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Brazilian Culture in the Mission

Tucked above the Skechers store on the corner of 22nd Street and Mission Street is Abadá-Capoeira San Francisco. If not for the colorful mural of capoeiristas painted by Brazilian graffiti artists Os Gêmeos, you might miss the entrance. But if you listen closely, you may hear the twanging of the berimbau, beating of drums, and rhythmic clapping emanating from the space upstairs.

At the center of this buzz of activity you will often find Mestranda Márcia “Cigarra,” ACSF’s founder and artistic director. Originally from Rio de Janeiro, Mestranda Márcia is one of the top ten capoeiristas out of the over 40,000 Abadá-Capoeira members worldwide, not to mention the first female student of Mestre Camisa, its founder, to be awarded the rank “Mestranda.”

Mestranda Cigarra has has always been an athlete, but she didn’t begin studying capoeira until she was 17. Once she started, she trained under the guidance of Mestre Camisa. By the late 1980s, she was teaching street children, youth, and adults in Rio de Janeiro. After a few visits to the United States as a guest teacher, Mestranda Cigarra moved to the here in 1991 and started teaching classes at night through Rhythm in Motion Dance Center.

As time went on, the number of her students grew so large that she needed to open her own center. By 1997, the ACSF Brazilian Arts Center was founded.

There are different variations, but a very simplified definition of capoeira is that it is a Brazilian art form that combines elements of martial arts, acrobatics, and music. Styles range depending on the region and teacher.

The focus at ACSF is on capoeira training, but it is ultimately a cultural arts center, with the mission of educating the community about the vibrant and diverse culture of Brazil. Additional class offerings include Afro-Brazilian percussion, Maculelê, a traditional Afro-Brazilian folk dance played with sticks or machetes, and Portuguese lessons. Plans are in the works to bring in a wider variety of classes to round out the curriculum.

Also, the efforts of ACSF do not exist only within the walls of the center, but extend to the community at large. ACSF regularly participates in events like Sunday Streets, Bay Area National Dance Week, school performances, and more.

In continuation of Mestranda Cigarra’s efforts in Rio de Janeiro, ACSF provides a number of programs for youth that are designed to support healthy childhood and teen development through regular physical and cultural activities, both at the center and also at after school programs throughout San Francisco.

One program is Reaching All Youth, which provides funding assistance for all on-site programs to qualifying Bay Area urban youth ages 5-19 years old from low-income families. The RAY Project, which has served hundreds of children to date, is based on the principle that no matter what your background, you should have equal access to programs that support healthy development physically and mentally. It’s a philosophy that is woven throughout the framework of ACSF, and is especially valuable in our current economic climate.

No matter what your age, for beginners, Márcia recommends that you bring an open mind. Capoeira can be difficult, but everyone is always learning, even the more experienced students. There is always a new level to strive for or a technique to master. To make it even easier for you to experience ACSF, there is a “Try it” class offered on the third Saturday of every month, which is free for newcomers.

Speaking of rates, there are a range of choices to meet your needs. At the most basic level, drop-ins are $16 for adults and $14 for students with a valid school ID. There are a number of passes, starting at a four-class pass for $56 up to $1,500 for the whole year. For youth (5-19), drop-ins are $11, four-class pass for $42 and 10-class pass for $100. Introductory passes for both youth and adults include four classes for $32, but are only available to first time students.