A Beginner’s Guide to the Capoeira Roda

For someone new to Capoeira, the Roda can be quite a daunting and even confusing experience.

Capoeira is not a sport, it doesn’t have fixed rules or regulations. Capoeira doesn’t come with an instruction book that will tell you exactly what you need to do.

Capoeira is culture, it is folklore. Though there is no official guidebook, there are many “unwritten rules”. Traditions and conventions, which have been passed down from generation to generation.

The only way to truly learn, is through experience. You have to go to lots of rodas, and absorb the culture by osmosis, particularly as every group, and even each Mestre within a group, has their own particular way of doing things.

The following are some key things to look out for and be mindful of when you encounter a Capoeira Roda:

Who is Leading the Roda?

It is very important to know who is leading the roda.

Typically it will be the mestre of the academia hosting the roda, they will be sat near the centre of the bateria, will be playing the Gunga (the berimbau with the largest cabaça), and will sing the opening ladainha.

It’s not always so straightforward however – there could be a more senior
visiting mestre leading the roda, there might be no mestre present at all and a senior student is in charge, or perhaps the roda is not in an academy and there are mestres from several different groups in the bateria…

It’s very important you know who is leading the roda, so if you have any doubts, ask some of the other capoeiristas!

Roda!

Ask for Permission to Play

One of the main reasons that it’s important to know who is leading the roda, is that it is always good etiquette to ask them if it’s OK for you to join and play.

If you arrive early before the roda has started, you can simply go up to them, introduce yourself and ask.

If you find yourself at a roda that is already underway, try making eye contact and universally understood gestures to show you’d like to play, and/or speak with another capoeirista from the group to find out if the roda is open to visitors.

In addition to asking permission to play in general, it is also often customary to check with the mestre/leader of the roda each time before buying into a game.

In our group, we always wait for eye contact, then a nod, before cutting into a game. Which leads me to…

The blue circles are two Jogadores at the Pé do Berimbau.
The green circles are usually the next in line to play.
The red circles are usually where you return to the roda after playing.

Dos por Dos or Compra Compra?

One of the most striking differences you are likely to see between rodas, is the manner in which the players in the roda rotate.

  • Dos por Dos

In some rodas, capoeiristas enter two by two.

The game will continue until either the mestre leading the roda signals the end of the game with a chamada from the berimbau, or until one of the players chooses to stop and shakes the hand of the other.

At the end of the game, the two players will return to the
pé do berimbau (the “foot of the berimbau” refers to crouched position just in front of the gunga leading the roda), pay their respects to one another, the mestre and the bateria, before exiting the roda, to be replaced by the next two jogadores.

Usually the next two players will be the next two capoeiristas “in line”, though sometimes the mestre will choose two people from the roda that they want to see play.

The next two players approach the foot of the berimbau, pay respects, and wait until the mestre signals the start of the game by lowering the berimbau between them.

  • Compra compra!

The alternative style of roda involves “buying into the game”.

Here one new player joins the game, cutting out one of the existing players.

For a beginner, compra compra style rodas are certainly more complicated than dos por dos style games, as you have to know how to buy in, with who, and when, the answer to which can vary even within a single roda!

How – Always enter from one of the ends of the roda closest to the bateria, in most cases looking to the mestre leading the roda for a nod that it’s OK to enter. (Many people, myself included, touch the ground at the foot of the berimbau upon entering the roda as a sign of respect).

Stay close to the bateria, and pay close attention to the game to avoid getting kicked in the face before you’ve even started!

When the time is right, show your extended palm to the capoeirista with whom you want to play.

In some cases, the game will stop and you should return to the foot of the berimbau and wait for the mestre to signal the start of the game again with the berimbau. In others, the game should continue as fluidly as possible – i.e. you should enter and start playing straight away, maintaining the energy of the game. Again, you need to pay attention to what the other capoeiristas do, or what the mestre leading the roda indicates.

When – It seemed like my first couple of years of rodas were spent with either countless people buying in in front of me, or being told off for buying in too soon, or for taking too long to buy in. You just can’t win!

Over time, however, you develop an instinctive feel of the ebbs and flows of the jogo, and when is an appropriate time to cut in.

Some tips for the beginner however would be:

  1. Pay attention to the average game lengths. If the last 4 games were 3 minutes each, don’t buy in after 15 seconds. If the last 4 games were 15 seconds each, don’t wait 4 minutes…
  2. Typically, the slower the rhythm, the longer the games, and vice versa, though of course, not always!
  3. Don’t try to buy in while someone is doing a chamada.
  4. Don’t try to buy in immediately after someone has just been taken down by a rasteira or vingativa, etc, or just eaten a kick – give them some time to “redeem themselves”.

Remember, just because you have the “green light” to buy into the game, doesn’t mean you should leap into the middle of the action. Wait for an appropriate moment when you can safely interject yourself into the game!

Also be careful never to turn your back to the pé do berimbau while waiting/trying to buy the game. If you have to cross from one side of the roda to the other, do so in a semi circle always keeping the mestre leading the roda in sight.

Who – In most cases, it’s usual to buy into the game with the player who entered last. This way, everyone gets to play two games in a row. Pay attention to the games so you know who was the last to enter.

You don’t have to do this though. If you really want to play with the capoeirista who is already on their second game (perhaps they’re a good friend you’ve not seen in ages, or it’s a small roda and you want to change the order up), that’s perfectly fine and you can choose to buy in with whichever player you want…

…Unless a mestre (or formado) is playing, in which case one should always buy in with them, regardless of how many games they’ve played.

In fact, it’s usually better to wait until the mestre chooses to end the game by offering their hand to the other player. Only buy in with a mestre if you’ve seen a couple of other capoeiristas buy in before you, or the mestre leading the roda tells you to.

Two Capoeiristas at the Pé do Berimbau

Listen to the Music

It is the berimbau that commands the roda, so it’s very important that you listen to it closely.

What rhythm is being played? Angola? São Bento Grande de Angola? Regional? Is the rhythm fast or slow? The style and speed of the music dictates how you should play.

Of course, if you’re still very new, don’t worry too much about the different rhythms and styles, just do what you can!

One thing you do always have to listen for however, is the chamada do berimbau (the fast and continuous de de den de de den de de den de de den…). If you hear this it means you should stop playing, and return to the foot of the berimbau as quickly and safely as possible.

Clap and Sing

The roda is not simply a circular queue where you wait to play – the capoeiristas forming the circle are just as important to the the roda as the two players in the centre.

It’s very important to learn the songs so you can join in the chorus, and help build the energy of the roda, the axê.

This can be a challenge, particularly if you’re not used to singing, and don’t speak portuguese! But don’t be discouraged, and don’t fall into the trap that “you can’t sing” or “aren’t good at languages”.

Everyone can learn to sing, and everyone can learn a second language. It just takes time, patience and perseverance – just like the physical aspect of capoeira.

You can find the lyrics and translations of lots of common capoeira songs here at papoeira.com. In the meantime, if you don’t know the words to a song at the beginning, just make something up – for months I was singing “Banana Way” instead of Paranauê… Obviously better now I know the right words, but in reality, no one ever noticed!

Also, be aware there are 2 different types of clapping in capoeira – Palmas de Bimba, and Palmas de Terreiro.

It’s not uncommon that within a group, that just one or the other is used most of the time. Make sure you take the time to learn and practice both though, and listen out to make sure you’re clapping the right rhythm during the roda!

Pay Attention

It’s also worth mentioning that you have to pay close attention to the jogo while you’re singing and clapping in the roda circle.

Being in the roda circle can be just as dangerous as being in the centre – I’ve seen numerous people get hit by a stray kick, trampled on, or flattened by someone sent flying by a vingativa…

Be aware of your relative position compared to the others in the roda too. Try and keep the roda round, with even spaces between each person. Avoid any large gaps between one another, and between the roda and the bateria – don’t let the axé escape! 😉

Learn to Play the Instruments

Without the bateria there is no roda! To be a well rounded capoeirista you need to learn how to play all of the instruments.

Start with the easy ones such as the agogo and reco-reco, then progress onto pandeiro, atabaque and of course berimbau.

Don’t offer to change places with someone in the bateria however, until you are 100% confident you can play and sing to a decent level. Also be aware that other groups might have different songs and ways of playing.

Enter the Roda

I’ve been to many rodas where many of the beginner students never enter into the roda to play.

My advice would be to always try and play at least once in every roda, right from the start.

Even if you only know cocorinha and meia lua de frente, that’s enough!

Try and position yourself near the bateria so you can play early, when usually the rhythm is slower (how many times I tried this, then as soon as I was next in line the tempo accelerated 200%…).

Everyone was a beginner once, everyone remembers what it was like. Don’t be put off playing with someone who is much better that you – in fact, the more advanced they are the better, as they’ll have more control so less chance of an accident if you make a mistake.

If for any reason you’re not going to play / not going to play any more, try and position yourself in the centre of the roda opposite the bateria (marked in red on the image). This will help prevent traffic jams.

Dress Code

Each group has its own customs regarding what you should wear in the roda.

Perhaps your group has a uniform, perhaps it doesn’t. Some groups wear shoes, others go barefoot.

If you are going to a roda organised by your own group, then obviously you should wear whatever is customary for your group.

Generally speaking, if your group has a uniform, then it is customary to also wear this when you go to a roda organised by another group.

If you don’t have a uniform, the most important thing is long trousers – never go to a roda in shorts!

Colour wise, white is generally a good bet if you’re unsure.

White is the traditional colour for many afro-brazilian folkloric manifestations. You don’t want to turn up and be the only one in a funky adidas tracksuit with everyone else in their whitey whites!

That said, in some Angola Rodas you may find everyone in black and yellow, or in others, no one in uniform.

If you can, it’s always best to try and find out in advance.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Remember that the most important thing to do in a Capoeira Roda is to have fun!

Capoeira is a game to be played. It’s important to try to respect the traditions and conventions, but don’t stress out about it or feel bad if you make a few faut pas in the beginning, the important thing is that you make the effort.

Guaranteed at some point you’ll buy in at the wrong time, or with the wrong person, or accidentally do something disrespectful or out of tradition. That’s fine and to be expected, just as long as you learn from it for next time.

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