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Having fun, keeping fit: Capoeira

Kicks, flips and cartwheels

  • Trindade and Tara Borgilt, above left, perform moves during the partner segment of class while Sadil watches. Above right, Zaza Kabayadondo, left, and Sherene Smith work together. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Zaza Kabayadondo, left, and Sherene Smith, both of Florence, play capoeira at Spirit of the Heart Martial Arts and Wellness in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Instructor Bruno Trindade of Florence demonstrates a move during his capoeira class at Spirit of the Heart Martial Arts and Wellness in Northampton.

  • Patrick Sadil and Tara Borgilt, both of Amherst, play capoeira at Spirit of the Heart Martial Arts and Wellness in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ian Shaikh, left, and Patrick Sadil practice a move in the martial art which is a blend of kicks, cartwheels and flips that flow together like a dance. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ian Shaikh, left, Zaza Kabayadondo, Bruno Trindade, Patrick Sadil and Tara Borgilt end the class by playing traditional music. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ian Shaikh, from left, Zaza Kabayadondo, Bruno Trindade, Patrick Sadil and Tara Borgilt play music at the close of Trindade's capoeira class at Spirit of the Heart Martial Arts and Wellness in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



Staff Writer
Thursday, February 08, 2018

There are lots of ways to stay in shape during the winter months. Some are fun, some, not so much. Staff writer Lisa Spear set out to find a few ways that people are enjoying indoor exercise that might not immediately spring to mind when you are seeking a fitness routine.

For those looking for a cardio workout, running on a treadmill can be boring. For others, yoga might not get their heart rates up. That’s why some seeking an exercise that is fun and playful, yet still intense, turn to capoeira, a centuries-old martial art that combines Brazilian music and dance with self-defense.

“You kind of forget that you are burning calories,” says Tara Borgilt, 25, of Amherst. She works out at least twice a week with the group Capoeira Rosa Rubra in a rented studio space at Spirit of The Heart Martial Arts and Wellness in Northampton.

The routine is a blend of moves, like kicks, cartwheels and flips, that flow together in what looks like a dance. Though technically a martial art, participants never actually try to hit one another and usually don’t even touch.

Capoeira was created in the 16th century by slaves in Brazil seeking to disguise a martial art as dance to trick their captors. Since then, the practice has gained traction as a popular pastime in Brazil and has spread to other parts of the world, including Northampton.

Approach, dodge, kick

Every class begins with the students standing in a circle. Those who have been here before join the instructor in singing traditional capoeira songs in Portuguese before beginning the sequence of moves. Students also play drums and tambourines during the workout.

In a recent session, Borgilt is in a group of about eight students who are gathered with instructor Bruno Trindade. After a warm up consisting of a sequence of kicks, they break off into partners.

Borgilt is coupled with Patrick Sadil, 25, of Amherst. As she approaches him, he ducks to dodge her. She drops with her hands on the floor and kicks one leg over his head as he falls backward onto his hands. She is practicing a common move called rabo de arraia, which means stingray tail in Portuguese.

“It takes a lot of stamina,” she says.

Borgilt says the workout gets her heart rate up and by the end of the hour and a half class, she is feeling more energized than she did when she arrived.

Borgilt says she has practiced capoeira as her primary source of exercise since 2013. She discovered it while in college in Oregon and was also able to find a group when she studied abroad in Spain. When she moved to Northampton, she says, it didn’t take her long to find another capoeira group.

“It is a global community,” she says, “and anywhere you go you can find a group.”

Finding your flow

The beginning moves aren’t too difficult, says Trindade. but it does take some practice to find your own flow.

There are two types of sequences — solo and partner. The solo sequences serve as the warm up. The partner sequences enact what would be an attack and a response to that attack whether that’s a dodge or a counter attack.

“The state of mind that I look for is ‘flow’ — it’s when you and your partner have a good rapport in general and you are just really attuned to each other,” Trindade says. “It really turns into a dialogue and when that is happening ... it feels a bit like meditation.”

Trindade discovered the martial art as a child when he would visit family in Brazil. Though he wanted to pursue it back home in the United States, he lived in the Midwest, where there were few opportunities to learn. It wasn’t until he moved to Boston as an adult that he found a class and an instructor and quickly developed his expertise. “A lot of people are surprised at their progress,” he says.

Later, he found a group to practice with when he moved to Northampton and then rented the studio space to host classes. 

Beginners welcome

Trindade’s students say capoeira is a fun way to stay in shape.

“I have had a lot of good health as long as I am doing capoeira consistently and I really start to miss it when I’m not doing it,” Borgilt says. “It makes me feel good about my body. I feel like I am in pretty satisfactory shape if I go twice a week.”

During the recent class, after a few minutes, everyone switches partners. Sadil looks like he is beginning a cartwheel as he goes in for a kick with the woman he’s paired with now, catching himself on one hand. Sadil has been practicing these moves for several years and he executes them gracefully.

Just a few feet away a few beginners are falling all over themselves trying the same moves, but seems to be enjoying the learning curve. One accidentally kicks the other and another tumbles to the ground while laughing.

All the classes are beginner-friendly, Trindade says. When there are people coming to the class for the first time, the group is divided into beginner and advanced sections, and the newbies are given a lot of individual attention, says Trindade. He often will pair up with them during the partnered part of the class and walk them through the moves.  

Within the first two weeks, beginners typically know enough to keep up, Trindade says. They keep to a small set of basic, fundamental moves. But it doesn’t take long for them to notice a change in their mobility, flexibility and core strength, says Trindade

Zaza Kabayadondo of Florence says she was surprised by how quickly she was able to pick up new moves after two months of regular classes. 

“I couldn’t even do a cartwheel before,” she says. Aside from acquiring new skills and building muscle, she also has been able to make new friends. 

The group is small and intimate and everyone seems to know each other. 

“It’s nice for us because it is a community,” Sadil says.

“We are very welcoming and very excited for new people to show up,” adds Borgilt.

Lisa Spear can be reached at Lspear@gazettenet.com

How to connect

Classes are $12 for drop in or $55 per month for unlimited classes (three times a week). For a schedule of classes, visit The Spirt of the Heart website.