It began in the eighties when Jane Fonda ordered us to “feel the burn.” Since then, we’ve seen exercise fads come and stay (Power Yoga, Pilates) and come and go (step aerobics, Tae-Bo). Now capoeira (pronounced cap-wey-da), a 400-year-old Brazilian martial art, has bankers and supermodels learning the same moves that supposedly once helped set African slaves free in South America. Critical mass is crucial for any trend, but a strategic marketing plan is what has saved capoeira from being consigned to the closet like so many striped leg warmers.
1974 Twelve-year-old Edna Lima learns capoeira at school in her hometown of Brasília.
EARLY 1980s Lima integrates the all-male sport and gains fame as Brazil’s first-ever female capoeira master (one of the martial art’s highest ranks).
LATE 1980s Lima teaches capoeira to underprivileged kids in East Harlem, gives free classes in Central Park, and does it on film (in the 1989 urban musical Rooftops).
EARLY 1990s Lima begins teaching privately in studios and gains a following.
1997 Lima develops an Americanized, gym-friendly workout derivative of the intimidating martial art.
1998 Lima gets her new capoeira workout on the roster at Chelsea Piers, gaining instant access to a membership full of freelance writers, health and beauty editors, and television producers all hungry for stories. “If it’s new and different, chances are, stories are going to be done,” says Chelsea Piers program manager John Boyd.
WINTER 1999 The Fox News Channel, Paper, Jane, Fitness, Men’s Journal, and the New York Times commission articles on Lima and her classes.
SPRING 1999 Mark Chimsky, editor of Power Yoga (the best-selling yoga book of the past two years) reads the Times story, sees another blockbuster in his future, and starts consulting with Lima on a capoeira-workout-book proposal.
SUMMER 1999 Chelsea Piers doubles the number of its capoeira classes.
FALL 1999 Donna Karan model mates Mark Vanderloo and Esther Cañadas hear about the workout through an agent friend and start making appearances at Chelsea Piers. “Celebrities may be an enhancer, but that alone doesn’t cut it,” observes program manager Boyd. “It definitely helps with the press, though.”
2000 Every other gym sees the writing on the wall: Equinox, Duomo, and New York Sports Clubs all add Lima’s capoeira-workout class to schedules.