Mestra Suelly: The Making of a Mestra
by Mestre Acordeon.


Translation by foguerinha

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Mestre Joel’s “Iê!” completely inundated the room, quieting everybody like a powerful leader rallying his warriors.His cry was loud and, at the same time, soft but hoarse, like a crystal being vibrated by sheer emotion.  The entire room felt the moment and was hushed, waiting for the ladainha that would follow.

I touched the ground directly below the berimbau gunga, gathering the visible axé to me, and I threw it in the air like a fisherman throwing a net, or like a farmer tossing seeds onto fertile land.  Listening to Joel’s call, I felt goose bumps all over my body and began to sing with great emotion.

Iê, I was at home, oh Iaia
Not thinking or imagining anything
When I heard a knock on the door
Solomon ordered me to come…
To teach me the way of capoeira…

In the middle of the song I didn’t articulate the word “capoeira” properly.   It was lost in the middle of incomprehensible sounds.   My heart seemed to swell, not fitting in my chest anymore, and a feeling of dizziness as if I had been buffeted in a storm almost made me give up the game.   Suassuna continued the song.

All I had to do now was play.

Suelly (Suellen Einarsen) began capoeira in 1982.   She was one of my first students in the United States.   Despite being a beginner in capoeira, the quality of her movements always reflected many years of dance technique.   Her trajectory in capoeira paralleled her modern dance career.   However, there was never a moment in which these two disciplines were mingled.   In her opinion, capoeira movements should never be taken out of their context simply to enrich a choreographed dance.

Conversely, Suelly’s capoeira would never stop being capoeira and turn into exclusively a dance.   Without a doubt, capoeira brings together many elements, such as dance, music, fight, theater, ritual, tradition, and philosophy.   But in essence, capoeira is a ritualized combat that functions as a vehicle of individual expression through which the capoeirista ­ a fighter, a philosopher on an introspective journey, and ultimately an artist that practices her art with his own body, emotion and spirit — finds her whole self.     

Like everything in life that in one way or another balances itself out, Suelly has the advantage and the disadvantage of being my woman, companion of so many adventures and journeys.   On one hand, her familiarity with capoeira has been enriched by this intimacy, by osmosis (or perhaps by dispersion.)   On the other hand, she has suffered and continues to suffer from the tremendous pressure of my self-criticism.The way I understand and feel, it is almost as if she were an extension of myself, subordinated to the same parameters I impose on myself in terms of capoeira.   I am not a perfectionist, but I always demand the most I can give.  

With barely a hint to me and with the agreement of the other mestres who had been present at our last batizado, Mestre Rã thought it was time that Contra-Mestra Suelly became a mestra of capoeira.   Without a doubt, her experience, her dedication to capoeira, and the quality of her game justified this decision.   Besides that, she is one of the best teachers in our school, and a better teacher than I.   Therefore, with the approval of mestres Suassuna, Joel, Gato, Preguiça, Deputado, Bandeira, Amen, Efraim, Roni, Barrão, Pescoço, and Urubu, and with the blessings of all the orixás, all I had to do was play capoeira.

Once again we find ourselves at the foot of the berimbau.  

The capoeira music had never seemed so beautiful and profound to me.   A great number of the people present lived the dimension of the moment in a special way.   Many even cried, overcome with emotion.   The first female mestre of capoeira born in the United States was just about to be rebaptized.  

What was that moment truly going to signify, a mark in the history of a traditionally masculine art form and submersed in an environment that unfortunately still behaves in such a sexist and intolerant way?   Without a doubt, there is a parallel between the populations of Brazil and the United States in terms of cultural diversity and racial plurality.   However, in terms of insistence on the observance of social rights, we Brazilians lose by a long shot.   Still, the fight for women’s equality in the United States continues to be difficult and constant, as in Brazil.  

At that moment at the foot of the berimbau, Suelly became a symbol of another feminist accomplishment: an example of the possibilities that can arise at the sound of the berimbau.

Nowadays, my fading memory revives only when remembering the jogos I played in. However, I can recall nothing of that moment when I played with Suelly.   What remains is the essence -- the emotion, the value given to so many years of work, and the hope that a precedent was established: the recognition that effort, knowledge, and dedication to the art of capoeira is able to transcend the barriers of race, gender, and geographic boundaries to unite everybody as members of the same family.

May we all be brothers and sisters in capoeira.


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