Take it! Capoeira classes take place on Tuesdays (Somersfield Academy), Thursdays (The Centre) and Saturdays (In Motion Dance School). Call 232-6261 for details.  

*Photos by Nicola Muirhead

The room at Somersfield Academy is filled with the sound of controlled clashing: body parts are striking other things, mostly other body parts but occasionally the floor.

There are thumps of forearms hitting chests and torsos. Barefeet shuffle, slap and slide across the floor. Every now and then a foot hits a forearm with a snap. Bodies hit the deck at different intervals and speeds, very few land with a slam, many land with a muffled sort of clonk. There’s not a lot of grunts; the students know the strikes and takedowns are coming for the most part. There are not many yelps of surprise. A traditional type of capoeira music called Benguela plays in the background. 

Through that din, Ivan Outerbridge, the island’s first and only capoeira instructor, is meting out advice and instruction.

“Make it snap.”

“Don’t step too far.”

“If you’re going too fast, slow down.”

“Don’t think too much, feel it.”

And, at one point, a staccato exclamation: “Take it, take it, take it!”

Mr Outerbridge, pictured left, a 44-year-old married father-of-two from Pembroke and photographer by trade, has been practising capoeira for 14 years. The practice began as an art form that combines fight, dance, rhythm and movement. 

Its history is debated; some say it dates back to the early 1800s, others say it’s much older than that. Everyone seems to agree that slaves in Brazil were instrumental in creating the art form as it is known today. 

Here at the academy, stretches are followed by more than an hour of exercises‚ a series of kicks, blocks, pivots, leg sweeps and takedowns.

 One of the capoeira students, Otero Smith, who has been practising the art form for more than a dozen years, says he wants to improve on the cerebral aspect of the art form.

“On one level, it’s muscle memory, responding to your opponent. But you should also be thinking three or four moves down the line and thinking about how they’re going to react three or four moves down the line.”

After more than an hour of drills, the group forms a circle, where they start a song and response. The singing is accompanied by a berimbau, a one string instrument that keeps the rhythm as two people face off with one another in centre of the circle.

For the uninitiated, this interaction — called a roda — looks as though the participants can’t decide if they want to perform a string of half-cartwheels or breakdance, so they settle for a hybrid of the two. Everyone tries to stay low. The two participants circle each other in a crab walk-like crouch. A roda can have minimal or no contact or lots of physical contact, says Outerbridge. There is little to no contact as the various students square off in the middle of the circle on this night. 

Jose Lora, who works for a charity on the island, says he enjoys the improvisation that capoeira brings. 

“There’s a lot of thinking on your feet,” he says.

He adds, “I’m not that flexible of a guy. Other guys are a lot more fluid. I tend to stick with what I’m good at, but when I do that, I’m not really pushing myself.”

The art form has its own vocabulary; Outerbridge makes several references about  different moves and positions in Portuguese. Advanced classes overseas are conducted entirely in Portuguese. Outerbridge is practicing the language, but says it’s difficult since most local Portuguese speakers hail from the Azores, which differs from the Brazilian dialect.

Outerbridge is a martial arts enthusiast. During the last three decades, he’s earned 2nd degree black belts in karate and jujitsu and a blue belt in arnis. He relishes the fact that capoeira has maintained its culture.

“I was looking for something more cultural that I can identify with,” he said. “Capoeira has been able to really maintain its cultural values more so than most traditional martial arts. So, not only do I get the fighting, but also the dance, music, language and much more of the culture.”

 He is the first and only capoeira instructor in Bermuda. Earlier this month, he travelled to Olinda, located on Brazil’s northeastern coast, for additional training. 

He trained for four hours at a clip and left with two belts — with his full Mestre belt, which he says is the second to last belt that can be earned in capoeira. 

Now, he is back and continues to teach. In the academy, he talks about the proper way to hook a foot around someone’s thigh. He corrects the hand position of one pupil. He tells them to not leave their leg hanging after a kick. He ends the session with an exhortation — he wants more energy.

“Show some expression,” he says.