Sister Tested: Capoeira at Stroga in Washington, D.C.

It takes a lot of concentration to be a good dance fighter. Here I am perfecting my Ginga.

Baby Sister is a bit of a yoga buff, so I wasn’t surprised when she asked me to join her for a class at Stroga on a recent DC visit. Stroga is one of the top yoga studios in our Nation’s Capital, and it’s so popular that mats are spaced precisely 3-inches apart in the gorgeous ballroom during peak times. But Baby Sister didn’t sign us up for simple flow session. Nope, she threw me a cultural curve ball and took me to Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that looks a lot like dancing. Dreaming of becoming a world class dance fighter? It’s tougher than it seems to get the hang of, but even if you lack rhythm Capoeira is still a good workout.

Warm-up The class started with a series of walking lunges, side lunges, handstands, and cartwheels across the huge hardwood floor. We moved in three lines and every few turns the instructor changed things up by adding in an extra step, twist, or movement, eventually connecting everything together. Most of the positions kept us low to the ground, which required concentration, balance, and core strength. Still, all those cartwheels reminded me that… Hey, I can still do a cartwheel! And they’re just as fun now as they were when I was 7.

Learn the basics We spent a lot (and I mean a lot!) of time working on three simple moves—Ginga, Queixada, and Esquiva. Ginga is ready-in-motion foundation of Capoeira. To do it: Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent and torso low. Sweep your right foot back towards a center point, while your left arm swings up and over to cover your face. Return to start, then sweep your left foot back and swing your right arm across. Queixada is a side-swiping kick used to attack your opponent that easily flows from Ginga. And finally Esquiva, which literally means “escape” in Portuguese, is a move where you crouch down and throw your arm up to protect your face. Esquiva when someone attempts to Queixada you in the head.

Practice makes perfect Our instructor wanted those three moves to become second nature, so we worked on them for nearly an hour. (Did I mention this was a two hour class?!) I got really bored and caught myself thinking, “I’d rather be running right now.” But Baby Sister’s enthusiasm snapped me back, and I continued to Ginga, Queixada, and Esquiva until my thighs almost gave out.

Esquiva! I like to crouch down while my opponent wears himself out with all that attacking.

When all else fails, Esquiva Towards the end we circled up and the dance fighting began. Two players faced off in the center, while the rest of us clapped to the beat of a traditional Capoeira drum. I felt ridiculous during my turn in the middle, I only knew three moves and I wanted to fall to the floor in a puddle of giggles. But everyone else was taking it so seriously that all I could do was smile, Ginga, and Esquiva. (I had already forgotten how to Queixada. Oops.)

It won’t be my first choice for cross-training going forward, but Capoeira did end up being a fantastic sweat-session. All those low-squatting stances really worked my butt, hamstrings, and quads. (Hello, DOMS—delayed-onset muscle soreness, my rear end was sore for two days!) And trying something new was a pretty cool way to bond with Baby Sister on a hot, humid DC afternoon.

What’s your favorite non-running workout? Have you ever been to Stroga in DC? Think you might try Capoeira now?

Lions, And Tigers, And Bears! Oh, My!

Unless you live in Ohio, you probably haven’t experienced the possibility of bumping into major predators on a run. (What are you supposed to do if you encounter a bear, again? Fetal position?)

But there are ways to get in a workout near some big name beasts without fear of being mauled. Running through the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. comes to mind.

I did just that last Sunday when I traveled to the DC area to hang with Baby Sister. After checking out a few routes on MapMyRun.com that incorporated the winding-trails of the animal park, we set out on our urban safari. Baby Sister isn’t much of a runner, so I left her in charge of the camera and trotted ahead.

The park itself is on the small side, so if you’re looking to log major mileage you’ll need to tack some on before (or after) you get there. You could run up from Georgetown and go by the National Cathedral to round out your sightseeing tour. Or head into nearby Rock Creek Park for a foliage fix. More ways to make this a roar-inducing good run:

  • Skip the concession stand. When I don’t feel like carrying a water bottle, I’ll slip an Abraham Lincoln in my pocket and stop somewhere to buy a beverage. But with plenty of drinking fountains sprinkled throughout the Zoo you can save your cash.
  • Say “Hi!” to the cheetahs. Not only are they good sprinters, those cats know how to stretch. Watch them pull a few downward dog moves before they stalk the fence they share with the zebra pen. (Breakfast!)
  • Go early to beat the crowds. Baby Sister and I entered the park around 9:45am, and by the time we left the place was swarming with strollers and herds of tourists. Remember what they say about early birds, they get to see the animals play before taking their mid-day siestas.

Have you ever come across a wild animal on a run? (Squirrels and pigeons don’t count.)