Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Zoukeiras, it's our time to shine! Part 1 of zouk ladies' styling tips

One of the first things someone told me about zouk is that the main job for the leader is to make the lady look beautiful! Probably everybody wouldn't agree that it is t-h-e main thing (but it sure sounds nice in my ears). But it's not only the leader's job to do that, it's also the ladies' job - and styling certainly makes a big impact in that.

In this post I will share the tips I've collected during the years regarding zouk ladies' styling. There are some universal ideas of what movements look nice and what don't - but still, the two important things I think you should remember in styling:

First of all: We are all unique and have your own individual style! Don't be stressed about not looking exactly like your zouk teacher, about moving just like her, having her physique, flexibility or looks. Be proud of your individual style!

Secondly: Every zouk style has different styling, to some degree. What fits one style may not fit the other - but learning more than one way to style does not hurt! Some concepts still remain the same in all styles and I try to focus on these here.

“It's better to live your own life imperfectly than to imitate someone else's perfectly.”
Elizabeth Gilbert

Below a number of "key concepts" in the follower's styling in zouk, as simply written as possible. Many of these have notes also about dance technique in general, how to move in a way that helps you also follow better and make your movement feel & look more elegant. These tips here have helped in my dancing and would say apply to any zouk style (zouk-lambada, Rio style, hiphop zouk, etc). I've included some style specific tips too!

If you have ladies' styling tips of your own please share to them to us here, or on DTW Facebook page! I'm always interested to hear about ways to become a better (as well as a better looking) dancer :) 

Upper body

Aligning the head, neck, shoulders and arms

This is one of the most instrumental areas for the zouk followers! Firstly: Keep a good frame. Relax your shoulders, open your chest, extend the chin.

Then of course the #1 rule in zouk regarding the shoulders and head: the head moves along with the shoulders. First about aligning the shoulders: when you have your arms straight out and when a leader is tilting your body to the side (lifting one arm, like in "air plane"), your shoulders should move in a straight line: if the one shoulder is down the other one should rise the equal amount, and vice versa. You can keep the head about 90 degrees from the shoulders. Let the hair flow - as with all the head or hair moves, relax the neck, don't "push" the head down/to the side. The head should flow naturally. No need to have your ear touch your shoulder.

Andressa, perfectly aligned.

Special note 1: In the "boneca wifi" (you know this from lambazouk) aligning the shoulders and arms are of the essence. In fact, in this type of movement (lambazouk style), you don't need to lean your upper body so much (some do more some less - find a way that looks good to you). The main thing is create circles with your aligned arms. The elegance comes from clear lines of movement.

Romina and Ricardo show the typical lambazouk styling.

Special note 2: In "roasted chicken" on the other hand the top of your head should stay on spot while your body rotates - the head rotates too, but the top of the head does not make a circle.

What goes down must come up!

First of all, you know it, but it's easy to get lazy. A) Contract the chest when head is facing down. B) Open chest when your chin is up / head is back. Part A can be a matter of style in terms of how much you will contract or how low to go. But it always looks better when you remember to open your chest in part B.

This leads me to another point; when doing e.g. the elastico or chicote and coming up: think more "chin up" than "head back". Some dancers lean the head very very back (like Natasha Terekhina); in some styles it's fairly typical in lambazouk, but no need to do it - actually don't do it at all without learning it properly first! Remember though, before moving the head/chin up (starting from the position when your head is down, chest contracted), first lift up your upper back, then move shoulders back, open the chest and then lift the chin. Let the movement flow - don't "jump" up, like Jack-in-the-Box.

Down and up, with style. Larissa and Natasha show how it's done.
Be careful with your neck when coming up!

Rolling the head

Typically, when doing boneca / balao  movements - and many others in zouk - you will roll your head around. How to achieve that beautiful flowing head and hair movement? First of all, as above, relax the neck, don't "push". A tip from Natasha Terekhina for those of us who have a stiffer neck: in stead of leaning your ear to your shoulder, look at the shoulder. So a full circle would go like this: first, point your chin/nose to shoulder, point your chin up, point your chin to the other shoulder, point the chin down. This way, I also notice I get less dizzy. And I it looks better - why? Perhaps because this way the top of your crown makes the largest circle and thus the hair movement is usually bigger. Remember also to work the chest (open - contract)! Balance tip - keep your eyes open.

The beautiful head movements you can see in all zouk styles! Babi rocks the Vero zouk style.

The look

What I quite often see in the parties is people looking down, at the floor. Olaya Dende also pointed this out in one of her classes: "There's no money on the floor - stop looking!" Look straight ahead, at your partner or where you're going, keep your chin slightly up. You can even style your look - to accent a break you can turn to look up, to the side or towards your arm.

Arms and hands

#1 way to make your hand styling better: when your hand is free - style it! Don't just let it hang - remember this also in the cambré or when you are lead from the shoulders / neck.  If you can't think of any hand styling on spot (and it's not always necessary) just place your hand on your hip - gracefully or sexy, whatever is your style.

Your "styling" can also help the leader; if the leader is turning or spinning you from the back of the neck (your head is down) or shoulders, keep your arms quite firm with hands on your hips. It doesn't only look better than your arms flapping loose on the sides - this way the leader can also stop the spin and lead another movement from the arms.

#2 way to make your hand styling better: always finish the move! This applies to any kind movement you do on the dance floor but it can be especially easy to notice in the arms. Think of your arm movement as continuous element throughout the dance. You can rest the hand on your hip or hold the arm in front of you at your chest height - but don't just plop it there. Move the hand in an elegant continuous motion.

But the leader is asking for my hand (=offering his hand) NOW, I don't want to be late!? It can wait the 0,5-1 second it takes you to finish your styling movement and to elegantly give your hand to the leader. There is no move that I have not been able to complete without giving the hand NOW (the leader in fact should be leading you with his body first and foremost, so follow his body).

#3 way to make your hand styling better: don't be afraid to touch. Babi Pacheco always reminds us on her classes: you can touch your body, it's your body! No need to be lewd, but it looks much better to run the hand on your body and through your hair than to hover it over your body or around your head.

Simple way to decorate a turn: Place your free hand at your hip at the start of the turn. Run your hand up from you hip to your chest, around the head, back across the chest, down your side to the hip. If you are doing many turns (spins) you can repeat this loop as many times as you want - no need to stop the hand; do a small circle around your lower back with your hand in the end of the loop to start over.

Renata, the queen of zouk showing her styling

Lower body

Spin cycle

In spinning, balance is the #1 thing. A strong core is key in retaining balance - and ever so easy to forget. A small plié can help too. Spotting obviously helps as well as holding your core & bum firm. But where most fall is that we are too eager. As described by Olaya Dende: Take the spin one turn a time - a single spin is essentially two steps. Don't think about making ten or xx amount of spins. Think: "step step... okay the leader wants more: step step... okay one more: step step.." and so on. Keep in the rhythm of the lead and the music, no need to go any faster. What also helps? Keep the steps short, like Olaya says, when spinning, just walk like penguin. :)

How about styling the spin? You can do the hand stylings I described above. How about combining the head or hair moves with the spins - and still keep the balance? This is for the more advanced ladies. Simple way to explain the most common head styling in my opinion: relax your neck so that the head  leans on the outer side of the circle, away from the direction of the spin. When the leader stops the spin then roll your head down and up. How to spot during this? Well, you can spot with your eyes. Doesn't help? The only thing I can tell you that has really helped me is time, a lot of practice and finally confidence - if I believe I can do it, it goes a long way for me in actually doing it. But without practice, a lot of repetitions and time to mentally and physically absorb the information it wouldn't be possible.

Natasha knows all about making the spins balanced and beautifully styled


The body roll is one of my favourite moves. To make it look better, learn to isolate your body (chest, mid section, hip,.. break the movements down to as small areas as possible). Remember to finish the body roll; after you roll the chest and contract your abdomen don't forget to put the bum back! In general, learning to isolate your body movements makes your styling more intense and can make your moves bigger as your range of movement expands.

Becky is a master in isolations!

Hips don't lie

Don't forget to use your hip to accent the moves - depending your style or speed of the music you can do more or less. Turning the hip out at the turn in lateral is one way to accent the move, for example. But no need to accent the hip in all of the moves, all the time.

If you do a lunge/preparation for a turn (typical in Rio style), remember keep your hip in, make sure your weight is on top of your foot, not leaning over the side. Your other foot is now free, you can direct it where the leader is asking you. You can slide into the "slow" step, in stead of just stepping.


This something that you will most likely be lead to, so it's not simply a styling concept. There's some tips that have helped me, however... In the side waves (not the body roll forward-back, but moving side to side) move your body as if you were moving between two walls, one right in front of you and one behind you. In the side wave going up, you start from your hip - head comes last (relax the neck)! A tip from the "ladies' styling guru" Bruno Galhardo (I'm serious, he's really good!): If you keep your feet a bit closer together, you'll perhaps find you're able to move your hip more. For me, about 15cm space between the feet is the most optimal.

Do the legwork

Be elegant right down to your toes. Most professional zouk teachers recommend dancing in heels - and I think it is the best way to dance zouk. It also makes me feel more elegant and makes my steps look more stylish. After a while with heels (now years) I feel out of balance dancing on flats!

The key thing for me in making the steps more elegant is extending your foot on every step. Let the step roll from the ball of your foot to the heel. Learn to walk softly, as if gliding. No bouncing! Keep your head leveled while moving backward/forward in the basic step. What most helps me in, for example, lateral is pointing my pinky toe to the floor in the "slow" step. This naturally also moves my hips in the steps - this trick I learned from Bruno Galhardo.

In lateral, basic step and turns you can do various foot stylings. For example, you can leave the "quick-quick" steps out in lateral and in stead accent the turn with hip movements or by sweeping the leg; draw a circle with your toes - here be careful in your timing to have your weight on the correct foot when the next slow comes! Practice keeping balance and timing on this turn. More leg styling ideas in the video playlist on the next post!

Audrey's styling class, making those legs and hips work!

Coming up

Part 2: Styling for the whole body (and mind) with key concepts that summarise ladies' styling. And ladies' styling videos!


1 comment:

  1. Styling tips part 2 now available at

    I received some nice feedback (thanks to my fellow blogger Gäelle!).

    Some clarifications to the post above:

    About the arms: When I say about styling the arm(s) all the time I don't mean you have to *do something* with your arms all the time. Just to have a thought while you dance how you hold the arm (I consider that "styling" too; holding the hand in a nice way)... Especially if you're a beginner or ever more advanced and want to improve your arm styling, this is what I personally did: For a while I was thinking about my arms literally *all the time*, how I was holding my arms and how to perhaps move them. This helped me to get a better feel of what my arms were in fact doing, so that they didn't look lazy and also eventually create new movements with the arms.

    About wearing heels. As this was written from my point of view, I do feel need to emphasize the heels as it's how I feel zouk looks the best - and also for me feels the best And many do recommend heels too, like Andressa Castelhano. But totally not necessary! And I see many of professionals also wearing flats, at least some of the time, and some all the time. Yes, that's a matter of opinion, and this is mine (I realise I said "Most professional zouk teachers" while I should have written e.g. "many")

    Any and all feedback, questions, suggestions are most welcome, keep 'em coming!