Troost Avenue is widely regarded as one of Kansas City’s most prominent dividing boundaries. Since the 1800s, the road has divided ethnic and racial communities between its western and eastern sides. It’s fitting, then, that an organization seeking to bring unity and community to the forefront of their cause has taken up residence along that same road.
Axé Capoeira, a traditional Brazilian martial art and dance community, broke ground on its first permanent location last year. Axé Capoeira Kansas City was the first North American chapter of Grupo Axé Capoeira. They spent their first 17 years subleasing properties to give students and masters a place to practice their discipline.
“After being here for only one year, we are seeing this amazing reciprocity,” Sonia Duncombe, a graduate-level instructor of Axé Capoeira, says. “Now that we have a home base, the growth has just been amazing; we are thriving.”
Capoeira is a martial art set to music. The combination of freestyle movement and music invites an opportunity for a more personal relationship with the art as students learn how their movements are used to play a “game” of Capoeira with others. It is self-paced yet demanding and steeped in Brazilian tradition. Like many other martial art disciplines, students receive belts to mark skill progression. Once a student is ready, he or she will also receive a Capoeira name. This name, bestowed by an instructor or master, characterizes one’s style and attributes.
“My Capoeira name is Arara; the name for the Macaw parrot,” Duncombe says. “Although this bird has beautiful plumage, I believe the name was inspired by my break-shaped nose. Our Capoeira names are meant to bring out something about us. This is a beautiful part of Brazilian culture. Through Capoeira, we are reminded to accept and embrace the unique attributes of oneself. And if you have to, go ahead and laugh at yourself.”
On a functional level, Capoeira is an efficient form of exercise consisting of flexibility, acrobatics and repetitive movements. While most people can pick up a weight, not everyone can lift their own body weight, Duncombe points out.
“We have a saying: Capoeira is for everyone, but not everyone is for Capoeira,” she says.
The practice requires devotion and commitment not only to gain physical strength but also to learn a deeper level of self-acceptance.
“It’s important that students go easy on themselves—especially the adults,” Duncombe, who has been practicing the discipline for 18 years, says. “The kids can have an easier time with it because their egos aren’t as big. I mean, you come in, and at some point, you are doing cartwheels. So there is this element of fun and playfulness and camaraderie, but at the same time, it’s challenging. You start to see people breaking out of their ‘box.’ It’s unique and attractive, and I love seeing people come who may not necessarily know what drew them there.”
The spirit of Capoeira inspires students to not only learn mastery over their range of motion and muscle control but also to inspire action that reaches outside the studio.
“We want to dislodge barriers, those barriers of race and ethnicity and age and gender,” Duncombe says. “Our mission is to expand out into the community and invite people to really live in it.”
While its immediate focus is here in Kansas City, the vision of this local Capoeira group stretches to international proportions.
Duncombe and others accredit their growing success firstly and foremost to God, and then to their master of Grupo Axé Capoeira, Mastre Barrão. Barrão has now returned to his homeland Recife, Brazil, where the group first originated. Duncombe said she believes this Axé, or good energy, is critical to realizing their mission.
“(We need to) feed the hot embers in Brazil as we burn a strong fire of Axé in Kansas City, North America and the world,” she says. “Our vision has expanded, and we need to keep sharing this with our community.”
For this reason, the group wants to incorporate the optimistic and business-savvy North American attitude with the generous and socially oriented spirit of the Brazilian culture. The Kansas City group strives to create more international partnerships with Brazil in hopes to one day support summer exchange programs and scholarships for both local and international students. If you are interested in learning more about Axé Capoeira, visit their website CapoeiraKC.com.