Professora Estrelinha (Lang Maria Liu)

Photo:  Walter Lai

Lang Maria Liu (Professora Estrelinha) has been an admirer, teacher and student of capoeira for the past fifteen years. Canadian born, of a Chinese father and a French mother, Lang grew up in the outskirts of Ottawa and only later came to call Toronto her home. She thrived in this new multicultural environment, discovering in the process the beautiful cultures of Brazil. Drawn especially to Brazil’s vibrant and joyful music, Lang delved into the world of dance and soon began training capoeira.

Some of Lang’s influences in her early capoeira formation were: Mestre Celso (Cabeludo) from Montes Clares, Minas Gerais (student of Paulo Gomes) with whom she trained in Toronto, Mestre Baixinho from Paraíba, with whom she trained in Milan, Italy and Mestre Bezerra from Belém, Pará. It was through Mestre Bezerra that Lang met Márcio Mendes, and in January of 2001 they opened Muiraquitã Capoeira school in Toronto. Lang taught a contemporary style of capoeira, while Mendes taught Capoeira Angola under the guidance of Mestre Bezerra. Although Bezerra’s style differed from Lang’s, he supported her teaching and taught her a great deal about the underlying forces of capoeira – community, camaraderie, self-expression, joy and respect.

Lang saw capoeira as a powerful catalyst for the creation of healthy, happy individuals and communities, and over the next 5 years, she devoted much of her time to this work, organizing countless workshops, shows, community events and trips to Brazil. In 2004, Lang wrote, performed in and co-produced an acclaimed musical theatre production, “Capoeira, Capuêra: A Story Behind the Game.” 

In December of 2004, following her separation from Mendes, Lang embarked on a journey of self-exploration and decided to go to the roots of capoeira: Salvador da Bahia. A city on the northeast coast of Brazil, Salvador was the birthplace of modern capoeira, a place where the greatest number of slaves had been brought to Brazil’s shores. Lang also began a Ph.D. in Education at the University of Toronto (O.I.S.E.), wanting to focus on capoeira’s teachings. She hoped to explore the two founding styles that have influenced all contemporary capoeira styles: Capoeira Angola and Capoeira Regional. Lang chose to train Capoeira Angola with one of revered Mestre Pastinha’s remaining students, Mestre Curió, at the Associação de Capoeira Angola Irmãos Gêmeos and to train Capoeira Regional with the son of Mestre Bimba (creator of traditional Capoeira Regional), Mestre Nenel, at the Filhos de Bimba Escola de Capoeira. Thanks also to the friendship and guidance of Mestre Augusto, student of Mestre Curió, many doors in the Salvador's capoeira scene were opened.  It was then that Lang formed many of the lasting friendships that have enriched so profoundly her capoeira and life experience.

Lang and Professor Berimbau at the Fundaçao, 2005
For 9 months, Lang trained with both schools and upon her return to Toronto began teaching students interested in the traditional Capoeira Regional style. On subsequent trips to Brazil, she chose to dedicate herself purely to the apprenticeship of Capoeira Regional. For four years, Lang and her group remained independent, until in April of 2008, she officially joined the Filhos de Bimba. In May of 2009, Mestre Nenel came to Toronto and officially inaugurated the Toronto school of Filhos de Bimba. In August of 2010, Lang will participate in her Formatura – a ceremony in which she will officially be made a teacher of the Filhos de Bimba school. It has been quite a journey!

Mestre Nenel and the Filhos de Bimba:
On a Personal Note by Lang Maria Liu (Professora Estrelinha)

In addition to the important biographical information above, I thought it might be of interest to hear a little bit about my own experience with Mestre Nenel. When I arrived in Salvador in December of 2004, I had only heard of Mestre Nenel through others. I knew that he was the son of Mestre Bimba and that he seemed to be intent on continuing his father’s work. I had called myself a “Regional” instructor for many years, but I realized that I felt a lot of confusion about my capoeira, as I had learned it from many, at times contradictory, sources. I was at a moment of personal crisis in capoeira, having been heavily involved in the teaching and running of a group with my then husband. After our separation, I was not sure where my capoeira path would lead me, if anywhere.

I arrived in the Filhos de Bimba school very keen on learning, a bit scared of being judged, and very wary of getting too close to any group that might want to take away the freedom I had enjoyed for so long. In fact, I did not meet Mestre Nenel for about a month and a half as he was still traveling. I also did not attend any rodas for about a month! I think I was just trying to take it all in: the Bahian culture, the crazy diversity of schools and styles of capoeira, the hot weather, the passionate people...

I trained with my professor, Anum for a month before going to my first roda. It was a transformative experience for me. I will never forget the great joy that bubbled up into my being as I saw the group of people gathered - faces radiant, smiles wide, swaying to the beautiful music that was somehow coming out of one berimbau and two pandeiros. I still remember, as if it was yesterday, the feeling of joy and the intense desire to play that overcame me.

Lang with Cabral at his "Descoberta" Store where she lived in Santo Antônio, 2008.

It took me about four years to finally decide to join the Filhos de Bimba officially and to recognize that, as they say, “Eu sou Regional” – “I am Regional”. Mestre Nenel was definitely a big part of that decision. I went to Salvador three times over four years (for a total of more than a year) in order to train and to conduct research on capoeira for a Ph.D. in Education and every time I arrived, I was greeted with open arms and huge smiles. Not once did I ever feel pressured or judged to officially become a Filha de Bimba. My desire to train with and research other groups was respected and I was treated like family. Mestre Nenel never changed. Throughout, he was gentle, calm and humble - the opposite of what one imagines Mestre Bimba’s son must be like. Despite his famous father, arguably the most famous name in all of capoeira’s history, not once did I see Mestre Nenel make use of his name to gain a commercial advantage. He speaks of his father with love, reverence and an acute sense of responsibility towards the work. Integrity, which is unfortunately not a quality that one finds in abundance in modern capoeira circles, is something that Mestre Nenel possesses in abundance.

I am grateful for the ten or more years in which I roamed freely the world of capoeira – there were many joyful and also many painful lessons, beautiful friendships in the larger capoeira community (which I continue to nurture) and a rich diversity experiences. However, my long capoeira journey has made me appreciate all the more the art form, philosophy and loving family of the Filhos de Bimba. I am glad that I am finally home.

       Mark, Mestre Nenel, Carlie and Lang at the Fundaçao, Salvador - 2008