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Avi Henn (left) and his teacher, Mestre Cabello, engage in a capoeira game. Photos by Kim Yip.

Avi Henn (left) and his teacher, Mestre Cabello, engage in a capoeira game. Photos by Kim Yip.

Centro Capoeira Angola Ouroverde (formerly known as Capoeira Amizade) Flagstaff has built a reputation from local streets all the way to Brazil, the cultural home of the challenging art form its members practice.

Grown from inclusion and preservation, the entire community is invited to tap into the group’s roots — and join the celebration — with DanceBatukeira, a weeklong festival of master-led workshops, performances and classes with Flagstaff’s sister school, Capoeira Angola Ouroverde.

For a full schedule of events from May 3 through May 7, search Capoeira Amizade on Facebook. For group information, see

For CCAOF members Morrison Begay, Etienne MacCormack and Benjamin Heirigs, the merits of capoeira as a physical and emotional expression, breathtaking exercise, and a raft on life’s choppy waters have been invaluable.

MacCormack, 16, and Heirigs, 17, known in capoeira circles as Dorado and Ligeiro respectively, have been involved with CCAOF nearly since the start.

“I thought it was all choreographed at first, but then later when I realized it was just all improvised, I got really impressed,” MacCormack said of seeing the group perform at Firecreek Coffee Co. in 2011. “That’s when I immediately knew I wanted to take it.”

Homeschooled at the time, Heirigs said entering the youth capoeira classes was his stepping out into the world.

“It was really one of the pivotal moments in my life,” he added.

For the young men, capoeira was a learning experience, one MacCormack said was “like a conversation, and it was so fluent that it really impressed me…I felt like it would help me be more fluent in everything in life.”

And according to their teacher and the group’s founder, Avi Henn, the game worked for these now high-level practitioners.

Capoeira is a centuries-old game preserved since slave trade in the 1500s bonded West African and Brazilian cultures. Capoeira Angola, the style the Flagstaff group practices, is a traditional form blending acrobatics, dance, martial arts, singing and instrumentation.

Henn noted the practice is open to everybody, with the rotation involving people in the game, playing instruments, singing or clapping. In this, each practitioner is involved for different reasons — like Morrison Begay, a five-year capoeira practitioner.

“I’ve learned a lot as far as the history, the struggle behind it. Using your body in ways you would never do on a regular daily basis, it’s what I know now and I’m still learning to this day,” Begay described. “It’s basically my medicine — I have to have it.”

But regardless to which level practitioners ascend, Henn noted each requires the “triangle of learning”: competence, gradual learning and dedicated application.

“Capoeira in many ways represents an antithesis of the negative aspects of modern life,” Henn said of modern sedentary lifestyles. “I feel like it’s so important for people to engage in such a practice in order to stay mentally and physically healthy.”

On that intellectual level, Henn described capoeira’s holistic approach to overall health that encourages community and self-discovery. “It’s the ultimate mind, body and soul practice,” he added. “But beyond that, we’re engaging in cultural preservation.”

In the village of Serra Grande, Brazil, a husband-wife duo of master teachers, Mestres Cabello and Tisza — the latter a leader in demonstrating women are powerful forces in capoeira— continue to honor and teach the practice.

Henn, an official instructor with their group, Capoeira Angola Ouroverde, brings Cabello and Tisza to Flagstaff every six months thanks to funds from the Arizona Community Foundation of Flagstaff.

In addition to the classes at CCAOF’s home base at the Boys and Girls Club, and performances in Heritage Square, the festival and master classes will extend to the detention center, where Henn and high-level members like Begay instruct at-risk youth weekly.

“It’s very challenging work,” said Henn, adding students are still mastering the triangle of learning. “There’s good research that supports the benefit of doing capoeira with at-risk youth, and it seems to help out a lot.”

And for old friends of capoeira or those bearing witness for the first time, they will see the benefits of the form in action — for youth and adults hoping to combat stress or simply engage in something new.

“We’re just going to be celebrating,” Henn explained. “It’s a time when you come together and demonstrate what you’ve been working on. You try to have good games and challenge each other, because capoeira is the dance of the fighters and the fight of the dancers. There’s a real challenge there.”

With a laugh, he added, “I always say, capoeira is not about hurting a person’s body, but definitely about hurting their ego.”

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