It is 3:00 p.m. on a Thursday at Edward Robeson Taylor Elementary School in San Francisco. A group of ten or so third, fourth and fifth grade students gathers on the terra-cotta-colored tiles beneath a canopy of art projects hung on pieces of string from the ceiling: masks made of paper plates done in brightly-colored tempra paint; cut-outs of animals made of construction paper.
At the head of the room stands Salê Ramos, a capoeira teaching artist with Performing Arts Workshop. Ramos calls for his students’ attention and then asks for a volunteer to demonstrate what they learned during the last class. One girl, Shara, jumps to her feet, and proudly shows the rest of the class her “ginga” followed by a front kick and a cartwheel. After Shara is done, another student leaps to her feet to take her turn. Throughout, Sale offers gentle corrections, reminders and guidance.
Salê has been teaching capoeira at Edward Robeson Taylor for the past three years, and he says that he has noticed great improvements in his students’ abilities, particularly in the past two years. He mentions the importance of consistency and longer-term involvement in learning an art form like capoeira. He has enjoyed watching them become braver in taking risks and exploring new moves while also learning to support and encourage one another.
After a few students have demonstrated their skill, Salê asks the class to pair off and spread out throughout the room. While he drums, the students practice various moves, including kicks, blocks, and “acrobatics” such as cartwheels and handstands. There are shouts of laughter from around the room. One student accompanies Salê’s drumming by playing the tambourine.
During a quick water break, Salê quizzes one young student about what she has learned so far in his class. Together, they discuss how she learned to do a particular kind of backbend after being convinced that it was beyond her ability. Salê remembered how excited she was when she finally mastered the move. She is shy in this moment, but clearly pleased.