Contra-mestre Avestruz, capoeira instructor

What is capoeira?

A fighting dance interaction between two people. It has lots of elements of ritual—theater, sport. The roots are based in martial arts.

Is Contra-mestre Avestruz your full-time name?

Just when I'm practicing capoeira. My actual name is Joe Williams.

Why Avestruz?

It's my capoeira nickname. In the old days in Brazil, where it originated, capoeira was illegal, all the way until 1932, so people used nicknames. Then nicknames became the tradition.

Yours means...

Ostrich. My teacher's son thought it would be good.

How'd you learn capoeira?

I saw it performed in 1981 for five minutes and I started classes two days later. In San Francisco.

How long have you been teaching?

Four years. We meet Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 p.m. at the Emporium.

A guest teacher, Professor Cravo, is coming to teach workshops Sept. 10-12. Will he teach differently than you?

He is one of the truly accomplished capoeiristas, which is what we call teachers. Everyone at that level has a distinctive style or language to give to people. He's also a very beautiful singer and musician.

Do you teach singing and playing?

Eventually, an American studying capoeira will learn Portuguese and how to sing and play percussive instruments. But I start students out learning a basic capoeira dance move. Just like salsa or samba, it has a basic way of moving to the rhythm.

Do you have a day job?

I'm a professor at UT, teaching ecology, evolution, and biology.

Does that have some relationship to capoeira?

No, not at all.

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