Pelvis touching pelvis, body rolls, undulations, whips and dips and hair flying; these are cues of when you know you are probably caught in a Zouk frenzy. Originating from the "forbidden dance” known as Lambada, Brazilian Zouk is not at all for the reserved or conservative. It epitomizes freedom and sensuality with the spine loose and expressive and the hips girating. There are several styles of Zouk dance but the one I've been most exposed to is the Brazilian Zouk which is a mix of Lambada dance from Brazil, Zouk music from the French Antilles, and Caribbean Zouk movement. I have several close friends who practice, perform and teach it professionally. That is why I decided to go to a Zouk social for my first test drive with lead and follow in my new ladies Latin heels. I am pretty comfortable with the zouk community so I didnt feel too out of place but I'm still relatively new to the dance style so I was still a little nervous. I have only officially taken one Zouk class (by Henri Velandia) but I have gone to several socials and have learned mostly through observation. Because I have an extensive background in lead and follow through social dance in Ballroom, Latin and Swing genres (I've been teaching for over nine years) picking up the basis of Zouk wasn't difficult, however, understanding the initiation points for certain leads and the points of connection used to manipulate the follower within the Zouk approach is still somewhat a new concept to me. For example, in Salsa a lot of patterns are led with your hands and arms while in Brazilian Zouk it may be led by different parts of the body such as the back or rib cage. Salsa also focuses most of the body action from the waist down with emphasis in the feet and legs and because it's faster in tempo, the movements tend to be sharper. Brazilian Zouk, on the other hand, is slower in tempo which allows for sequentially through the movement patterns and more isolation through the hips, torso and head that encourages a sensuality in it's flow. The video below is Lambada where part of the movement of what now is known as Brazilian Zouk comes from, however, many Brazilian Zouk dancers prefer to avoid the affiliation with the forbidden dance, not only because they no longer dance in the twisty style once associated with the name lambada, but also because they no longer dance to lambada music.
I went to the Zouk social at Stepping Out Studios that they have there every Wednesday night from 9:30pm-12 midnight. I got there later than planned because I was coming from rehearsal that ended late so there was only a couple of people left. I was still shy though about social dancing in my heels because first off, I have never danced in these heels before so I didn’t want to fall and make a fool of myself. Second, I am not at all an experienced zouk dancer since I’ve only been to a handful of zouk socials and third, I was a little self conscious about seeing all the other men dancing in flats or sneakers. It’s not everyday you see a guy dancing zouk in heels especially because the leader’s role is what one would judge as very weighted and masculine. They have to be the support for the follower who is usually the one to do the more embellished movements, which mostly women play. If I’m in heels, could I still be perceived as grounded and “masculine” when I’m raised so far over the ball of my feet? Would I immediately be judged as feminine when seen in high heels? Well, I’ll let you decide how you feel by what you see.
I should mention the dancer you see me partnering, Jessica Lamdon, is a professional zouk dancer and an incredibly skilled one. She was the one running the social that night and taught the class before at 7:30pm-8:30pm and 8:30pm-9:30pm. I was very fortunate to have the chance to dance with her. She is so fun to dance with and is a very receptive and expressive. I have lead her before in flat shoes at previous socials I've attended but never in heels. I know there are some of you reading this probably wondering what exactly do I mean by leader and follower. Basically, social dancing is a structured improvisational movement practice between two people where the initiator (leader) sends an impulse from their body to cause a reaction from the receiver (follower). In all partnered social dances, there is a musical and basic movement foundation that serve as a basis for the particular style of dance. With lead and follow social dancing, you switch partners and dance with different people with whom you may have never met before. Nothing is choreographed so you have to really be in tune with your partner in each moment, communicating in physical conversation. Some styles are more standardized than others and therefore more structured. For instance, with the Standard Ballroom dances (i.e. waltz, foxtrot, tango quickstep, viennese) most of the patterns are codified within a certain syllabus so the steps lead and followed are learned, wheres in what people refer to as “street” dances, there are steps that you can make up on the spot with your partner that isn’t necessarily an already learned pattern, therefore leaving more opportunity for freestyled movement (i.e. west coast swing, argentine tango, salsa, zouk). Many of the street dances can and have become standardized like salsa, chacha, rumba, swing, etc. within the ballroom setting. Some would argue that standardization has taken the soul out of the dance and some would argue that it has allowed the dance style to evolve into a more theatrical expression. I feel there is truth in both but I say soul and feeling should always come first yet with some technical background to facilitate not necessarily control (you have to be able to let go) but a sense of body awareness, alignment, range and strength. My rehearsal director, Denise Vale, for the Martha Graham Dance Company said during class recently, “Technique isn’t the ability to control; it’s the ability to catch the throw.”
I found myself interchanging patterns from salsa and bachata in zouk which isn't uncommon. Fusion is very popular nowadays. People like to take elements from one genre and intertwine them with another (i.e. bachatango, lambazouk, kizomba). Perhaps this is also a reason why there is fusion in the music as well. Traditionally, Zouk music derives from the French Antilles in the Caribbean of Guadeloupe and Martinique and fuses the native Caribbean rhythms with Western and West African elements. However, nowadays it’s common you will hear popular hits on the radio that are remixed to a zouk beat and rhythm that the DJ will play during a Zouk social dance. I personally enjoy that there is a diverse range in genres of music within Brazilian Zouk that you won’t find in other Latin social dances such as, salsa, bachata, argentine tango, etc. In the videos posted above, in the first one I’m social dancing to a song by Taylor Swift, “Blank Space" that was remixed by another artist and given a Zouk rhythm. In the other video, it’s a hip-hop/electronic piece of music. This eclectic array of music gives space for multi faceted expressions within this dance style.
Not once when I was dancing with Jessica did I feel any different than dancing Zouk times before in flats. Yes the feeling of being in heels was a new sensation for my own body but it didn’t compromise my role as a leader. I was still able to support and guide my partner through the movements and my impulse wasn't affected by the heels. the power with in my core and back was active as ever. My intuition still came from within my physical instincts. The guy who was the DJ, James Powell, and who is also a Zouk dancer, told me that he was impressed by how I was able to dance in heels but also that I moved so well with my partner. This experience social dancing in high heels affirmed in me that movement comes from the heart not from the superficial outer layers of costuming. Whether in heels, flats or barefeet, you bring to the dance floor who you are in that moment regardless. Dancing is always a riot.