The floor is bare and dusty, hastily swept to clear only the largest of debris. The high ceiling that once arched neatly in the middle now sags between wooden ribs. Although one can imagine it caving in as soon as it gets tired enough, the high ceiling will serve to circulate fresh air to the fanatics who will soon congregate below. Only their energy, harnessed in the form of a fiery, graceful martial art, can transform this old gym. The vehemence of capoeira can impart life and power to whatever it touches. In the meantime, the room sleeps, unused and indifferent.
Then they come, people of diverse shapes and sizes and colours, and all that dull stillness changes. The capoeira class falls into the pattern of warm up movements. The gritty floor scrapes against their calloused feet. After an hour of arduous practice, some stretch, some gulp their water desperately, and some apply athlete’s tape to their blistered feet.
The capoeiristas gather, tired but enthusiastic, at one end of the room and they form a circle just big enough for a person to throw a kick. The lazy room stirs with a promise of things to come. Several people carefully choose percussion instruments from a pile in the corner of the room. They cluster together at one side of the circle, and a respectful bit of space is left around them. As one or two softly warm up, the pull of the music washes over the group, and the room finally rouses itself out of its last bits of lethargy. Two of the capoeiristas eagerly crouch down at the bare feet of the musicians, and as the berimbau begins its great song and the lead singer begins to shake the room with a confident voice, the two slowly cartwheel into the circle and the game begins. The energy in the room swells and becomes something that flows through the air, brushing against sweaty skin. It seems that the walls could almost quiver and hum by themselves. Inside the circle, movement follows movement, kicking quickly and escaping swiftly, never a break to catch their balance, never a pause to wipe off the sweat that’s dripping into their eyes and rolling off their cheeks, just intensity and constant movement and a love of capoeira. But opposite of the wildly changing, improvised world of the two central players who light the room on fire, the rhythmic thump and rattle of the drummers’ hands is a beat that never varies. The musicians flow smoothly from one song to the next, the singers following their lead and yet magically maintaining a constant background security. The circle of people packed shoulder to shoulder sway and clap with the music, and encourage the two capoeiristas in heaven to play their love.
The gym is finally alive, dancing and singing with the people within it. When they finally stop, exhausted and exhilarated, the room holds onto that energy and life, and when the people leave it clings to the memory with hopeful desperation. Eventually, it settles into a familiar state of sluggish slumber, barely a shadow of the movement and energy that brought it to life just hours ago. But it still holds the potential for renewed vivacity, in the slide of feet and the sway of arms and the songs sung underneath its decrepit, sagging ceiling.