Over the past 5 years traveling and teaching kizomba across the world, I’ve always been adjacent to the dance style of Brazilian zouk. From the very beginning, I had respect for the dance but it didn’t exactly call to me. I respected my fellow Brazilian zouk instructors who also taught at many of the events I taught at. At some of these events, I even sat in and watched some of the classes and I really liked what I saw across multiple aspects, which I will share in this blog along with others. Despite this overall respect, I “stayed in my lane” for the majority of the last 5 years until recently, when I actually went to my first Brazilian zouk-only event, the Canada Zouk Congress (CZC) in Toronto. I went not as an instructor (though I did teach some kizomba private lessons) but as a newcomer student, thanks to a very kind, intelligent, and eloquent human being, known as Laura Riva.
I first discovered Laura through her blog, which I must say, is an effing awesome blog on sooo many different aspects of dance! I’ll admit I hope this blog is one-tenth as good as hers; check it out here. Her words/writing/message captured the intellect of my dancer’s mind in such an awesome way, I believe I immediately messaged her and invited her to be a guest on my podcast so we could nerd out together on dance topics. We’ve done at least 5 podcast episodes to date, with more to come! As we did more episodes together, we built a friendship and appreciation for each other’s dance; hers Brazilian zouk and mine kizomba/urban kiz. We even got together one time in Toronto and had a chance for a cool skillshare.
Through this friendship, she invited me to her event, the Canada Zouk Congress held in Toronto, to finally learn the basics and more about the culture of Brazilian zouk. As the organizer of the Neo Kizomba Festival (the current largest urban kiz festival in North America for the last 5 years), I found her event was superbly organized and the energy and acceptance I felt was marvelous. I enjoyed my experience so much it inspired me to end my several year hiatus of writing dance blogs and share my experience of the event and several aspects of the Brazilian zouk dance culture I appreciate.
I have a very analytical brain and I’m also pretty busy most of the time, so it has taken me a while to distill my thoughts and observations of my experience at CZC with my overall experience with Brazilian zouk. Below, I highlight three positive growth catalysts for this dance which, from my perspective, were very present at CZC and in the overall Brazilian zouk dance scene.
Growth Catalyst #1: Wide Array of Music
The first positive growth catalyst I would like to discuss is the music that I heard being played at the socials, the jack & jills (more on this later), during workshops, and for demos. There was such a WIDE variety of music I heard and saw them dance to. Top 40 remixes, straight un-remixed top 40 songs, ghetto zouk, straight R&B and hip-hop, kizomba instrumentals, Brazilian pop, lambada, original zouk songs and definitely more genres that I’m sure I’m not even aware of yet. This was super impressive to me because it showed me two main ideas that I’ve seen typically at odds with one another in other dance scenes. The wide range of music in tandem with overall acceptance from the large majority of dancers present including the instructors allowed for a very fun social dancing experience. This shows a very clear, nostalgic appreciation and respect for Brazilian culture through its past music from lambada to old school ghetto zouk, etc. DJ Kakah is an awesome DJ, and was my favorite at CZC, she has an awesome library of music and I love that she played straight R&B and hip-hop songs during her sets.
As a kizomba instructor who’s been around for a while, it was insane to share the same nostalgia for old school ghetto zouk songs by Nelson Freitas, Anselmo Ralph, Neuza, & Paulo Mac (to name a few) AND (on the other side of the spectrum) find openness and willingness to dance to the current modern hits from multiple genres. I feel this is awesome for the benefit of the scene at large as it provides a richer context of music to something you like, while not forgetting the songs of before, and keeps the dance floor new and fresh. For example, with salsa music, I feel there are a lot of awesome, unforgettable classic songs that have been around for 10+ years without many new songs being produced and very little connection to the modern hits of today. On the zouk dance floor at CZC, I experienced a very nice balance of novelty and nostalgia with the music.
Here are some examples of demos to popular pop music!
Here are some examples of popular songs remixed by DJ Kakah:
Growth Catalyst #2: Jack & Jill Competitions
Another aspect of the Brazilian zouk scene that I find to be a positive growth catalyst trend for the future of their dance are the jack and jill competitions. I witnessed 60+ couples (meaning 120+ dancers) participate in the NOVICE division of their jack & jill competition. 60+!! I think this is awesome for several reasons. Firstly, how awesome is it that novice dancers are actively putting themselves in a vulnerable position to seek out critique? This makes developing bad habits at the beginning of their dance journey’s less likely. Secondly, it grooms them to be a lot more open to feedback when they reach intermediate and advanced levels, and thirdly, it keeps the plague of delusional assessment of their dance abilities to a minimum! I feel this practice also sets the example for the rest of the scene that it is normal and acceptable to seek feedback to grow as a dancer.
On the other side of the jack & jill coin, I’ve heard there are some dancers who are not fans of the competitions because the element of luck involved means your results are not always a faithful reflection of your overall dance ability. I am still convinced that the pros outweigh the cons so much so that at my last festival, I organized the 1st Urban Kiz Jack & Jill competition across three divisions, novice, intermediate, and all-star, it was one of the best organizer decisions I’ve ever made and a far majority of the attendees absolutely loved participating and spectating.
On a final note on jack & jill competitions, I would also recommend reading the following two blogs for further insight!
1) Why I Compete in Brazilian Zouk Jack & Jill Competitions by Sydney Charisse
2) 10 Jack & Jill Questions Answered by Laura Riva
Here’s a FB live of one of the heats for the intermediate division at the Canada Zouk Congress 2019!
Here’s the most popular video from the All-Star Jack & Jill competition that was held at the 5th Annual Neo Kizomba Festival in Austin, TX!
Growth Catalyst #3: High Level of Technique in Instruction
I believe that the road of realistic growth for the newer to more advanced dancers is set very well by the international Brazilian zouk pros. I’ve had the opportunity to sit in on several classes to observe Brazilian zouk pro couples at different workshops and festivals over the years. I feel safe in saying that way more often than not, I have found a similar use of standard zouk steps and techniques. At the same time, instructors are very anatomically aware of the human body as it pertains to the dance. Part of this is because the dance has more complexity in regards to moves such as those requiring spinal safety, counterbalance, off-center spinning of the axis, etc. I feel it’s more common to find a Brazilian zouk pro follow that has classical dance training in ballet, jazz, modern, and/or contemporary, as it is also common for couples to cross-train in other dance disciplines. I find mutual respect for the styles and preferences of other instructors amongst the pros and there are several defined styles of Brazilian zouk that have been recognized as “cross-compatible” with one another versus hating on another instructors style.
I feel this mutual respect has allowed for the creation of several internationally recognized Brazilian zouk pedagogies. Another interesting trend is that any legit Brazilian zouk instructor that I have come across is able to pay “homage” to their original instructor as their “sensei”. This allows future instructors to be “groomed” and mentored by their instructors over time versus just having a “teacher/instructor certification weekend” as I’ve seen implemented in other dance styles. With the Brazilian zouk instructors giving this feeling of appreciation and respect to the way they train themselves, value of proper instruction & technique, and respect for one another for the most part; their values trickle down to their students and therefore you are able to find more engaged and committed students in the Brazilian zouk dance scene.
I also feel compelled to share that though there is a strong push for high-level technique, I feel there is an equally strong sentiment towards playfulness, creativity, and good vibes overall which creates a very positive and welcoming environment where you can continually invite new people into the dance and keep a higher percentage of them around longer.
No dance scene is perfect and they each go through their growing pains, but I do feel the Brazilian zouk dance scene is doing a pretty good job pulling from opposite ends of multiple spectrums for the advancement of the dance at large. Since Brazilian zouk is not my primary dance, if you have noticed any misinformation I stated above, please let me know and I will correct it on my end.
As many of you know, I’m primarily known as an urban kiz instructor, event organizer, and DJ in North America. I’m still in love with urban kiz and I will continue to invest my time and talents to improve in these roles and become a better community leader in the urban kiz/kizomba world. I feel it’s important to learn from other dance scenes, hence one of my main motivations of writing this particular blog and also a main reason I brought the jack & jill competitions to my urban kiz festival. Additionally, to further my growth as a dancer overall, I’m happy to publicly announce that I will be participating in my first Brazilian zouk jack & jill competition in the novice division in December.
Lastly, I would like to give a special thanks to Laura Riva for being a good friend and a source of inspiration and guidance to become a better dancer, instructor, event organizer, community leader, and now writer. I will definitely be at Canada Zouk Congress 2020!