Life-Changing Capoeira Cut
April 7, 2004 3:03 PM
Every Tuesday and Thursday, cinema major Meriah Miracle rides a bus to school to take a 50-minute class, which she describes as a life-changing experience. It's the Capoeira class at SF State.
But due to devastating cuts to SF State’s dance department, next semester Miracle and other students might not have the chance to experience this class at SF State, said the class instructor Wandenkolk Oliveira, who prefers to be called Mestre Preguiça, his nickname in Capoeira.
Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian art that combines dance, martial arts, music, acrobatics, and self-defense techniques. But for Miracle, as to may other students, Capoeira goes beyond that. It improves their self-esteem, teaches them about self-discipline, respect, responsibility, and even history, they said.
The class was brought to SF State 17 years ago by Mestre Preguiça, and for years it has always been threatened by budget cuts, he said.
“Every semester, it is the same old story. Last year, as in previous years, I even offered to teach the class for free since what the university pays me is so little anyway,” he said showing his monthly paycheck of $664. “But the department chair back then (Jerry Duke) said I couldn’t do it due to liability and union-related reasons. So I said they could pay me $50 per month to solve the problem but it was worthless.”
"Preguiça did say that. I think it was about two years ago, and the administration expressed some concern about it. But there were never official talks about that because the class was never cut," said Jerry Duke, who is now the coordinator of the dance department. "However, I have brought that up this year and this time the concern doesn't seem to be there. So I think that would be very beneficial to the school and to the students. But again nothing is official yet. We don't even know for certain which classes will be cut and if Capoeira will be one of them."
But as dance professors talk about major budget cuts to the next academic year, Mestre Preguiça and many other lecturers in the department said they were told their classes, including the Capoeira class, would be cut.
Therefore, students enrolled in Capoeira have been desperately trying to gain support from other students, holding rallies and performing Capoeira out in front of the student's center. They have a petition with over 400 signatures and a letter that will be personally delivered by two students to SF State President Robert Corrigan’s office this week, said Mical Neill, leader of the movement and a double major in Spanish and world comparative literature. They also plan to mail this letter to CSU Chancellor Charles Reed.
The letter questions the reasons the university has for terminating the class. “For a class that has historically doubled the allowed enrollment of paying students, using a space that the university has already built and is in fully usable condition and with a teacher that makes less than $10,000 dollars a year to teach this class, how is it that there is not enough money?”
About 55 students are currently enrolled in the Capoeira class. According to Mestre Preguiça, the class limit should be around 25 to 30 students. And even though he stretches that limit, many students are still not able to add the class every semester, he said.
The Capoeira class, which fulfills part of Segment II requirements in the humanities and creative arts section, accounts for over $30,000 in students’ tuition, according to Mestre Preguiça.
"I see what Preguiça is saying, but things don't work like that and classes don't pay for themselves based on tuition. The entire university is facing budget cuts, not just the dance department," said Duke. "The Capoeira class has not been singled out at all. In past years we have cut other dance classes and kept Capoeira."
In addition to the twice-a-week practice, students are required to attend the weekly 50-minute lecture on the history and origin of Capoeira, which involves the history and culture of Africa and Brazil.
“This class is probably the most rigorous one I’ve ever taken, but I love it. It has changed my life,” said Guadalupe Figuera, a sophomore majoring in BECA. “I have been growing and improving physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally.”
“Cutting the Capoeira class would be denying other students from discovering and experiencing all these,” said Juan Lopez, a kinesiology major, who plans to become a Capoeira instructor in the future.
Wan-Lee Cheng, associate dean of the College of Creative Arts, said that even though there will probably be major cuts to the dance and music department, they have not yet determined which classes will be actually cut. He said these decisions would probably be made within the next two weeks.
But Mestre Preguiça insists that he was already told by the dance department that his class would no longer be offered next semester.
Mestre Preguiça's and other dance lecturer's fear started during a faculty meeting held in February when Keith Morrison, dean of the dance department, said that "it looked like most classes would be cut," said Duke. "But then the administration backed off and said that nothing had been decided and that they were still working on the issue. So they have not officially said that the Capoeira or any other class in the department would be cut."
“They can't cut this class. This is the cultural type of class that we need here at SF State. Diversity is the reason why I came to this school," said Figuera.
“They (the administration) don’t see the big impact the class has on the students. They think it’s just physical, just kicking. If they only knew it is much more than that, they would understand how valuable this class is," said Lopez.
“Mestre Preguiça challenges you to strive for the best. If you slip in the roda -- circle of players in which two players at the time perform Capoeira movements – you get up, learn from it and move up. That’s how life is,” Lopez said. “Those kinds of connections with real life is what makes this class so significant.”
Mestre Preguiça, who has taught Capoeira for over 40 years, was born and raised in Brazil, where he became homeless at the age of 10, and lived on the streets for several years. He said that it was during this period that he became interested in learning the art of Capoeira, which gave him enough self-confidence and discipline to receive a four-year college physical education degree and even to take courses at universities in Germany and Austria. Capoeira has changed the path of his life, he said.
“If it wasn’t for Mestre Preguiça and his attitude towards life, maybe this class would not have that big of an impact on us,” said Miracle. “I wish he was my grandpa.”
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