The Art Of Motion

“The first time I saw it, I was intimidated by it.” This is a surprising admission from a 5-foot-9-inch dancer and former athlete who can hurl herself head over heels and land on her feet without using her hands. “It looked difficult and dangerous,” says Toni Hamilton, 31, about a physical art form called capoeira — a dance, language, and martial art all rolled into one. Capoeira was developed by African slaves in Brazil some 500 years ago and consists of controlled, fluid movements as well as aggressive gestures, including kicks and thrusts.

Hamilton, an engineer in Huntsville, Alabama, has danced since she was 7 and is today a dance instructor in her town’s NEEMA International Performing Arts Center. She has been practicing capoeira for five years. “It’s a good workout. You use your whole body with it for all of the moves,” she says. “And it’s so beautiful to watch.”

Don’t be intimidated. Capoeira draws many different kinds of people — history buffs, martial artists, and classical to modern dancers. “It’s great for everyone,” says Hamilton. “It’s physically demanding, so it helps if you’re normally physically active. But the only thing you really need for capoeira is a love of movement.”

Do a little research. The Little Capoeira Book by Nestor Capoeira (North Atlantic Books; $15.95) is a good, basic introduction to the history and cultural significance of capoeira.

Check out for news about capoeira; to subscribe to the monthly e-zine, Planet Capoeira; and to join Capoeira Online, a Web community of capoeira enthusiasts.