FIGHTING AND DANCING FOR PEACEThe Power of Capoeira

Every few months on this blog we highlight one of our grantees, the dynamic people and organizations doing innovative projects that use games and play to resolve conflict. This month I would like to introduce the fascinating work of Capoeira4Refugees.

Wikipedia (always a good place to start) defines capoeira as “an Afro-Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics and music. Developed in Brazil mostly by Angolans, it has moved from its martial beginnings as a form of subversive and violent uprising by slaves (it was outlawed not only in Brazil in the early 19th century) to a more mainstream art form and sport today. Most major cities around the globe now have capoeira groups, with practitioners earning colored belts and enjoying this fairly sophisticated sport, with catchy live-music, great traditions, compelling storytelling and wonderful aesthetics.

I have been interested in this for some time as an arresting metaphor for negotiation. In my 2011 piece “The Rhythm of the Deal: Negotiation as a Dance” (Abstract; free copy available here) I connect capoeira to negotiation and explore it in a more playful way by “unpacking” the metaphor: Is it a fight or is it a dance, or is it, like negotiation, both? I then muse more specifically about the three dances” of negotiation: The dance of positions (flamenco), of interests (ballet) and of bargaining (jive). All good fun.

My friend Tarek Alsaleh at Capoeira4Refugees has taken this idea further, and put it into practice. For him, capoeira is a beautiful way of bridging people from different cultures, given it is a peaceful, non-violent sport, based on respect and tolerance.

Founded in 2007 on the streets of Damascus, and now focused primarily on working with refugees and conflict-affected communities in the Middle East (although they are also branching out into places like Turkey, Sweden, Pakistan and Germany), this innovative NGO trains and supports local “Changemakers” in their efforts to set up capoeira programs geared for marginalized children and youths between 4 and 18 years of age.

In addition to learning the movements and music of capoeira, participants are given a “safe space” in which to deal with intra- and intergroup conflict, learn peaceful ways to resolve tensions, and simply “let off steam” in a creative and beautiful way.

And more is ahead, not only in this region. C4R wants to bring the lessons learned about conflict resolution through capoeira to a larger audience, building a wider network with more sophisticated fundraising. And Rational Games will do its best to help them in that effort.

More information on Capoeira4Refugees.

Also see this overview video.

Full blog is here.