SANTA CRUZ — Two students kick and dance around each other while others drum and dance around them. Welcome to Alafia Capoeira, a new studio that teaches the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira.
Owner and instructor Micah Wright opened Alafia Capoeira in June at 1622 Seabright Ave. in Santa Cruz.
Alafia, a word from the Nigerian language Yoruba, is most closely translated in English to “peace” and is used as a greeting. Capoeira combines dancing, acrobatics and music.
Wright said it’s a constant exchange of players switching in and out, generally without hitting each other. Two “capoeiristas” exchange kicks, offensive moves and floor maneuvers in a circle while others sing and play music on the outside of the circle. The “ritual combat” has two speeds of movement: capoeira angola, slower movements closer to the ground and capoeira regional, faster movements while standing tall. Musical instruments used in capoeira are drums and the berimbau, a Brazilian musical bow.
“Playing” capoeira helps students grow emotionally and physically stronger, increase self esteem and confidence, overcome obstacles and develop discipline, according to Wright.
“It’s a very valuable tool for personal expression because it does have the dance element,” Wright said.
Students train barefoot and without padding, Wright said. Students who are more serious about the practice are given uniforms, which Wright said gives them “a sense of purpose and belonging.” Wright has about 50 students.
“Capoeira is a global community in which when we carry ourselves as responsible members, then you have the opportunity to make friends all over the place to just really become a better version of yourself,” Wright said.
Wright, 37, first learned about capoeira form his cousins in Brazil and has been involved in martial arts for most of his life. He has trained in Oakland and Berkeley and traveled to Brazil and other countries to learn. He is in training to become a professor. Capoeira students train to become an instructor, then a professor, contra mestre or master and then mestre.
While Wright opened a studio in Santa Cruz because he lives here, the city is a fitting place for the studio, he said.
“There is a lot of endearing character about the town, it’s a place that has a great passion for diverse cultures and a lot of good, kind-hearted people here who make good community,” Wright said.
Wright previously opened a martial arts studio in Santa Cruz in 2013 known as the Culture Yard, where he and visiting teachers taught African dance and capoeira. The studio closed in 2016 when the property owners sold the building, he said. Wright then taught capoeira classes at the 418 Project in Santa Cruz before opening his own studio this year.
Raizes do Brazil is another capoeira studio in Santa Cruz. Wright said that while capoeira studios form community among each other, schools/studios are loyal to the specific teachings of their master and represent separate lineages of teaching.
Capoeira was created by African slaves in the 1500s in Brazil, according to Capoeira Brazilian Pelourhino. Slaves would use the art as defense against their slave masters, according to Wright. Slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888, but capoeira was banned in 1890 because of gang and criminal violence, according to Culture Trip. People practiced capoeira in secret and identified themselves with nicknames. Capoeira master Mestre Bimba, who found the Capoeira regional form, opened the first capoeira academy in 1932 by convincing Brazilian authorities of its cultural value, according to Culture Trip. The ban against Capoeira was lifted in the 1940s, according to Culture Trip.