In Motion, From Brazil To Betsy Ross

Mestre Efraim Silva was conjuring a spell. Looking out at a crowd of 100 waiting faces, he placed his hands on his Atabaque drum, ushering a cluster of blue-shirted boys onto the stage. A fast, propulsive beat flew from the belly of the instrument. In unison, some 15 pairs of bare feet slapped the stage, springing from heel to toe in jubilant motion.

Yaaaaasss! a parent yelled from the second row. Whoooaaaaah! another voice rolled in from the bleachers. Woo woo!

So unfolded the fall showcase of Boys In Motion/Girls in Motion, an after-school program for middle schoolers at Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School in New Haven’s Hill Neighborhood. Friday afternoon, the performance closed out a four-week collaboration between Elm City Dance Collective (ECDC) and Connecticut Capoeira and Dance

Capoeira is a Brazilian form of movement that blends dance, martial arts, and acrobatic movement. This year, the program was supported by The Community Foundation of Greater New Haven, New Haven Center for Performing Arts, Inc. (NHCPA), and Elm City Dance Collective.

“You have no idea how difficult this is,” said Silva before the end of the performance. “Weren’t they great?”

But instructor Luis Antonio, who teaches dance at Betsy Ross, has an inkling. Once upon a time—not that long ago—he was a student at Betsy Ross, who had the chance to do a similar Boys in Motion collaboration with Connecticut-based dance company Pilobolus. Two years ago, he and Betsy Ross’ Artistic Coordinator Sylvia “Ms. Pet” Petriccione brought it back with ECDC, of which Antonio is a member. After a hiatus due to scheduling last year, the program is back with an expanded mission for girls as well.   

Over four weeks, students met with Antonio and fellow instructors Lindsey Bauer, Silva and Thelma Ladeira twice a week, some coming in with no previous dance experience. Working in Betsy Ross’ mirror-walled second-floor dance studio, the groups learned samba, samba reggae, “creative and contemporary movement,” maculelê, and acrobatic capoeira. 

Friday, it was go time. Greeted with raucous applause, students took the stage to perform five numbers, gliding through the space before crouching to the ground, springing high in the air, and beating their grimas or traditional sticks above their heads. Boys and girls danced separately, and then joined each other for a massive final dance.

In the audience, parents did away with dance decorum and cheered loudly, many waving their arms or swaying to the beat while others recorded on their iPhones. “We don’t usually hoot and holler, but this kind of called for it,” joked Petriccione afterwards.  

“I was so inspired,” said Joshua McGee, an eighth grader at Betsy Ross who also did the program two years ago. While he is already on the school’s dance track, he said that he isn’t used to doing capoeira, and learned deeply from this year’s session. “It fit my personality. I was just so excited to have that cultural experience.”

Still covered in sweat, 13-year-old dancer Giana Marie D’Angelo agreed. “I really liked this program,” she said. “It challenged me a lot, seeing how you can fight without hitting someone. I learned a lot about culture."