by Emily Bozentka, Administrative Assistant
“Capoeira is a way of life,” says Salê, “and its teachings are a metaphor for you to thrive in life.”
School may be out for the summer, but Performing Arts Workshop classes are going strong. Capoeirista and Workshop Core Teaching Artist Salê Ramos alone has three 6-week classes at the Sunset Beacon Neighborhood Center’s summer camp at A.P. Giannini Middle School. Last Tuesday, I visited his class and witnessed him in action teaching a group of twenty middle school students.
I sat at the front of the classroom and watched as a group of energetic and excited pre-teens ran in, one laughing about a bag of chips she had just shoveled down during recess, and another enthusiastically asking, “Are we learning a new kick today? Are we learning a new kick today?”
As Salê and I sat discussing his classes for Sunset Beacon, I noticed that this group, comprised primarily of middle school boys, needed no directions to start class. They walked in, set down their backpacks, and immediately formed a circle in the middle of the room. Noting what was probably a rather surprised expression on my face, Salê explained: “I make my expectations clear and stick with it. I have only two rules: Attentive listening, and try your best. And of course have fun.” (Okay, so it’s three rules!) As soon as the last student had joined the circle they immediately fell silent, eyes turned toward Salê eagerly awaiting the start of the class.
It was obvious from the start that these kids were learning more than just footwork, kicks, and head spins.
After a quick warm-up Sale split his students into two groups and had them sit on opposite sides of the room. “Tribe 1 and Tribe 2: Imagine yourselves as warriors.” He then proceeded to tell the legend of Makulelê, a Brazilian warrior who heroically stepped up one day to defend his tribe using only sticks. Throughout the rest of his class, Salê used this story to seamlessly weave Performing Arts Workshop’s methodology and student outcome goals into his teaching of Capoeira.
Salê’s students performing Makulelê, at last year’s student showcase.
When only two students raised their hands to answer a question, Salê encouraged greater participation by asking, “What kind of warrior are you that you sit back and let others do everything?” Several more hands shot into the air. When each tribe crossed the room as half warriors/half animals through an imaginary jungle, warriors who went ahead or fell behind risked running into beehives and other jungle perils. They were simultaneously focused on their movement and expressiveness while developing teamwork skills in looking left and right to ensure the tribe stayed together in a line.
One aspect of Salê’s teaching that never ceases to amaze is his commitment to discussing community and social issues with his students to broaden their cultural understanding. Salê described how a discussion around the economic and social status of the slaves who created Capoeira led to a discussion about homelessness in San Francisco. Students and teaching artist flushed out certain judgments they had about “hobos.” Salê questioned them about the roots of their opinions, helping them to realize something not many adults easily grasp: that their opinions were quick judgments, not based in fact.
Salê’s teaching is an excellent demonstration of the Workshop’s methodology. For Performing Arts Workshop, a child’s engagement in the arts must go beyond simply learning steps and performing them back. We teach young people skills in the arts, but also help them develop critical thinking, creative expression, and essential learning skills. When I asked Salê if this way of teaching was innate for him, he said that the possibilities were always there, but that the Workshop helped him bring them out:
“Before it was a studio setting where I taught the students the moves and they just repeated them…. Capoeira is an art form that is very direct, very specific, and I have to be very creative… to adapt the art form to suit the standards and deliver the message of Performing Arts Workshop. Because I have mentors and people that share my experiences and I can get their input, it helps me to adjust the art form, to have ideas.”
Salê just finished his first year as a Core Artist for the Workshop in our first Core Artist cohort. Our Core Teaching Artists commit to a salaried position, more intense professional development, and they are actively interested in developing their leadership skills. Last year, Salê completed several courses in the Alameda County Office of Education’s “Integrated Learning Specialist Program,” which he describes as instrumental in helping him to discover solutions to certain challenges he’d come across in his classes. Salê says:
“In the past year and a half, I would say I think it was a big leap for me as a teaching artist because all this information I have been collecting and storing I can just put to use right now. And it’s showing great results recently.”
These results could not have been more evident in this class for the Sunset Beacon Neighborhood Center.
For more information on our teaching methodology and youth outcomes visit http://performingartsworkshop.org/pages/programs_overview.html.