"When I first arrived here in New York I did a lot of work at the public schools. I frequently went to the Bronx and before break dancing was considered a style of dancing, or was successful, there wasn’t even music involved at that time. I used to see boys break dancing their breaks at school, in the streets and on the street corners, mainly during the summer. This was in 1975 and these boys, from the public schools, sometimes participated and began to be introduced to capoeira....

It was like a show, a lecture. At that time, we did not speak English, so there was a person who translated everything for us. Loremil and I, both with our berimbau, would put a vinyl record on because there was no one to play for us while we were showing the boys capoeira. They were crazy about it. After each show, everybody wanted to talk to us and invited us to their break dancing circles. At that time, break dancing was totally different than it is today. It was more of a cultural movement than a commercial thing, and it also had identification and styles within each neighborhood."

-Jelon Vieira

Friday, January 31, 2020

Capoeira instruction and performance in New York in the 1970s: a timeline

Mercedes Baptista taught classes in Brazilian dance, including capoeira, yearly at the Clark Center for the Performing Arts from 1972-79. The 1972 class ran daily for ten weeks!

In April 1974, Festa Brazil appeared at The Felt Forum. Three performers (Amendoin, Gatoinho, and Saci) visited a martial arts class taught by Brooklyn schoolteacher Bob Cooper at the Vernon Community Center.

In April 1975, Jelon Vieira and Loremil Machado performed in a production of Parto, a play, at the Washington Square Church, afterwards deciding to stay in New York. Vieira states that their “first jobs” in New York were doing capoeira demonstrations in Bronx public schools, and that he spent the summer of 1975 doing weekly demonstrations in Central Park.

By 1977, in addition to their many public performances in performing arts venues, Vieira and Machado taught regular classes in the following locations.


· 47 Great Jones Street (La MaMa Experimental Theater Company)

· 272 West 10th Street (Village Community School)

· 939 8th Avenue (Clark Center for the Performing Arts)

· 135 West 14th Street (former dojo of Mas Oyama)


· 1060 Myrtle Avenue (Vernon Community Center)

· 285 Jay Street (NYC Community College)


· Far Rockaway (People's Production Cultural and Educational Enrichment Center)

In 1977, 1978 and 1979, Bob Cooper organized public capoeira demonstrations at the Klitgord Auditorium in Brooklyn, attracting journalists such as Yusef Salaam. Cooper, who went on to become a capoeira mestre, bought ad space promoting capoeira in the yearbook of JHS 50, where he taught, starting in 1976.

On August 19, 1978, Vieira and Machado performed capoeira at the free Multi-ethnic Festival at Joyce Kilmer Park (161st and Grand Concourse).

By 1979, Vieira and Machado were also teaching in the Ed Sullivan Theater Building at 1697 Broadway, and performing weekly at the Cachaca Nightclub at 403 East 62nd Street. Video of both locations was broadcast on Philadelphia TV station WPVI.

In 1980, pioneering black filmmaker Warrington Hudlin releases his documentary short Capoeira of Brazil, featuring Mestres Jelon, Loremil and Eusebio da Silva.