In September 2008, Jelon Vieira was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship, the country’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. As the founder and artistic director of The Capoeira Foundation and DanceBrazil, he and the late Loremil Machado were the first artists to bring traditional Afro-Brazilian dance and Capoeira to the United States over thirty years ago. He has devoted his life to sharing Afro-Brazilian culture with American audiences since 1977 when, together with Machado, he formed The Capoeiras of Bahia. That same year the late Alvin Ailey suggested he change the name of the company to DanceBrazil. It now makes over thirty years that Vieira has guided the company through breathtaking performances of Capoeira and Afro-Brazilian dance before audiences in Europe, Asia, and Brazil, as well as the United States.
Mr. Vieira teaches capoeira to people of all ages and from all walks of life in both Brazil and the United States. He has taught the soccer great Pele and American movie stars Wesley Snipes and Eddie Murphy. Although he resides in New York, Mr. Vieira spends several months a year in Brazil. One of his long term goals is to open a center for underprivileged children, using capoeira to build self esteem and self-discipline and to begin moving these children off the streets and into the educational system and mainstream society.
In the United States, Mr. Vieira has taught in many residency workshops and has been a guest instructor at Yale University’s African-American Studies Department and has also taught at many other universities and colleges including Oberlin College, Columbia University, Stanford University and Duke University. He has worked with several American dance companies including Dance Theater of Harlem and Alvin Ailey. He has also worked closely with other cultural institutes in the United States such as the Caribbean Cultural Center in New York and the Carver Community Cultural Center in San Antonio, Texas. In 1993, after a decade of collaboration between DanceBrazil and the Carver Cultural Community Center, Mr. Vieira and Carver Center Director Jo Long decided to create Ilê Bahia de San Antonio, the House of African-Brazilian Arts. The organization was incorporated in 1993 to establish a professional level instruction and training center in the African- Brazilian performing arts. Special emphasis is placed on training at-risk, minority youth in a positive and culturally affirming activity.
When at home in Brazil, he teaches children and young adults in his home community of Boca do Rio, using Capoeira to build self-esteem, instill self-discipline and to raise social consciousness while helping his students become a vital part of their own community.