classes also includes very “un-British” hugging and kissing as part of the “Brazilian” ambience. There is a developmental process whereby the embodied self presentations of the more advanced students are moving closer to that of the teachers, in capoeira skills, and in relaxed use of their bodies in heterosexual peer interaction and dance.



Frank’s ideal type, the disciplined body, has been applied to capoeira teachers and students. The capoeira teacher’s disciplined body has high physical capital which is reflected out onto the bodies of the students, who attempt to emulate them. The capoeira students are taking action on their own bodies, in a social structure built around embodied identities. Trovao is taking action on his body, as a true participant observer; while Bruxa observes the social structure in which Achilles reflects his high physical capital out to Trovao and his fellow students.


Notes and Acknowledgments

We are grateful to Rosemary Bartle Jones for word-processing the paper. Our ideas have been clarified through discussions with Gary Alan Fine, Ben Fincham, Jonathan Skinner, John Evans, and Susie Scott. Rodrigo Ribeiro, in true academic comradeship, has cartwheeled into rodas in Tolnbridge to share his Brazilian insights into a British phenomenon, as well as his social science observations, which we appreciate. Trovao has trained under Achilles for two and a half years. Trovao has taken master classes run by about thirty other teachers. Bruxa has observed Achilles regularly, Perseus irregularly, and about 35 other teachers in the UK and New Zealand. We are very grateful to all these teachers for sharing their skills and enthusiasm.

(1) We have used pseudonyms for all the teachers and students. Achilles teaches in two British cities with universities, called here Tolnbridge and Cloisterham. Male students’ nicknames such as Hathi and Darzee, come from Kipling’s The Jungle Book.

(2) In European folklore witches are often jealous old women, so Bruxa seems appropriate. Trovao invokes Xango the Yoruba God of Thunder, an important figure in Candomble the African-Brazilian religion.

(3) A dance done in grass skirts, with wooden sticks that are clashed noisily together.


Almeida, B. (1986) Capoeira: A Brazilian Art Form. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.


Ashkenazi, M. (2002) Ritual and the Ideal of Society in Karate. In D.E. Jones (ed) Combat, Ritual, and Performance. Westport, Conn. : Praeger.