"The Benguela Called to Play": Capoeira's Embodied Resistance & Sustaining Culture Through Expressive Bodily Practice


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MA in Cultural Sustainability

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Considering the potentials of bodily performance in the expression of meaning and cultural identification for both the individual and their community, this work focuses on concepts of resistance and power as it is embodied in the Afro-Brazilian art of capoeira. The thesis develops from the researcher’s background in classical ballet and modern dance and is driven by experiences as a new student of capoeira, engaged in training throughout the research and execution of the work. Grounded in examinations of community, continuity and value transmission, the thesis seeks to build connections between capoeira’s resistant history, and the embodied experiences of resistance sustained through the culture of, and approaches to, contemporary training and practice. Concepts and arguments of capoeira’s embodied resistance emerge through narrative and performative writing, coalescing reflections crafted from participant research and interviews with practicing capoeiristas in New York City. Formed with a critically reflexive approach, the considerations presented in the thesis are buttressed by existing ethnographic works centered on the martial art, and framed by scholarship in performance theory, culture studies and sociology, and critical analysis. Avoiding the realm of overtly political or ‘art activism’ works, this research instead explores the resistant elements that generate not from the intention to revolutionize, but which are born upon and through group identity and expression. Attempting to recognize the subversive, subtle, and frequently unacknowledged ways that bodily performance contributes to everyday resistance, this work aims to provide additional recognition of the power of embodied knowledge and expression through corporeal performance.