Girls Stronger Than a Bridge

There is a move in capoeira called ‘ponte’, which is Portuguese for ‘bridge’ – it consists in pushing on hands and feet, stomach facing upwards to keep the back arched. It requires strength, but also balance and control.

“Any time, everywhere, all girls have to be stronger than the bridge,” says Renim, 18, one of Bidna Capoeira’s students at the Arab Sport Center in Jerusalem. Renim is from Al-Issawiya, East Jerusalem, and like many of our students, she grew up in an environment most kids around the world would never dream of. Clashes between youth and police are common in Al-Issawiya, as are home demolitions due to the lack of building permits, which are almost impossible to obtain.

It’s been four months since we started our girls-only training at the Arab Sport Center. Their age ranges from eight to 18, and they come from all sorts of different backgrounds, in a city that has been in the news spotlight in the past few months because of the spates of violence that have been engulfing it. In collaboration with our partner Save the Children, we have provided the girls and boys with a safe space to play, meet and learn capoeira. And they love it.

During our last class, we asked the girls to take photographs of each other playing capoeira, and then tell us to describe their favourite photograph. We wanted to understand what makes them tick when they play capoeira. After training, the girls sat in a circle to discuss their photographs and progress.

By now they have built a close bond with their instructor, Priya, from Sri Lanka. Her passion for capoeira is contagious and she doesn’t miss an opportunity to speak with the girls about growing up strong and independent. She thinks it’s important that the girls have a female instructor, whom they can look to as a role model. “They’ve become a kind of sisterhood, and that’s very powerful,” she says.

Lamar, 10, from the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Wadi Joz, told us that thanks to capoeira she feels she can be strong in the face of danger. “Three weeks ago I heard about a girl from my neighbourhood, some boys tried to steal her bag. With capoeira, girls don’t need to sit at home and can learn to defend themselves,” she says.

Shahad, 12, has always been a shy child, but lately she has become the queen of the roda – the circle where two capoeristas face each other whilst others play music and sing. Stepping into the roda takes courage, and this is how capoeira builds confidence in the girls. “Yesterday I performed capoeira in front of the whole school. At the beginning I was nervous, but everyone was amazed by my moves. Some said it looks like I have no bones!” Shahad said.

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