09/05/2007 Milford Weekly

A Brazilian workout in Milford

By: Chris Hunn , Editor

MILFORD - Enter the Fannie Beach Center in Woodmont and immediately notice an exotic sound, a sound that is ear-catching, intriguing.

Follow that sound, and it leads to something that's even more exotic, something even more intriguing and this time, it's eye-catching.

There is a circle of people - males and females of various ages and ethnicities wearing white sweat pants and T-shirts - singing in Portuguese and playing a variety of percussion instruments.

As the tempo of the music generated from outside the circle flows quickly, two people inside move at the same pace. At times, they will perform dance-like moves or maneuver their bodies in midair in fascinating ways. Also, they will hold handstand positions or kick high and swiftly. As the tempo of the music slows, the people inside the circle move with more of a graceful feel. All, without touching one another.

Is it break dancing? Gymnastics? Martial arts?

It's a blend of all three and it's called capoeira. It was a type of self-defense disguised as a dance created by African slaves in Brazil during the 1500s, and is now considered an international sport.

Through the Milford Recreation Department, Milford resident Michael de Oliveira, a native of Brazil, instructs a capoeira class at the Fannie Beach Center and will host a capoeira show at the same location Sept. 29 at 2 p.m. De Oliveira is also offering two classes at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport this fall.

The 34-year-old de Oliveira carried his love for capoeira with him when he came to the U.S. about 19 years ago, and he has been sharing it ever since.

While he's been offering capoeira classes in Milford and nearby communities, he travels all over the world exhibiting the sport. This past weekend, de Oliveira was in Manhattan performing at a Brazilian parade.

The love for capoeira began when he and his father were walking down the street in Brazil when de Oliveira was 5 years old. He noticed a group of people playing instruments and singing while surrounding two others who sparred. He immediately became interested and the rest is history.

"My dad put me in a class and I never stopped," de Oliveira said. "This is my life. I can't see myself without it. Without capoeira, it would be like not having air to breathe."

Many of his students feel the same way.

"I can't live without capoeira," said one student, Nei Silva nicknamed "Borracha," which means rubber for his flexibility (all capoeiristas receive nicknames). "I can't stay away from it."

De Oliveira aims to keep a genuine Brazilian feel to his class. That means during his trips to his native country, he finds and brings the new capoeira trends back home with him. De Oliveira also brings back authentic Brazilian instruments such as the berimbau, which is a stringed-percussion instrument that regulates the speed of the capoeiristas.

One aspect, however, he doesn't establish in his classes is the "anything goes" mentality capoeiristas carry in Brazil. Growing up, de Oliveira, who is a member of the North American Grapplers' Association, a mixed martial arts organization, has seen multiple people break bones and even witnessed a handful of deaths because of the power of a kick.

But in the U.S., many use capoeira as a way to stay in shape, for self-defense or just to have fun. No matter the reason, de Oliveira said those who take part in the sport will feel a difference.

Stephanie Pallas, 10, said she never thought she'd be able to kick so high and noted capoeira gives her plenty of energy. Leo Robinson, who has been in de Oliveira's class for close to a year, now can do handstands and back bends.

As Robinson leaves the roda, or "circle of play" dripping with sweat, he said: "It enables you to do things you'd never think you'd be able to."

For more information about de Oliveira's Milford classes, contact Paul Piscitelli of the Milford Recreation Department at 783-3386.