The very first Zouk-only event I participated in (thanks to an invite from Laura Riva) was the Canada Zouk Congress in 2019. I shared my reflections after that event and ever since that event I suppose one could say that I’m starting to delve more and more into the Brazilian Zouk (BZ) world while also continuing to have a foot in the Urbankiz (UK) scene where I have traveled to teach and also organize since 2014.
I witnessed my first live BZ J&J which inspired me to start competing in Novice for BZ (I’ve competed 3 times so far and currently have 4 BZDC points). From there with the help of Laura & Darius I was able to host the first UK J&Js in the UK scene at my festival in 2019. There was the one epic video with Laurent & St'Effy that went viral int the All-Star division.
Since then I’ve hosted 3 J&Js and other kiz festivals are starting to run their own J&Js as well.
Hear some of the initial UK J&J competitors here in the US and 2 BZ competitors share their mindset around competing in J&Js in a recent podcast of mine.
Also (shameless plug) the UK J&J passes are live for the 7th Annual Neo Kizomba Festival happening July 20-24, 2023!
Towards the end of the pandemic, I’ve also been able to participate in more and more BZ-only events to continue to improve my BZ skills in general. It’s been really nice to “learn to crawl” again in another dance style. One aspect that has been unique for me is that I always danced BZ with a UK “accent” and at the beginning, I was pretty self-conscious about it because I wanted to be a good BZ dancer, but after so many followers who didn’t know who I was asked me, “Do you dance kiz?” after our dances, I’ve come to embrace my UK accent versus trying to hide it, and that has lead me on a journey of fusing UK & BZ consciously, hence urbankizouk (UKZ).
This journey has no planned end goal, for now, it’s really something that makes me happy in different ways. With the blog, I intend to share some insights and discoveries I’ve made along the way, think of this as a personal UKZ journal entry being shared publicly.
What is kizouk?
Kizouk is becoming more and more of a term that is being used in the dance scene in general. I feel most commonly Kizouk is being used to describe a dance social that will cater to kiz and zouk dancers by way of the music that is played. There are two main parts of a social, the music and the dancing, let’s start with music!
From a musical standpoint, there’s quite of bit of musical overlap with songs that are kizzable and zoukable from a nostalgic level with some classic ghetto zouk songs (think “Nao Me Toca” by Anselmo Ralph , or “Nao Me Tarraxa” by Vanda May ).
A historical factor contributing the overlap of the music between BZ and UK is that the origin countries for each dance, Angola & Brazil, are on two different continents but were both colonized by Portugal and hence the official language of both countries is Portuguese, and alot of classic ghetto zouk was sung in Portuguese.
It’s very interesting to see how classic ghetto zouk songs like these are expressed at a kizomba social versus a BZ social and also the shared feelings of nostalgia at both. Ghetto zouk music on the kizomba side paved the way musically for the dance genre of urbankiz to reach where it has today.
It’s common for some BZ DJs to slow the BPM down for some faster UK songs. I feel like there’s probably more of an overlap in the UK douceur genre with tracks that tend to be slower and therefore more easily zoukable in their original BPM.
There’s soooo much more to say about what’s kizzable vs zoukable and where they overlap. I will end this music section by saying that I love the wide array of musical genres that I hear at BZ events. I’ve had many euphoric and memorable dances dancing BZ to 90s R&B classics from artists such as Blackstreet, Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, etc. I wish there was more genre flexibility to embrace songs like this on the UK side without needing to wait for a UK remix. Check this out if you are interested in discovering some more UK English remixes!
I've also had the opportunity to DJ zouk socials in the past as well, and I won't go into details in this blog, but I love the musical genre flexibility of what is zoukable!
Currently, at least from my perspective, despite the growing popularity of the term “kizouk” floating around more and more, there doesn’t seem to be a ton of actual mixing of the two dance styles on the social dance floor, in classes, or also in social dance videos or demos.
Your typical UK dancer is going to be dedicated to learning and improving their UK and vice versa for BZ dancers. Of course, we all have limited free time, funds, and focus to be able to really improve both dances. It’s not impossible but it’s definitely a more difficult path.
There also seems to be some desirable UK characteristics that are beginning to get a bit of attention from some zoukers and I feel the same vice versa with some BZ characteristics. I wonder what will happen as more and more dancers start to overlap and train in both styles.
Dancing kiz at a zouk event & vice versa
There’s something freeing about dancing urbankiz (UK) freely while being surrounded by a ton of zoukers. And there’s also something very freeing about dancing Brazilian Zouk (BZ) surrounded by a bunch of kizombeiros.
I remember one time being at kiz social and there was some ghetto zouk playing and the crowd definitely leaned more authentic. All the couples were pretty much dancing Tarraxinha in place and I was the guy taking up more space moving around dancing urbankiz. I remember at the moment leaning into expressing myself authentically through my dancing.
Another moment I remember leaning into my authentic expression without fearing the negative judgment of others was at the Monday after party at the Boston Kizomba Festival. Definitely, an all kiz crowd, but my friend Susan was there and I just so happened to ask her to dance during a douceur set. I know Susan dances BZ so we totally ended up dancing BZ in a room full of kizombeiros.
I feel this was full circle moment because I definitely can remember dancing at various kiz socials in my early kiz days and being “weirded out” bc zoukers taking up so much space with all the hair whips and twirls, and now several years down the line, it’s me doing the same! LMAO!
I feel there’s a sense of freedom in letting go of what will other people think of me in this context of me expressing myself in a way that is completely different from what the majority are doing consciously and with good technique. I feel it's also important to note I’m not harming the followers I’m dancing with or the dancers around me. This sense of freedom leads to what I mentioned before in embracing dancing BZ with a UK “accent”.
Zouking with an urbankiz “accent”
Kiz is integrated into my dance spirit after so many years of dancing and teaching it, so yes I do want to embrace what I’ve spent so many years developing in my dance. On the other side, I also do want to continue to get the overall flow and feel of BZ.
I’ve heard seen and heard similar comments along the lines of, “The Brazilians have the "best" hips.”, or “This move feels more Brazilian.”, etc., etc.
I feel there are similar statements in other dances that equate that the best tangueros are Argentinian, the best bachateros are Dominican, and the best semba dancers are Angolan.
I don’t want to get into the whole nature vs. nurture argument, but I feel confident to say that just because you are from a certain country doesn’t automatically give you great dance ability in whatever dance styles are popular in that country.
I fully understand there’s no denying where the roots of the dance came from. It’s vital that we continue to teach the history and roots of all dances so we have the context of where they came from. With that in mind, it’s also important to realize as a dance crosses more and more borders of different countries and continents and gets exposed to dancers who have their own dance histories, the dance will definitely morph into different things.
For example, with language, Portuguese in Brazil & Angola have their differences, Spanish in Argentina vs Puerto Rico is different, French in Paris is different from French in Quebec, and both are different from French in Senegal. These are just a few examples within the scope of language and illustrate my point being applied to the dance world.
Every dancer is eventually going to have their own unique personal style as they continue to progress on their dance journeys. Collectively, influenced by our surrounding cultures, instructors, DJs, organizers, and fellow dancers the dances will continue to grow and morph in different ways. However, before we can develop a personal style we have to crawl from the beginning and begin our understanding of the basics.
The humility to learn to crawl yet again
There has definitely been something daunting and yet refreshing about taking beginner classes again for BZ. Granted I’m aware I’m not starting a new dance style as a complete beginner to dance. My first partner dancer was salsa, then had to learn to crawl again in kizomba and urbankiz, and now here I am again crawling to learn BZ. One perspective could be stuck in between a Catch-22 of the hunger to learn more, and as you learn more you become aware of more and more things that you don’t know.
A quote I've liked over the years says, "As the island of your knowledge grows, so do the shores of your ignorance."
There is some confidence and skillset that definitely compounds to help the growth in learning a new style of dance. Looking back, I guess I can say it has helped a bit because the initial learning curve for BZ can definitely be daunting. I also can’t say I haven’t struggled with frustration, insecurity, or fear of dancing with higher level or pro BZ follows.
I can definitely see why this would be a barrier for UK or BZ dancers who’ve already reached a certain skill level after years of training to then start to cross-train as a beginner in a completely different dance style. I feel cross-training with the intention of fusion is also an interesting idea.
Defining conscious fusion
I’ve been to my fair share of fusion dance events and also helped organize 3 national fusion festivals. If you aren’t sure exactly what fusion is check out the podcast I did with my friend Vanessa.
There’s a lot of say on what fusion is or isn’t, but in a nutshell, I like to describe fusion dancing as non-denominational partner dancing. I will write another blog nerding out on fusion definitions. The fusion scene can have a very “come as you are” and you will be accepted type of vibe in general.
Fusion dancing can feel like dancing in a coloring book of partner dances with no lines. As long as you aren’t harming whoever you’re dancing with or those around you, almost anything flies with safety and consent. From this perspective, it’s hard to distinguish any specific partner dance technique at times, if at all.
With my exploration with UKZ, I feel it’s more of a conscious fusion because I’m actively training in both. I can go to a kiz social and operate just fine only dancing kiz, and I can also go to a zouk social and do just fine dancing BZ (granted UK is definitely my stronger dance). At BZ socials, I definitely use UK to offer some time to catch my breath from the higher stamina that is commonly required for BZ.
The elements that make UKZ fusion conscious for me personally are:
- studying the roots of both dances to find historical similarities and differences
- frequenting pure environments for dancing and instruction in each style
- creating and identifying opportunities to transition to and from each style
- a track record of practice and documenting through video with reflective notes (check out my Dancer's Training Journal for a cool dance tracking system)
- creating content & documenting the process and findings
Let's take for example bachatango at a Latin dance festival or UK tango influence class at a UK festival. In this context, you are teaching tango elements to a crowd that more than likely has never taken a tango class or been to a milonga.
So the class is probably 85% - 90% core dance and the rest tango and this could be labeled as a “fusion” class especially because they will dancing with bachata music at the latin festival and UK music at the UK festival.
There isn't a huge overlap of music between the tango world and bachata or kizzable music. There is where UKZ gets interesting because there is definitely a wider overlap musically.
Imagine the inverse tangochata, teaching bachata moves to a class full of tango dancers. LMAO!
Now let's take the bachatango class and teaching at fusion event where the majority of attendees aren't too familiar with tango or bachata and you're dancing to non-tango and non-bachata music. That's definitely more complex and uncommon to teach/learn.
Using colors as an analogy, if BZ could be represented by the color black, and UK by the color white (in a very simplistic sense as they are multiple styles of BZ and UK in their own worlds) there could be various shades of gray that the dance could change between during the course of a dance. When I dance straight BZ (black color)., I already have a “kiz accent (white color)” which makes my black a little grayer and the inverse of this could also be true to have an “off-white” UK style.
I feel with social media today (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, & Tiktok) and the tons of dance videos that are shared is exposing us to so many dance styles that fusion between styles is almost inevitable. This ties directly to the long-standing "debate" of what is fusion? when is it appropriate? when is it a hot mess? how do you ensure we forgetting the roots while also embracing the changes that will naturally happen?
Conscious fusing dance floor findings
Some experiences I've had and factors I've noticed that affect my UKZ-ability are:
What song is playing?
- There's definitely an overlap of zoukable and kizzable music.
- If it's too slow it's more difficult to kiz to, if it's too fast it's more difficult to zouk to.
- I've also noticed the lack or presence of more bass beats can help a song feel more kizzable, but I'm enjoying stretching the musical genres I am dancing UK to.
How experienced is the follower I'm dancing with in BZ and UK?
- Right now (at least in my experience) there are few followers that are actively investing in training in both UK & BZ equally, so on the dance floor the follower is most likely going to be more versed in one dance.
- I've found it's easier to kiz a prominent zouk follower than zouk a prominent kiz follower. Granted the complexities of turns and spins and body shapes for zouk definitely require some training and practice to get down. Zouk followers tend to misstep with follower saidas as they are used to stepping more between the leads stance versus on the outside. Also, most zouk followers are not used to the touch step or leg lifts that are super common in UK.
- Coming from a salsa background, I love playing with turns and spins. Even if I'm dancing straight UK I tend to lead a lot of turns, spins, and axis turns. The amount of creativity and cool variations of spins, axis turns, and counterbalance is mind-boggling and inspiring!
- I've also found more experienced zouk followers are not thrown off by exploring zouk moves off the typical zouk rhythm (boom chic chic) and also have an awesome way of expressing their mood and emotion through their movement. I know in salsa there are salsa shines where the couple disconnects and each play with the music as they hear it and reconnect again. This also happens on the zouk side of things, especially during soltinho. I feel UK shines are not really a thing in general but it would be cool if that was incorporated more!
How much energy and floor space do I have?
- I love to play on the dance floor and don't mind taking up space, this is typically not the case in the UK world on the social dance floor. However, on the zouk side, there's a lot more space used in general. Floorcraft is important in either dance, but easier with UK because the dance doesn't need to take up a lot of space, granted zouk can also be danced with no taking up a lot of space as well.
- I bring up energy because I'm still learning BZ and I definitely don't have the zouk stamina just yet so I get winded (especially with the elevation change at Elevation Zouk Festival) so I use UK to slow my dance down and catch my breath to slow down the sweating a bit
I definitely intend to keep training in BZ and I’m obviously still teaching UK and don’t plan to stop teaching anytime soon, I’ve been teaching kiz since 2014. I have gotten asked quite a bit, do I plan on teaching BZ? I feel like I still have so many holes in my BZ basics to understand fundamentally how the moves are supposed to work for the leader role let alone in a partnership. Granted, teaching UK early on in my kiz journey did help me level up my own dancing faster.
There are lots of opportunities as well for professional development for teachers on the BZ side so maybe participating in one of those would be interesting to try out. For now, I do feel comfortable teaching UKZ private lessons, so hit me up if you’re interested in those.
From a financial perspective of a dance artist, teaching and earning money while not having to pay for flights, hotels, and some meals at dance events to have income-positive weekends versus expense-positive weekends is definitely preferred.
I’ve been fortunate to have an awesome UKZ practice partner in Austin, Alina, to practice with that’s definitely been helping my overall BZ flow while also allowing me to explore and fill up my dance love tanks with creative, musical, and playful explorations!
I’m open for UKZ collaborations, kiz/zouk trades, and zouk training/practice overall.
I intend to keep attending BZ-only events as my travel schedule and budget permits for now. I definitely find myself leaving BZ events feeling inspired to continue to hone my craft of teaching and also artistic creative expression.
I’m also excited to explore more kizouk teaching opportunities. I’ll be teaching at the Kizouk Connections weekender in Denver a month from now (February 2023) and I’m excited to challenge my dance brain in a fresh way after almost a decade of experience teaching dance! I co-taught a UKZ fusion class with BZ follower and that was pretty cool!
Thanks for making it to the end of my UKZ ramblings, and I’m looking forward to catching you on a UK or BZ dance floor soon! Until my next piece of intellectual dance content (feel free join my Intellectual Dance Content Facebook Group), peace, love, and light!