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400-Year Old Brazilian Art Form Makes Its Mark on Hollywood

If you have been to the movies lately you may have seen a graceful and unusual fighting style called Capoeira. Dustin Hoffman practiced it in Meet the Fockers, Halle Barry trounced her victims with it in Catwoman and Vincent Cassel used it to dodge moving laser beams in Ocean’s Twelve.

Capoeira is a 400-year-old Afro-Brazilian martial art that fuses dance, acrobatics, personal expression and music with spinning and straight kicks. It was first developed by enslaved Africans who camouflaged their fight training in the form of a dance and innocent horseplay.

According to Beto Simas aka Mestre Boneco, co-founder of the internationally renowned group Capoeira Brasil, Hollywood’s recent pre-occupation with Capoeira is just the natural evolution of martial arts in film.

“Asian martial arts have dominated action movies for the past three decades,” Simas said.

“Since Hollywood is always looking for something new, Capoeira is a perfect fit. It’s very exciting to see Capoeira becoming a part of main stream American culture,” he said.

Simas, a former Brazilian actor and model now based in Los Angeles, has been involved in Capoeira for 30 years. Halle Berry trained privately with him to prepare for the lead role in Catwoman.

“It was natural for fight choreographers to use Capoeira for this film,” he said. “Many of the more traditional movements are very cat-like. Miss Berry was a very good student and very determined.

“One of the more memorable Capoeira scenes on screen is in Ocean’s Twelve when Europe’s most successful thief, Francois Toulour aka the Night Fox played by Vincent Cassell, uses his Capoeira expertise to pass thru a moving laser beam security system to rob a museum.

Cassell, a longtime capoeirista, did many of the movements seen in the film, but Capoeira stunt-doubles were needed to perform the more complicated sequences in the museum gallery. The production coordinators came to the Capoeira Brasil academy for the talent.They spent one day rehearsing and demonstrating Capoeira for Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh and his film crew.

“He was really friendly. He had a great attitude and was very open to ideas,” recounted Eddie Biller, one of the doubles chosen for the project.

According to Biller, a senior analyst at FocalPoint Partners, LLC, he is most proud of the back flip he did off a five-foot statue, a first for him.”They asked me if I could do it landing on the hard floor, and though I had never done that before, I told everyone I could. I was nervous, but I landed it fine.” Biller said.You also can see Capoeira featured in Ocean’s Thirteen and in music videos “Rich Girls,” by Gwen Stefani and Eve directed by David La Chapelle; and Usher’s “Caught Up,” directed by Lil’ X.

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