Capoeira is NOT acrobatics! A person who does lots of flips is not necessarily a good capoeira player. To truly understand the role of acrobatics in capoeira, you have to understand the concept of floreios – what are they, and how and when are they used in the roda?
Floreio means “flourish” and refers to movements that are pleasing to the eye, but that could leave the capoeirista vulnerable. The original purpose of floreios was to confuse, trick, or deceive the other player. A floreio can make your partner think that you’re vulnerable when in reality you’re not, or make them think that you’ll move one way when in fact you’ll do something different.
Although acrobatics fall into the category of floreios, the term floreio actually refers to a much wider class of movements than just flips. There are grounded floreios (such as relógio, pião de mão, and pião de cabeça). A floreio does not even have to be spectacular: Mestre Decânio, a student of Mestre Bimba, describes floreios as any movement designed to trick the opponent, including simple things like unpredictable arm maneuvers.
However, in recent years, some capoeira players and groups trained this element of the art very hard, developing the acrobatic side of capoeira by inventing new movements. Many, unfortunately, have forgotten the original purpose of floreios – to fool the opponent – and thus leave themselves very vulnerable while setting up, executing, and landing their flips. And because flips are so spectacular, there are people who only want to learn the acrobatics and do not practice the fundamentals of capoeira. In response to this trend, many capoeiristas say that flips are not important in capoeira, and even that they have nothing to do with the art.
My opinion falls in the center. Floreios (and I am using the original sense and purpose of the word, which is broader than just “flips” – namely, movements designed to trick the other player) are indeed an important part of capoeira. They make the capoeirista learn how to deceive others and how not to be deceived. However, practicing only floreios makes one a very incomplete capoeira. A person who just knows how to do fancy movements is no more a capoeirista than a single trumpet player is an orchestra.