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The grace of a swan, the ferocity of a jaguar


Capoeira is an art form involving dance-like movements. Photos provided by JoAnn Mackey, the Latino Heritage Festival

Capoeira is an art form involving dance-like movements. Photos provided by JoAnn Mackey, the Latino Heritage Festival

Understanding others makes a better knowledge of oneself possible, but that understanding takes time and attention. Why not branch out this weekend and take in the sites, sounds, smells and tastes of the Latino Heritage Festival.

While enjoying some of the traditional delicacies and entertainment, make time to check out the Capoeira Brazilian Martial Arts and Dancers. Those unfamiliar with capoeira may be left scratching their head as to whether they’re watching a martial arts competition or a dance off.

“Capoeira cannot be summed up as just a martial art, nor is it more like a dance,” said Holly Sells, founder of Fitness Connections and performing at this year’s Latino Heritage Festival. “Capoeira is a complex art form involving dance-like movements, kicks and takedowns within the rhythm of the music and dialogue, acrobatics, fakes, music, philosophy, history and culture.”

Roughly pronounced kapu-WHER-uh, capoeira is a total body, mind and emotional expression. While the details of its origins are still up for debate, it appears that slaves played a crucial role in the development of the art form more than 400 years ago. Some historians assert that slaves would use capoeira’s dance-like style as a way of hiding their training of combat and self-defense.

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“(It) is a conversation between two people of questions and answers using your body,” Sells says. “During the game, the capoeiristas explore their strengths and weaknesses, fears and fatigue in a sometimes frustrating, but nevertheless enjoyable, challenging and constant process of personal expression, self-reflection and growth.”

Folks today reap the many physical and social benefits of the sport. Not only are participants in constant motion, but they are also working nearly every part of their body. Aside from being light on their feet, capoeiristas will use their hands and upper body to hold themselves and perform rolls. Capoeira combines the potency of a martial art, the fluidity and expressiveness of dance, the soul-calling power of music, the wit and playfulness of clever games, and the challenge of the acrobatics into one beautiful art form.

“I think what makes Capoeira unique is it is all-inclusive… it is rich with elements, you can pull out or focus on the element that you connect with most,” Sells says. “If you like music, you can focus on that. If you like the combat aspect, you can focus on that. Maybe you like Capoeira because of the community aspect it brings you. Capoeira is for men, women and children of all ages. No one is left out. All can play Capoeira.” CV

David Rowley is an Iowa native with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Iowa and a master’s in film journalism from the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

Capoeira Brazilian Martial Arts and Dancers
Sept. 6–7 @ Latino Heritage Festival
Performances at 1 p.m., 3 p.m.
and 5 p.m., both days.
Learn more about Holly Sells and where you can try capoeira for yourself at

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