Mestranda Cigarra kicks ass - Page 2

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?'"

Eighty-plus students take classes at Abadá San Francisco chapter. They perform at places like the Academy of Sciences and in the Ethnic Dance Festival. The studio also offers Portuguese classes. Although there are only three adult Brazilians who currently take classes, the studio is somewhat of a center for Brazilian culture here in the city. Displays that tell of the legacy of capoeira line the walls in the main room, interspersed with statues of figures in traditional poses. Brazil's world-famous street art duo Os Gemeos have whimsically rendered Abadá practitioners in large paintings that hang in the studio's front stairwell, alongside the Mestranda's portrait.

It is perhaps indicative of Treidler's own start in the sport that her students are nothing if not diverse. At the recent batizado, the spotlight lingered on tiny children, middle-aged practitioners, developmentally-disabled capoeiristas sparring, flipping, playing musical instruments, and smiling tremendously in an immense roda, the circle of practitioners that encloses a capoeira presentation.

Treidler is the only instructor that Contreras, her only other full-time teacher at Abadá SF has ever had. An ex-personal shopper, he has called the studio home since 2000, when the sounds of single-stringed berimbaus and tambourine-like pandeiros pulled him into the studio after dinner at a Mission Street restaurant. He was amazed by the maculelê, the traditional dance that accompanies capoeira, and impressed by Treidler's presence.

"I was like, 'whoa, who's that' — this larger than life person," he remembers. He was back that Tuesday for his first class. A cardio-weights gym rat who still employs a personal trainer, Contreras says that first day was the best workout of his life. He started noticing the changes in his body "immediately."

"To me, it was very natural to learn from Márcia," Contreras says, sitting next to a jar full of juice one afternoon at the studio. "The advantage is that she had it tough. She identifies with the difficulties you face because she has had her own." He himself felt unflexible and uncoordinated when he first started his practice. He's convinced that many instructors would have given up on him long ago.

But Treidler's teaching eventually brought Contreras to a level of mastery that compelled him to quit his day job, to stop having to rush to the school from the stores every day at 5:45pm. Contreras says that the decision to commit to teaching is a natural part of capoeira.

Unlike other martial arts forms, in which the progressively more masterful levels of belt reward physical mastery of the form and discipline, capoeira reserves the next stage of training — and corresponding 10 colors of cords worn around your hips — for those who have displayed their ability to role model for others.

Treidler originally made ends meet here in San Francisco by working construction jobs, starting to teach capoeira a few times a week at SoMa's Rhythm and Motion dance studio. She was deemed eligible for an "alien of extraordinary ability" visa by the US government and opened her first studio on Mission in between 19th and 20th Streets, moving to the current space 11 years ago.

Capoeira's divergent skill sets — singing, playing musical instruments, sparring, and dancing — do seem to be a sport that can reward many kinds of students. Treidler resists generalizing when it comes to her students, but will say that the "women are very rational. Men identify with the power. I think that's why it's unique. We help each other in class."

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