A little over a year ago, I started learning Capoeira with my then 4-year-old daughter, Kavya. She wasn’t enticed by the fascinating history: this combat dance-acrobatic martial art was developed by African slaves in Brazil and was illegal there until the 1930s. Our studio, Au Capoeira, was just a short walk from our apartment. As we’d go by, she’d be drawn in by the lively music and the folks doing backbends, handstands, and big swooshing kicks. Even the basic step, the ginga, looks like a beautiful modern dance move. My ambivert daughter immediately wanted to go in for a trial class, and shortly afterwards I signed up as well.
I joined primarily with the goal of fitness combined with it being a fun bonding activity to do with my daughter. I hadn’t anticipated just how smitten she would become with Capoeira. In addition to regular handstands on anything sturdy (and sometimes not) at home or on random walls in Jersey City and Manhattan, she also introduced her grandparents to Portuguese songs and Capoeira on the beach during a family vacation to Puerto Rico!
Capoeira introduced me to far more than fitting into my old clothes again and the indisputable fact that the world is much better when you’re upside down. “Playing” Capoeira also came with an interesting bonus by filling a void I didn’t even know I had: my longing for me time.
Through my adult Capoeira classes, four evenings a week, I had a reprieve from life. I could leave behind all kinds of stress I wasn’t even aware I was carrying. For two hours at a time, I didn’t think about grading papers, paying bills, or receiving life-altering social media updates on my phone, detailing the 20 best ways to peel potatoes. It became my sanctuary to decompress from a moderately extroverted day, as well the general stress of daily life.
A few months ago, my wife had to go for a week-long writing conference out of state. Without my wife to watch the kids, I had to skip Capoeira. I never considered taking Kavya along as a viable option—I assumed my sanctuary would be broken if I brought her with me to class. It would also put her bedtime past 9 PM on a school night (gasp), and I felt like I should at least pretend to keep up the ruse that we have some kind of a system even when one parent is away.
After two days of not doing Capoeira and feeling a bit out of it, my sensitive daughter could tell what was up and insisted on coming with me to my evening class… of course partly fueled by the potential to have a late night. So I reluctantly agreed. I could always just walk back home in a few minutes if she started whining. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, the first night I brought her, I ended up being overly stressed out because I kept pausing my workout and going into micro-managing Dad-mode, bringing a boring workbook for her to complete and constantly checking to make sure she was doing it properly. Needless to say, neither of us used those hours well.
The next morning on the way to school, she said she wanted to come to my Capoeira class again, which surprised me. She said, “I had fun at your Capoeira, Papa. Especially when I was sitting and pretending to write in the workbook.” I looked at the workbook and saw lovely artwork of flowers and superheroes where repetitive writing of letters and numbers should have been. I should probably have punished her or at least given her a lecture featuring the words “insubordinate and churlish,” along with the stern face I have attempted to perfect the entire time I have been a father (I thought I had it down). Instead, I smile and tell her she can come.
After school, she packed her “Capoeira-with-Papa” bag: comic books, colored pencils with blank paper, a couple of my books on Sikh Militancy in Punjab, and a Capoeira Princess Leia doll my sister made her over the summer. I flailed around doing my cartwheels and handstands while her little creative brain was at work, lining up pebbles and pretending they are students, making up random games with Capoeira Princess Leia in charge, or being vastly entertained by books she couldn’t read.
My daughter is a through and through ambivert. Since her nature is so opposite to my own introversion, I have been conscious of encouraging her outgoing side…but didn’t realize how much I was neglecting her introverted side. Kavya, who’s down for dressing in cosplay for New York Comic-Con (despite her Papa’s own fears), is also totally fine hanging at home, watching Bollywood movies, having a Star Wars marathon in pajamas, or creating enormous worlds out of her own imagination with her inanimate sidekicks. She already inherently knows there’s nothing wrong or sad about choosing to sit and play and spend time with yourself. As important as it is for grownup introverts to have a place to decompress, it’s even more important for little extroverts and ambiverts to develop their introversion. Kavya was able to show me that she feels totally comfortable with and unashamed of both sides of her personality.