Photo by Lionel Taurus

Meet Jean Tree who practices capoeira. What started out as her love for dancing grew to be her lifestyle, now capoeira is much more than a hobby, it has an influence on her whole life.

By Olga Nasalskaya

How she got into capoeira

I started training capoeira four years ago. Capoeira is an Afro - Brazilian martial art. It has a very pleasant visual aesthetic which is very important to me since I love to dance. I moved to New York eight years ago and started training in many dance styles, including hip-hop, house, and contemporary. In house a lot of moves have capoeira in it, so I was curious. At first, I hesitated to join because it sort of looks like a cult: all members sing, dance and wear white - and I hate uniforms! But then I found out about Bklyn Beast and I checked their capoeira class one day taught by Omi and Shem. They weren’t wearing uniforms, and they were playing house music, so I got sucked in. I started training capoeira because I wanted to enhance my dance form. But then I became addicted to it.

About capoeira

Our group name is ile de Palmares, and it’s lead by Contre Mestre Omi and Professor Caiman. SpaceWorks has been our home for almost 2 years. Capoeira is very particular about lineage and where your roots are from. It is rooted in culture, and there are so many things you have to learn beyond the physical aspect. We have to learn how to sing, to play instruments, to dance samba and maculele, and the cultural traditions within the roda (a space where capoeiristas circle - Jane Can Too). The history and the origin of the art is important to the people of capoeira.

My best friend Caiman is also my teacher. Him and I and all our friends in the group like to try and live a holistic lifestyle. We get together and cook. Capoeira is physical, mental, emotional and spiritual and what you put in your body is important. People who join our group see that we push the limits of our bodies training all the time, but then we cook and eat healthy, nutritious food, and it supplements our growth. After my workouts, I like to drink vegan protein shakes. I definitely do not eat before a workout because I will throw up. You are upside - down for the whole class, it's not worth it.

How capoeira helps her in her acting career

My main career is acting for film and television. I am also a stunt performer/double. For acting, I’ve been on a CBS show called Bull, a web series called Wall Street English and various commercials and short films. For stunt work, I was featured in Daredevil, Iron Fist, Gotham, Blind Spot, and Netflix’s The Defenders. Capoeira and dance help me at work in so many ways. Having a dance background is an advantage in terms of body control being able to pick up fight choreography. On set there are always last minute changes, and you have to be very adaptable.

How different martial arts styles complement each other

I am in capoeira four times a week, two to three hours per class. I have ballet once a week, and I have another dance class. I go to Andersons Martial Arts to train Muay Thai. I started training Muay Thai two years ago. I was training in Kali and Jeet Kune Do. I saw capoeira as a dance, and I made everything look very pretty which is not very practical sometimes. So when I started doing Muay Thai, it helped me improve my fight game in capoeira. My kicks became more intentional, and my elbows became better placed.

I’ve played sports all my life, so I don’t have a problem with taking hits, it’s part of the game. It wasn't until I started training in Muay Thai and Capoeira simultaneously that helped me understand the art of the fight. There was a moment when I realized that in a moment of emergency, I could protect myself if I need to. And I thought “ok, I can elbow someone and that will hurt. Ok, that's pretty cool.”

About women in capoeira

Our teachers are two guys, but 90% of group members are women. Capoeira was very male- dominated for a long time, but these things are slowly breaking. Many powerful women capoeiristas are rising up. I adore my teachers, and most recently Professora Sarara, she is such a beast. To see a woman who could be unapologetic and have such intensity in a roda was a life - changing experience. To see these women who have children and go through a process of giving birth and then they go back to training - wow we are powerful!

How capoeira changed her life

Capoeira changed my life. In the beginning, I thought “oh, I just want to learn this one thing then I’m gonna leave”.  But capoeira pushed me beyond my limits. Physically, I got points where I couldn't imagine getting years ago. In the process you learn how to be resilient, to endure and to push through. Capoeira also changed my life mentally/emotionally. It taught me how to be a part of the group and how to work through relationships. You are stuck with these people training together, you see them 3 - 4 times a week, and sometimes you are gonna get annoyed with them. How to deal with that? If you don’t get along with someone, get in the game and work it out.