by Yosley Carrero
HAVANA, June 16 (Xinhua) -- Yelian Rodriguez, a physically disabled painter living in Havana's Nuevo Vedado district, has found capoeira a productive way to spend his leisure time during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Attracted by the Brazilian martial art, which blends acrobatics, music and dance inherited from enslaved Africans brought to Latin America between the 16th and 19th centuries, dozens of people, wearing face masks, gather at sunset near the city's sea boulevard every week.
Rodriguez, 48-year-old, is part of Simplesmente Capoeira, a group of locals determined to extend the practice of this sport nationwide in an attempt to combat the stress provoked by lockdown restrictions and confinement.
Rodriguez told Xinhua that capoeira had not only helped him to remain physically fit, but to gain values and principles that have shaped him into a better human being.
"It has given me discipline and the possibility to meet many people. In the very beginning, I felt curious, but then I discovered that capoeira had many things to do with me," he said.
After a one-hour full-body workout, the artist, along with his partners, starts singing songs in Portuguese and shaking up his body to the rhythm of live music, as locals in the surroundings take pictures with their mobile phones.
They learned capoeira techniques from Brazilian medical students who have graduated from Cuba's Latin American School of Medicine over the past two decades.
"Capoeira is life. It is here to stay," said Rodriguez.
Considered the national sport in Brazil and listed as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage, capoeira is now becoming popular on the island where Brazilian soap operas and movies are broadcast on state-run TV.
Hundreds of people continue to practice capoeira across the Caribbean nation, particularly in the capital of Havana and the provinces of Matanzas and Cienfuegos, according to Alfredo Ernesto Sanchez, one of the project's leaders.
"This is the amalgamation of history, culture and martial arts. I feel optimistic that we will have a strong movement of capoeiristas in the coming years," he said. "We would like to found a Cuban School of Capoeira in the future."
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Simplesmente Capoeira project has used digital platforms not only to share techniques among members but to connect to new audiences across the country.
Danis Barrera, a 34-year-old theater actor, joined the group to test his body's capabilities as he stayed away from stage due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I have been sheltering home for several months, and I was, therefore, feeling bored. That's the reason why practicing capoeira has been a good way for being social," he said. "It feels a good energy here."
The lessons, which usually take place in parks and outdoor areas, are open to people with different backgrounds and ages, including adolescents like Sofia Sanchez, a secondary school student.
"I have learned to express my body and emotions in a different way. Martial arts very much contribute to improving physical and mental health," she said while taking a 20-minute break. "I fell in love with capoeira. I am so happy to be part of this."