Mestranda Cigarra kicks ass

She started practicing capoeira when women didn't do that kind of thing — now she runs the show at her own school

Márcia Treidler, a.k.a. Mestranda Cigarra: "My mother was like 'are you crazy?'"

HEALTH AND WELLNESS It is impossible to climb the stairs to the San Francisco chapter of Abadá Capoeira and not know that you are in the Mestranda's house.

Márcia Treidler founded the Mission District capoeira school, and she is there in the first photograph you see when you come in off the street. In it, she strikes her customary pose, an improbable one-handed flip (kick?) Her washboard abs challenge visitors to trade sedentary habits for the rich traditions and fat-carving core moves of the Brazilian martial arts form, the love of which made Treidler beg her mom for classes as a teenager, brought her from Brazil to the Bay Area, and led her to start a chapter of her teacher's school right here in San Francisco.

In person, seated at a table next to Abadá's statue of Iemanjá, orisha goddess of the Southern seas and patron deity of Rio de Janeiro, Treidler is hardly as intimidating. Mestranda Cigarra (her capoeira-given name) is in fact incredibly patient while explaining Brazilian history and basic tenets of the martial arts form to a stranger. She does do it for a living, after all.

Sharing information is a guiding principle of capoeira, which began as a covert form of fighting practiced by African slaves in Brazil who certainly couldn't rely on written record to educate new generations in the martial art. After escaping servitude, some used their martial skills against the law enforcement sent after them. Capoeira helped fend off colonial attacks on their newly formed quilombos, the settlements ex-slaves built in remote locales.

Even after abolishing slavery in 1888, the Brazilian government considered capoeira subversive. It was officially banned in 1890, a tool used by authorities to put black men in jail. When waves of immigration brought new labor forces to the country and left many Africans jobless, public perception often equated capoeira with criminal activity.

The sport's rise to acceptance and spread to other countries is a relatively recent occurrence. Treidler, who is now one of two of the highest ranking females in her school Abadá's 41,000-member international organization, started practicing 31 years ago in Rio de Janeiro. She lived in Botafogo, a middle class beachfront neighborhood. At the time, capoeira still wasn't considered respectable — and certainly not an obvious choice for an ambitious young woman. After becoming entranced by the sport at a school performance, the current Mestranda had to work on her mother for a year before she would agree to finance her classes.

"Women in capoeira was not popular at all," Treidler says. "[My mother] was like 'are you crazy? What are you thinking?'" Treidler had been active in sports — swimming and gymnastics — since she was six, but her mother insisted on observing capoeira classes before she'd agree to let her high school age daughter enroll.

"The [sport's] reputation was really bad at the time," Treidler remembers. "But when I first started, I never stopped." Prepped by her athletic background, she took easily to capoeira's acrobatics. She graduated through levels quickly, and struck a deal with her instructor to pay when she could after her mother withdrew financial support. Treidler credits the sport with teaching her patience, and became close with Mestre Camisa, the founder of Abadá.

The importance of their relationship today means Abadá students benefit from the vision of the founder, who still lives in Brazil. "She follows his vision 100 percent," Treidler's student and fellow Abadá instructor Antonio Contreras says. Camisa and Treidler are in constant contact, and he was present at the school's January batizado graduation ceremony at Dance Mission Theater.

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