Reub's journey

13 March 2009

Arts of suppression

Photo by Debbie Spangler
I love the picture of these little feet, don't you? I think the feet on the left belong to my grand-niece, Eliza Jane. I can't get over those beautiful soft black shoes; no wonder Eliza likes this Irish dance thing. Who wouldn't?

Irish dancing has had an interesting history; there are many accounts of why the dancers assume a straight face, a rigid upper body, and no movement of the hands. There is one story about Queen Elizabeth I, who enjoyed a good Irish jig; but when she ordered a troupe of Irish dancers to perform, they did so by defiantly refusing to lift their arms towards her, and refusing to show any enjoyment. Since the Statute of Kilkenny in the 14th century, Irish culture had been suppressed. Some say that the dance style
developed as a way of tricking the British soldiers who, upon walking past a window would be unable to see that there was dancing going on. Other stories suggest that it was really the Catholic Church, frowning upon displays of hand holding and dancing, that created the strict form of Irish dance. Whatever accounts may be true, it does seem that the art thrived in spite of, and perhaps because of its suppression.

So the rebellion-through-dance train of thought brought John and me to the discussion of capoeira, which we first saw in Bahia, Brazil, 13 years ago. Irish dancing is: "You aren't allowed to dance, but, say what is that you are doing, anyway...? Brazilian capoeira is: "You aren't allowed to learn to fight, but say, what is that you are doing, anyway?"

Capoeira is a dance/martial arts form practiced in Brazil since the days of slavery. Capoeira was probably first created and developed by African slaves brought to Brazil from
Angola and west Africa, using it as a way to practice their martial arts moves while making it appear to be a game or dance. Any kind of martial art was forbidden by the slave masters, so it was cloaked in the guise of a seemingly innocent recreational dance. It was outlawed until 1920, but had been practiced for decades as a "folk dance." Check out this video of capoeira in Bahia, Brazil:


  1. Awesome. Though, I never thought that capoeira was very well disguised. And Ben said that the Irish dancer can't be too suppressed because her panties kept showing!

  2. Ha! Capoeira is thinly disguised; I didn't talk about the special music that goes with it, though, making it seem more like dance.
    And Irish dance could hardly be construed as anything else, really. Certainly not a march!


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