Monday, May 6, 2013

How I became a zouk dancer - and how can others too?

In the spring of 2011 I walked into a club in Helsinki through a recommendation by a friend of mine "to check out some Brazilian couples dance". I wasn't so sure why I'd be interested but I thought why not. What I walked into was the closing party of the first Helsinki Zouk Festival. I fell in love with the music instantly. I got to learn my first zouk steps and even had one dance, with one of the teachers. To me zouk looked something out of this world, out of my reach and out of my elements. But it got me curious. The next week I went to my first zouk class with a friend of mine. Two years later I'm still on this road of no return. And I couldn't be happier! (But, hey.. What is zouk? )

Dance like everybody is watching!
In other words, how to get rid of those first mental hurdles in partner dancing?

Dancing seems to be a daunting idea for some. How many times have I seen the "Dance like nobody is watching" poster, as if dancing would be something you would need to hide or be ashamed of!?! Many people say they simply can't dance or that they have no rhythm. But everybody can dance: find music you like and move to it! In essence you're just walking to the beat of the music or to the changes in the melody - it can be as simple as that. People seem to always worry most about stepping out of their comfort zone and forget all the positive things that come with it. Dancing is good for your health, it improves your memory (it's a fact!), builds your confidence and it's a great way to meet new people!

While some feel it takes some special qualities to dance, others may also think it takes some extra-ordinary qualities to dance with other people - like it's something for old people or only for professional dancers. I used to think like that too! Funnily though, as expressive and sensual as zouk is (when it comes to partner dancing zouk definitely is more sensual than many) guys seem to feel less insecure about taking the first steps. The guys to girls ratio is clearly higher in zouk than say in salsa. But still, guys do feel it's hard for them to be understood by their friends. If I had a nickle for every time I hear "if my friends would see me here, dancing zouk, they'd never believe it"... But some guys know it better, like the guy who once told me: "For so many years in my life I used to sweat with guys at the gym and now I sweat with girls on the dance floor." Guys that take up couples dancing never regret it!

If guys are worried about their street cred, girls can be worried about being close to guys - even though being close to people is pretty much the most normal, most human thing to do. I guess there are still some taboos about it - even in one of the most liberal countries in the world like Finland (where we go to the sauna in the nude) people still like to have their personal space. But fear not, just placing your hand on another person's shoulder or dancing in close promixity with someone doesn't mean anything sexual. And if you are looking for some sexual connection through dancing you're definitely doing it wrong!!

Step 1: step out of your comfort zone. Step 2: have fun!

If you have never tried couples dancing here are some tips to get started:
  • Don't have a dance partner? In 99% of the cases you don't need a partner for a partner dance class - dance teachers try to make sure there's an even number of guys and girls on classes, and partners are switched often during the class. That's a great way to meet people!
  • If you don't feel comfortable dancing with strangers then you can start with a person you like and trust - take your spouse with you or a friend. (Soon you'll notice you'll be dancing with everybody :)). 
  • Get yourself a practice partner. Personally I think it's good to go with a friend to your first classes just because it is fun to have someone you can share your thoughts with outside the classes and practice the steps you've learned. But you can also make friends at the class, you'll hardly be the only beginner in your class! You can also ask the dance teacher if they have any ideas for a practice partner.
  • Find dance groups on Facebook to connect with the people even between the classes and find new places to dance.
  • Practice makes perfect! My super tip is to take part in as many socials, practicas and dance gatherings as possible, straight from the start. That's the best way to get started and the whole idea of  partner dancing: being social & dancing! You'll also notice that your dancing will improve dramatically the more you dance (surprise, surprise!).
  • Don't worry about being a pro right from the start - we've all been a beginner once and know how it it feels. In any dance event you are totally allowed (I'd say recommended) to ask the more experienced dancers and teachers for a dance or even ask for some tips if you like.
  • Don't get drunk before going dancing - your dance partners will appreciate it. Alcohol will not improve your dance skills, no matter how you much you hope it would. If you feel you'll be too shy without a drink then a better solution is to go with a friend and take the first dance with him/her. 
  • Bring comfortable clothes (possibly an extra t-shirt) and dance shoes depending on the floor: in dance studios you'll be ok to dance with socks or indoor shoes if you have those; in clubs normal shoes that you are comfortable with to move around. In time you'll find shoes and clothes you like to wear the most but in the beginning you don't need to worry about that at all.
  • Somewhere along the line find a dance mentor. When you've found a dance style you like you can look for a dance teacher to "mentor" you - ask for personal recommendations from other dancers for a dance teacher they like, ask around for teacher that have qualities you value and master a style you enjoy the most. There's no shame in learning from several people or changing teachers - it's best to find a person who you are the most comfortable with and will help you reach your goals.
  • Final tip: Enjoy life! 

Take it from me, it is worth to be open to experience something new. My favourite part of dancing zouk is that no dance is like the other, I keep experiencing something new all the time.  Even though I always liked dancing I have never dreamed it could be as intoxicating, as challenging and as rewarding as zouk is. But above all it's one of those rare things where I can completely live in the moment and not think about anything else. To me zouk is more than just a dance, it's like a new universal language. I may share a dance with a person I've never met before and instantly find this magical telepathy, connection that comes from the smallest of movements or gestures. It can make you feel like you're gliding through the floor just barely touching the ground, living every beat of the music as it comes along without thinking one step ahead. It's like magic - and that's what zouk is all about :) I hope you find a dance style, a hobby or work that gives you as much as this has given me!

Where can I find zouk classes near me?

You can find zouk in nearly all countries in Europe, in USA, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Japan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Oman, Singapore, Thailand, UAE, Vietnam, South Africa.... The list is quite long already! For my tips on zouk places see the tag cloud on the right side of this post under TAGS: click either on the "zouk" or country name tags.

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