Brazil Need Their ‘Ginga’ Back

Brazil legend Pele says that the decline of Brazilian football over the last few years has been caused by a disconnect between Selecao and it’s identity.

The Panenka looks at the history of the not so secret ingredient of “ginga,” the Brazilian way of life steeped in tradition, heritage, identity and culture which gives Brazil their Samba reputation.


When the South American country hosted World Cup 2014 the team suffered a humiliating 7-1 defeat in the semi-final to eventual champions Germany, a loss which has had a scarring effect on the county as a whole ever since.

In the past two major tournaments Brazil again faltered again. In Copa America 2015 Brazil were eliminated in the quarter-finals to Paraguay on penalties. A year later at Copa America Cententario 2016 they couldn’t even progress from a group containing Ecuador, Peru and Haiti.

Brazil’s U-23 team are now in search of the nation’s first ever Olympic gold medal. Like 2014 they host the tournament and a strong performance at Rio 2016 would go some distance in restoring hope and pride where ‘o joga bonito’ (the beautiful game) is as integral to Brazil as it’s beach lifestyle and national dish, feijoada.

Pele won three World Cups with the national team in 1958, 1962 an 1970. He believes he knows what is missing from Selecao in 2016. “There is no ginga,” Pele told ESPN.

“Other South American countries like Argentina, Chile, and Ecuador now play more beautiful soccer than Brazil and you see what happens in the last two Copa Americas.”

“Myself, Gerson, Rivelino, and Tostao were all No. 10s and yet [coach, Mario] Zagallo wanted us all on the field at the same time so he created a formation that could accommodate us,” Pele said.

“Then in Japan [at the 2002 World Cup], we had Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and Rivaldo who all had great flair and we won again.

The ginga is the sway, the fluidity and the rhythm that seems to come naturally to Brazilians. It is an indescribable form of movement that only Brazil seem to possess. It is noticeable too and it is the ginga that sets Brazilian players apart, and makes Brazil the legitimate possessor of Futebol-Arte (Football-Art).

Ruy Castro, author, journalist and historian, commented: “Brazil’s secret to champion world football is no secret. Brazilian players have ‘ginga’… A special move used to dribble and score, as if there’s no opponent. Brazilians are born with ‘ginga‘ and it makes them dream.”

The roots of ginga are ingrained in the roots of Brazil, in Capoeira, a mid-point between dancing and fighting. The dance is undoubtedly the source of the ‘sway,’ imported to the country by the slave trade from Angola and the Congo.

Brazil was originally a Portuguese colony and like many European powers in the 16th century relied on slaves, mainly to farm the abundance of sugar cane. The dance cross fight became a way of practicing an unarmed martial art for self defense against their slave owners, especially if they managed to escape.

The ginga is the fundamental footwork of capoeira and it is the constant triangular footwork makes capoeira easily recognizable. The main purpose is not dancing but rather to prepare the body for any number of movements such as evading, feinting, or delivering attacks while continuously shifting stances, all while providing confusion to the opponent. Essentially, the ginga places the capoeirista in constant motion, making them a frustrating target for a forward-advancing attacker.

The ginga also allows the capoeirista to continuously maintain enough torque to use in a strike while providing a synchronization of arm movement to avoid and slip under attacks. The ginga is not static so its speed is usually determined by the toque or rhythm dictated by the bateria (drummer).

If slaves were fortunate enough to escape their captors they would often group in hard to reach places where they formed communities that became known as quilombos. Here the martial art spread among the communities and they were frequently able to defend their territory against their European colonists thanks to their finely honed skills of capoeira.

The biggest quilombo, the Quilombo dos Palmares, consisted of many villages which lasted more than a century, resisting at least 24 small attacks and 18 colonial invasions with a “strangely moving fighting technique.” The provincial governor even declared, “it is harder to defeat a quilombo than the Dutch invaders.”

Drums and rhythm are an iconic and unavoidable aspect of Brazilian life where in the 21st century capoeira is a enjoyable pastime rather than necessity to survival. From Samba to Carnival to the Estadio Maracana the endless beat of Brazil lives permanently in it’s identity. In an interview with Esquire Pele explains the importance of the rhythm of ginga to joga bonito.

“The reason it was nicknamed ginga was that normally, when we’d play against a European team, now it’s changed a bit, but back then, the European teams were very tough and physical. They were big, and defensively solid. Even the English, who invented football, were like that starting out. There were some in Brazil who thought we should make that our football culture.”

We would say, “We want to dance. We want to ginga. Football is not about fighting to the death. You have to play beautifully.” And so we did, and that’s the reason that Brazil created more of a show, more of a ballet, than the European style.”

Ginga provides a glimpse into a cultural history where the heritage is so passionate, rich and vibrant and so rooted in movement that it can’t help produce some of the world’s greatest players and infect people with an energy, a happiness and a love to play football.

Ronaldo, World Cup winner in 1994 and 2002 said: “I think it’s in our blood, it’s a gift given by God, especially to Brazilians who play football and learn to dance from an early age. I think Brazilians are given ginga when they’re born and continue to improve it through childhood.”

The striker’s teammate at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. Ronaldinho, said: “Ginga flows with the rhythm. It comes into football with dribbles, with the change of movements so you go on developing a different ginga. Everybody’s got a different way to dance and to move to the sound of music so this dancing ginga you develop with time.”

Antônio Risério, writer and special adviser to the Minister of Culture in Brazil, wrote how Brazilian people recreated soccer through a process of ethno-cultural formation. This refers to the mixing of races, trickery, samba & capoeira. He says that a Brazilian’s body “was created in the gingas of samba and capoeira, halfway between dance and fight, being now applied to soccer.

“Samba and capoeira undoubtedly have the same base as our soccer. Everybody can see that. The way Brazilians play is invariably close to the movements of samba and capoeira.

“The gestural relationship between the repertoire of capoeira strikes and certain body movements of the Brazilian players is evident. The so-called “bicycle kick” of Leônidas, for example, brings to memory the body spins in capoeira. And so does the dummy or feint, the slide tackle and the scissor kick.”

By the end of the 19th century slavery was finished but that did not put an end to the problems of the former slaves. Many had nowhere to live, no jobs and were still marginalized by Brazilian society due to racism.

As a consequence of these social problems capoeiristas once again used their skills to their advantage. However this time they conducted themselves in some not so noble causes, predominantly criminally and fighting that led to the recently proclaimed Brazilian Republic to decree the prohibition of capoeira in the whole country in 1890. By 1940 however, capoeira was decriminalized.

Today Capoeira is a symbol of Brazilian culture and in November 2014 was granted protected status by Unesco for it’s “intangible cultural heritage.” At Rio 2016 the country will be eager to show off it’s endearing qualities of Samba, Joga Bonito and it’s breathtaking landscapes, rather than the headline grabbing themes of the zika virus, poverty and political corruption.


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