Saturday, March 17, 2012

Week in the life of a zouk dancer in São Paulo (- and it isn’t a bad life!)

After the Floripa carnival and a couple days relaxing on the beach at Ilha do Mel I was ready to enter one of the biggest cities in South America, São Paulo. A massive city - by population (about 19 million) and by physical size, the metropolis spreads out tens of kilometers in each direction, melting into smaller cities of southern Brazil. It is actually the largest city in the southern hemisphere! I was already a bit hesitant just thinking about the place due to the sheer size of São Paulo and all the dangers & annoyances that come along with it but knew I had so much to look forward to: meeting some friends I met earlier in Rio and especially getting back to my normal (dream) life – dancing zouk!

São Paulo from air (pic I took leaving the city)
My trip from Ilha do Mel to Sampa (as some affectionately call the city) didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped. Apparently it was the end of summer time that late February Sunday morning and I had woken up one hour too early – very confused at first about this but just happy I didn’t get up one hour too late… I had a big breakfast and got on a boat to Pontal do Sul. There I was hoping to catch one of the surely full buses to Curitiba where I could catch another bus to São Paulo. But indeed the buses were full so a Spanish lady and I shared a taxi from the port to the bus terminal where we first took a local bus to Paranaguá, from there a bus to Curitiba and from there a bus to São Paulo. I didn’t have to wait for too long in any of the points but it all accumulated (plus the last bus being stuck in traffic) so, having left the island before 9am in the morning, at 10.30pm I arrived to (500 km away) São Paulo. From there it was only a 20 min cab ride though the stormy city to my friend’s place where I was warmly welcomed by three guys – this would be my home for the next week! 

So what was my plan for the week? Zouk, zouk, zouk, zouk, zouk. And then some more zouk. São Paulo is one of the biggest zouk centers, probably partly due to the amount of people living in the city, put together with the Brazilian dance culture. I had heard there are big zouk parties pretty much daily, around the year, and the city is home to a large number of well-known dance schools and zouk teachers. I figured it would be enough for me to jus go take some classes and try to navigate the city to get to all the major parties. Whatever else I would accomplish would be an added bonus. I was totally zouk-deprived: it had been in January in Buenos Aires I had been able to dance the last… so much so that São Paulo wasn’t even on my original plan and now I couldn’t have been happier to be there! (And had I known how much I would enjoy being there, I would have had a hard time thinking whether to skip my next stop Bolivia on my travel list altogether…)

After arriving late on Sunday evening I enjoyed a good night sleep at my wonderful host Eduardo’s place – no rush for me to get up early this week! I had checked some zouk class timetables from my favourite teachers and knew that Renato Veronezi had classes on Monday evenings. With encouragement from Eduardo I called the dance studio to check whether I could just drop in and join the classes. My Portuguese skills were just about enough for that and I got a green light from Babi Pacheco, Renato’s zouk partner and fiancée. So she was already expecting me when I arrived there and I got a warm welcome. There were two zouk classes that night (beginners and intermediate), both 1,5 hours, and clearly the level of students was a lot higher than back home – you call these beginners?! There were more guys than girls (there was some guys who took part as followers due to that), so I felt it was good that I was there to level the ratio a bit. Pretty much all the guys mirrored Renato’s signature footwork but some had different styles too.

The classes followed a similar structure as on congresses – first a little warm up followed by a song or two of free dancing before starting with a sequence. The beginner’s class worked on very simple moves and there was a clear bump up on the next class with a long, complex sequence. The people seemed to pick it up rather well and there was plenty of discussion on the class too. The last class ended with some free dancing at 11pm. The three hours dancing that night got me off to a good start and I couldn’t wait for more! I booked some private classes with Renato and Babi for later that week too, I just couldn’t pass on the opportunity. The private classes were one of the definite highlights of that week, especially for the personal feedback on various aspects. And I can’t say it isn’t a pleasure to have a whole hour to dance with one of your favourite teachers – it was so easy to dance with Renato, simply heavenly.

After having a jump start on my zouk week with some classes on Monday I was excited to see the famous parties that São Paulo hosted. There were one pretty much every day (now only Monday nights there are no parties). Tuesday night I was at Xcaret. It’s one of the smaller venues but has a very good athmosphere, I immediately made lots of friends there (probably since I stick out like a sore thumb with my Nordic looks).  When I was leaving I got a bunch cards and invitations to other parties that week – I knew I was off to a great start! The music and the crowd was mostly lambazoukers, I saw some kizomba dancers too – there was a kizomba and a zouk class before the party (which I didn’t attend to). Xcaret doesn’t have zouk parties every week so look up their website.

Wednesday night (after the Renato’s and Babi’s private classes) I went to Capital Bar’s zouk night. At the start of the night there was a zouk class by Dadinho – there were lots of beginners on the class so for me it felt like it was moving slowly. Though I did like the sequence, very much Vero zouk style like you could expect from Dadinho. The party was good and the venue is nice with an ok size dancefloor; there’s also an outdoor patio. The crowd was younger & trendier than in Xcaret and there was a lot of hiphop influenced zouk music. I was feeling a bit tired but light up later in the evening again. They played also a couple songs of axé, samba de gafieira, forró and salsa towards the end of the evening and I was “forced” to dance one forró as well – wasn’t too bad! I stayed pretty late in the party and met a lot of wonderful people again, it’s amazing how easily you’ll get to know dancers and the teachers there: everybody is out to meet people, dance & have a good time!

Photo from
Late in the night at Capital Bar

Thursday it was time for Carioca, a large lofty venue with a very big dance floor, lots of tables (that seemed to be reserved at first but there was plenty of room to rest your feet for a moment) and a big bar. There was also another room with a smaller dance floor (still quite big) where they played samba, salsa and also zouk. On the main floor there was mainly lambazouk and again great dancers to burn the floor with. I arrived when the Philip Miha’s class was ending and there was another class ending in the smaller room as well. It was again a bit of a slow start for me but once I get going there’s no stopping me, I was one of the last people to leave. I was on a personal mission to work on the things that I we had gone through on the private classes the other day and could feel that my dance was making progress! By the night was over my feet we killing me but I think it was a good sign ;)
Pics from, by Ricardo Prodossimo!
On Fridays you can make your way to Troppo or to Hawai Interlagos, which are both pretty far from the center or would say they’re actually outside São Paulo city. I took a little rest that night and saved some energy for a long (and yes, very fun) zouk Saturday. First I was invited to join Will Zouker’s classes with my host Eduardo. There were two classes for 1,5hours both, first flow zouk and then neo zouk. There were only six people on the class so each student got plenty of attention. Will doesn’t speak English but the moves were pretty self-explanatory. I’d say I preferred the flow zouk more – neo zouk (as usual) involves quite a lot of arm twisting and I don’t think that’s too healthy in the long run.. interesting, yes. The sequences were fairly long and with such a small group we managed to learn them quite well. Can’t tell you how much the class costs, I got in for free as a guest :) We had time to have some delicious açaí (mine with strawberries and muesli) in between the classes so I felt quite energized. After classes it was time for a quick dinner and of to another night of dancing!

So Saturday night was Troppo night. After the classes and a dinner I wasn’t sure how I could get myself together for another party but I certainly woke up on the hour long ride on the back on the motorcycle – and got to see some postcard São Paulo sights on the way! Troppo is big club in São Caetano do Sul, just outside the city but still in a very urban area. The club has two floors, on the first floor they played samba and forró (or so I heard, didn’t stay to listen for too long) and on the second floor zouk. They even had some shows there, on the second floor there were two samba de gafieira shows. The latter of the two shows was just incredible… the fast pace of the dance and the amazing and very demanding lifts were something that really impressed me! I hope I find a video of that at some point.

I already recognized a lot of faces at Troppo and had again no trouble finding dance partners. It’s funny how every night there are new people (new to me) who are great dancers – there’s an abundance of them in Brazil apparently. And every night there’s some new guy who I have a really good connection with. Most of the times you dance with one partner for two songs of more, or at least that was the case with me. I was drenched in sweat, again… The night (myself included) lasted until 5am when they turned the lights on and kicked the remaining about 15 of us out. My toes were black and the balls of my feet felt like they were on fire… And it was totally worth it! On the ride home I could barely rest my toes on the bike pedals but was deliriously happy. By the time we were in São Paulo city I could see the sun rise behind the rows of skyscrapers, all wrapped in a morning mist.. there was something magical about that.

So after the long Troppo night I found myself sleeping until 2pm – a record on my trip so far for sure!! But the week wasn’t over, I still had one last night in Buena Vista. On Sundays there’s also zouk at Icaraí but I opted for the closer party. Luckily I wasn’t disappointed :) I came in around 10.30pm and the party was in full swing. The Buena Vista has a very lofty big space which is mostly just one huge dancefloor, with some tables and chairs around it. Even though it was a rather big space it was somehow the coziest one of all the clubs I visited that week. The music was more on the lambazouk range as it had been for the most part of the week (except for Wednesday). When I got my strappy dance shoes on and walked towards some friends I had made during the week I was immediately pounced by a guy who I had danced with on the night before in Troppo – and that wasn’t the only time that happened! Was exciting to see that people couldn’t wait to dance with me.

Just before closing time in Buena Vista - the first time I have a moment to myself to pick up the camera 

The night lasted (only) until around 1.30am and I was dancing like there was no tomorrow – again I was one of the last people to leave. There were a couple of guys that I had noticed on the dancefloor in parties earlier that week that I hadn’t had the opportunity to dance with who came to ask me for a dance in the last hour – so in a way I felt my week was complete. And again there was one particularly magical dance, appropriately it was the last dance I had… I left Buena Vista happy and sad, with lots of wonderful new friends. People weren’t thrilled to hear that I was leaving to Bolivia the next day but I promised to come back. (And it’s not a hard promise to make :)). 

General info for the São Paulo zouk tourists

Regarding all the parties: check the clubs’ websites for the latest info, contact detail, addresses etc:

You can also join the São Paulo lambazouk community:

The Cazouk Facebook group's list on São Paulo also has lots of information: 

The entrance to the clubs is free if you arrive very early or up to about 10-30R$, depending if you have your name on the list (you can check before 5pm on the day of the party if you can join the list, mostly it’s possible by sending an email) and if you’re a male or female (girls get almost always in cheaper). There was a coat check in all the places, drinks at reasonable prices which you’ll pay with a card you get when you enter – you’ll pay the bill once you leave.

You’ll see people of all ages in the parties and the zouk crowd tends to be pretty open to new people so no worries if you arrive alone (like I did usually) – you’ll get to know the people in no time. If you’re looking for a certain style then it’s better to check in advance who is the dj, though they tend to play according to what the crowd is like. Porto Seguro style (lambazouk, lambada…) seems to be the most prominent, along with Vero zouk. You’ll see plenty of zouk trademark stuff, such as a guy dancing with two girls, two guys dancing with one girl, partner swapping (and I’m talking about dancing stricktly!) – and also two guys dancing together, just for the fun of it. The level of dancers is high. Yes, there are beginners too but at any given night you’ll be surrounded by plenty of world class zoukers.

Besides the parties there are plenty of regular classes with a wide range of teachers. Ask around, look for teachers that are specialized in the style that you’re interested. To list some of the teachers in São Paulo: Renato Veronezi and Babi Pacheco, Jefferson Dadinho, Jemerson Silva, Philip Miha, Mara Santos….. Lots of guest teachers also come to São Paulo, look up the Facebook group for more information. You can also ask for private classes – which I definitely recommend. Each teacher has their own schedule (fairly flexible in my experience) and prices. For example the class with Renato (160R$/ 1hour) and Babi (120R$/ 1 hour) I only booked two days in advance.

Some regular classes running at the moment:

Renato Veronezi (Vero zouk): Mon 20-21.30 Zouk beginners and 21.30-23 Zouk intermediate; Tue 20.-21.30 Zouk advanced at Escola de Danca Renato Veronezi (Avenida Miruna, 1874; tel: 11 7777-5495)

Jefferson Dadinho (Vero zouk): Saturdays 14.30-16.00 -

Will Zouker: Saturdays 14.30-16.00 Flow zouk and 16.30-18.00 Neo zouk

Philip Miha classes and parties (Lambazouk) -
Remember that pretty much all parties will also have classes – you can check on the clubs’ websites information about the teachers and classes. Sometimes the best way is also to look the clubs' Facebook pages, most have them.

About São Paulo – hey, there’s an actual city out there!

São Paulo didn’t look as daunting as I had imagined it to be – the massive & dangerous Brazilian metropolis I went to see the downtown only one day within the entire week - a bit of a shame but I wanted to give all my energy & focus on doing what I love most: dance zouk. If I wasn’t dancing then I was just relaxed at my friend's house and at the pool, enjoyed having some normal life, cooking & doing laundry, chatting with friends back home. Or getting ready to leave to another zouk class or a party. But to be such a big city there is certain beauty in it. I saw lots of parks here and there, not a concrete jungle or a marble palace. There is a certain charm in the tens and hundreds of skyscrapers that line the highways and riversides – if you like cities I think you’ll like Sâo Paulo. I couldn’t even begin to tell what would be the best part of the city, I’ll leave that to the guidebooks.

Cathedral in Se
But where to stay in São Paulo? It's practically impossible to stay in a location that allows you to be within easy reach of everything as the distances are huge. A patient traveler will survive with public transport which goes on ‘til after midnight and starts at around 4.30am. But during rush hours it can take you hours to get anywhere and it gets very crowded (and that meaning "rock festival mosh pit" type of crowded). A person who is worried about crowds and get lost easily might have some problems. Taxies are reliable and are worth the fare especially late in the evening / during the night when they also don’t get stuck in traffic on the congested roads. Just make sure you remember your (very long) address and the part of town and maybe even some directions; most drivers have GPS but not all, and it always helps to get around when you keep some track of you bearings.

So, examples about getting from A to B… The buses cost between 3-6 R$ (one ride), the metro 3R$ (as many changes as you wanted), the taxi was roughly 60R$ for a half an hour. I was living rather in the middle, a bit off on the west side of São Paulo – to get to the center it took about an hour; to get to the classes and parties that were spread around the city it took anything between over an hour to 2 hours by public transport (just within the city) and a half an hour (or even less) with a taxi during the night. To find my way I used google maps which pretty accurately gave the bus times, lines and connections, calculating the best routes, together with the city metro map. I always prefer the metro since it’s easiest to know when to get off.

Some useful sites / links for getting around in Sao Paulo:
Metro - metro map; get the latest copy at any station - if you can't find one you can ask for it but note that they are constantly building new lines.
Airport buses (GRU): a good connection to/from e.g. metro line Tatuapé.
Google maps: I found the directions, even the ones "by public transit" to be quite accurate! Good for finding your way and checking with bus lines to use (if you know where to hop off).

So what did I get out of São Paulo…?

I clocked in about 30 hours of just dancing during the week: on three afternoons I had classes and on five nights I went out to the parties. Every day I got more confidence, stability and style to my dance - learning to pace myself while yet dance more dynamically. Focusing on the rhythm and on styling, I felt I made progress little by little. The dance partners seemed to be very pleased too since I could barely get any breaks. And I don’t think I’ve gotten that many hugs and kisses during one single week of my trip!! Maybe it was all due to my smile - I noticed especially in the last two parties that I actually couldn't stop smiling. All of it was thanks to the boys in the parties and my regained zouk-confidence.

Frankly I can't wait to be back. Who cares about sitting in traffic in a gigantic São Paulo when I can dance every night with the Paulistas.. it's a treat, trust me. It would help a lot if I could really speak Portuguese, that's one thing I still have to learn! When I got to the airport I was feeling pretty sad that I had to leave. But I know it won’t be too long when I’m in São Paulo again :)

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