Friday, December 30, 2011

Laguna Bacalar – the lagoon of 7 colors – and Mexico roundup

After cooling down in the mountain air – and spending a fun-filled Chrismas eve – I hopped on a long-haul, direct, hour overnight back to the steaming hot Caribbean coast. I had a hard time to decide where to go next… I knew I was going to Belize for New Year so decided to skip trying get through Guatemala (and Tikal) in only a couple days and took the more chilled out route to the Mexican coast. Closest place to Belize – or the nicest one close to Belize – was Laguna Bacalar. So first a 13 hour bus to Chetumal! Nice scenery greeted us when leaving San Cristobal:

Mexican X-mas - feliz!

Christmas came to San Cristobal on Dec 24th no matter even if for me it still didn’t feel at all like Christmas. The decorations, the carols (mostly those I heard sounded like the ones you hear if you open a tacky Christmas card), Christmas trees – and there were even real pine trees in San Cristobal – didn’t make me feel anything like Christmas, in a way I feel at home. And that was a good thing, I didn’t want to start pining back to Finland!

I don’t know how much the holidays affected the Mexican lives but there sure were tons of people out on the streets every day. And all the shops, stalls, food vendors, cafes and restaurants were open all through the Christmas Eve (and through the entire holiday season!).

San Cristobal de las Casas – cooling down up in the mountains

San Cristobal de las Casas is a town in the mountains in the Chiapas region, 2000m above sea level. I took a whirlwind minicab ride from the Palenque jungle and was greeted by a cold cold night air when I arrived to San Cristobal. I wouldn’t say I was delighted to be there, tired from the jerky ride, arriving to a dark, wet and cold little town. After a long walk through town (thinking ‘ok, the walking street and the restaurants look nice’) I got to my hostel, took a hot shower and collapsed to my bed.

The morning was even colder than the night and I was in shock – I want back to the beach, NOW! I decided to give the city a try and went out for a walk wearing basically all of the clothes I could think of, luckily all my warmest clothes were clean! And I could finally give the all the sand, sea and sweat covered clothes to the hostel laundry. Before 9am it was still nicely cool out and I was enjoying my ski pants. But suddenly, some point between 10 -11 it was so hot I couldn’t take my clothes off fast enough. The sun was really piercing! First looking for the sun and now looking for the shades, I continued through the town. There were lots of lovely pedestrian streets with shops of beautiful local handcrafted clothes, bags, woodcarvings, clay animals, Zapatista dolls. The area seemed to be full of artisans and artists (my mom would have loved it!).

Friday, December 23, 2011

Machetes and mushrooms in the Palenque jungle

Ok - didn't see either machetes or mushrooms in Palenque. But that was the what I had basically pictured from all the Palenque stories :D I'm sure both were available, no one just thought about offering either to me :)

We arrived 6 am to Palenque pueblo after a lovely (the buses are better than in Finland) but still tiresome night bus ride. An hour late but just in time to see the sun rise behind the jungle hills, all wrapped in strips of mist. We hadn’t manage to secure a hostel (I was travelling with a Chinese girl Yuxing) so took a taxi to an area close to the ruins in the jungle, El Panchan, which was supposedly a lovely place. And again, we were not disappointed. There were couple of hostels with many cabanas spread in the jungle and amongst them some restaurants and tour agencies. Took a walk on the paths around the different cabanas and saw a nice creek teeming with fish!

The colorful Campeche - a short stop

Somehow I decided I would spend Christmas on the mountains in San Cristobal de Las Casas, instead of the beach. On the way to San Cristobal and Palenque (where my next stop was) from Merida is a lovely town of Campeche. I had heard it was pretty and that it was… are all the Mexican little town this cute?? (so far, yes!). Colorful one or two story-houses line the old town streets and only a rare turist in sight. When I was having lunch - exchausted and half asleep - a local 40-something guy came to ask me with an American accent "are you ok man?" :D The people are lovely :)

The compact old town surrounded by walls and forts that were built in the 1600-1800. I went around to sightsee and ended up doing some shopping since I was desperately out of clean clothes and nothing seemed to dry if I washed them. Figured I was allowed to spend a few pesos since I didn’t get a flight to Cuba (long story).

People here love to listen to music, it’s blaring everywhere. Salsa, reggaeton, chart hits… I heard bachata everywhere when I was walking around during the day. Like I do everywhere in Mexico actually! Was hanging out and sleeping on the sofa of the Monkey Hostel in the evening and listening to a fiesta & shows they had on the square in front of us – pre-Christmas concerts and celebrations are happening everywhere. And that was all for Campeche. At midnight (or actually 00.30 – the bus was half an hour late), me and Yuxing, my Chinese friend, hopped on the bus to Palenque.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

City life in Merida

Leaving from the adorable Valladolid it was not easy to feel at home in Merida. It’s a city of about a million people and what feels like a million cars too. Streets are packed with people with either meandering or (more often) rushing and pushing. The weather was hotter and the hostel, even though very nice, was not as good comparing to the warm-heartedness of Valladolid. But as before, I’ve been meeting really nice people from around the world and enjoying my time with them - Emilia from Sydney, Patricia from Monterrey, Allison & Pat from the UK, Yuxing from China.

Traffic, people, traffic, people... that's what you'll see in Merida
And some "interesting" buildings" (ok, there's some pretty cathedrals too but they have them *everywhere*).

Friday, December 16, 2011

Nature explorations in the Yucatán: flamingo & croc shooting (with camera) and a dip to another cenote

After a night with beers, Mexican shots and stories, I got up at 5am yesterday to jump on a second class bus to Tizimin with Pedro where we would – if lucky – change straight away to another bus for Río Lagartos. It was pitch dark when we escaped from the hostel to the bus station. The connection to Río had gone when we got to Tizimin so we went to see if we could find a collectivo (a shared taxi van) but no luck either. So we walked around the poor little town and had a fantastic 10 peso breakfast. I can tell you there are zero tourists in Tizimin - and frankly the only interesting thing to see is the local people!

Mexican charm in Valladolid and Indianajonesing in Chichén Itzá

After some beach life it was time to dip into the Mexican culture. First on my agenda was to discover the Mayan history and where else to do it than at one of the new seven wonders of the world, Chichén Itzá. I unfolded a map of the Yucatan and the town of Valladolid was the closest place so decided it would be my base for the next couple days. I had read nice things about the town itself, there are lots of cenotes and the Río Lagartos nature reserve is easy to access from Valladolid as well.

I took a morning first class bus from Playa to Valladolid and immediately when we started to pull into Valladolid I was in love with the town. The charmingly shabby small streets with colorful buildings and no tourist-looking wanderers was a sight for sore eyes.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Beach life in Playa

It took a while but as the 11 hour flight from London to Cancún was drawing to an end it finally started to dawn on me that I'm on a holiday - on an actual holiday - going somewhere a bit further away. The flight itself went relatively fast, BA had a nice selection of movies and ok food and the 3 hours of sleep I had the night before (thanks to another night of zouk and late night packing yet again) helped me to pass out instantenously as the flight took off.
The plane wasn't full and somehow got seated to an empty row of three - plenty of space.

 It was +27 C when I arrived to Cancún in the afternoon. I got randomly picked for security screening in customs (yes, it was random! :D) and got to practice my Spanish right away with the cute & smiley customs officer. Found the bus to my first destination, Playa del Carmen without effort and was on my way. Was happy I had an easy start (good choice for my first Latin American stop?) and the bus was good even in European standards - was I really in the "shabby & dangerous" México??

45 minutes later I was in Playa del Carmen and quickly was on the map and walking to my hotel: a cute place, nice & very clean room a block from the beautiful white fine sand beach and block from the main tourist avenue. Easy breezy. All I got done that night was a little walking and some lovely and quesadillas for dinner (for under 2€ - a street up from the main tourist traps), a beer and I was happily watching Kung Fu Panda in Spanish on the telly in my room -- and fell asleep before 9 pm local time. That was 3 am UK and 5 am Finnish time so I think I'm forgiven for that.

First sight of the playa in Playa

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Zouking the UK and some London sightseeing

My big trip started with a 2-day stop in London since that’s where my RTW flight ticket begins and ends. I arrived to London rather early on a Monday morning. I had a generous two hours of sleep before the early morning flight (last minute packing took surprisingly long - ok, really not surprising). Jumped on a train from Heathrow and headed to my local zouk friend Anthony's place. He was very welcoming and my big trip was off to a smooth start! Did some sightseeing and tried to do some shopping but after a while it was impossible with the sleep deprivation.

Sleep or no sleep I was ready for some zouk that night! Anthony took me to the Lambazouk night - the "main" event of the weekly zouk nights in the city. And the actual purpose of why I took some days to stop in London! :D I took the two hours of classes (the ones with Joe Koniak and Solange Dias - there are other classes too) followed by three hours of lambazouking my ass off. Anthony and the lovely zouk & lambada guys did a good job of keeping me burning the dance floor: and I had a fantastic time!!

Fuzzy zoukers

Saturday, December 3, 2011


The big take off is closing in and my bag lays almost packed in the bedroom floor. Closets are empty and the place looks somewhat deserted. I might even get an hour or two of sleep before my early morning flight to London.

I've been saying a lot of goodbyes and getting a lot of farewells in the past weeks and finally I'm starting feel like I might be leaving. I keep telling everybody I won't be away for that long - and in a way I feel I can't wait to be back!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

She's a making a list, checking it twice...

...gonna find out who's naughty and nice...?

Not really!! I'm not one of Santa's elves but been feeling like one lately. Meaning that I've been making, checking and rechecking a lot of lists: for the trip I'm thinking of where to go, how to get there, what to do, what to pack, what I need to prepare before I take off - at work I'm writing notes for my future replacement of the ton of things she needs to remember during my leave - for my zouk hobby I'm creating a list of everything I've learned so far. My calendar has been filled with tasks, appointments, events, parties, dinners,.. things to do and people to meet. What can I say, I'm an organised person!

And now it's less than one week to go!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Adding humour to your dance

There's many ways to make your dance fun. And fun is a very subjective concept so everybody won't agree with how that's achieved for sure. But here's one surely fun - and funny - "interpretative dance" routine for You Can't Hurry Love by Phil Collins:

Ok, wouldn't really call this dancing but the idea is that David Armand mimes the song lyrics and the guests try to guess the song based on that! Quite an impressive thing to learn and memorize all that - and impressive if you can also guess it! Funny stuff though, I might even steal some of his moves ;D

Monday, November 14, 2011

First zouk competition @ Fresca 2011

Last weekend the salsa festival Fresca 2011, organised byt La Nieve Fresca, took place in Helsinki. I joined the festivities on the Saturday night's big party when the Latin Championships were also held. The evening kicked off with the Finnish record attempt for cuban salsa rueda. I think there were close to one hundred couples!? Well, the big room at the "White Hall" near the Senate Square was filled with the rueda dancers.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My birthday roda

I had a little birthday celebration at my house the other day. I didn't feel like doing anything special this year since I've been super busy so a little tea & meringue pie with a couple friends was all I had planned. I got some lovely presents too - and people loved the pie so I was happy with that :)

But that's not all the happened. My friends had also organised me a surprise roda for my birthday. A roda (on zouk birthdays) means that people gather in a circle around the person who is celebrating (guys around a girl or girls around a guy) and steal the person to dance with one after another for the one song. Usually the roda is announced by the dj but this was a surprise. I love surprises! My lovely dance partner had invited all of our zouky friends to come the "kizomba and zouk night" in the local latin bar Havanna. Here's some of the messages him and another darling dance friend of mine had wrote in organising this.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Best in travel 2012

Thinking about where to go? The Lonely Planet - one of my favourite sources of travel info - just published their top 10 list of countries for the next year. Quite a surprising mix from around the world:
10. Switzerland
9. Taiwan
8. New Caledonia
7. Cuba
6. Bhutan
5. Denmark
4. Jordan
3. Ukraine
2. Myanmar ...and drumroll:
1. Uganda!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Czeck, check - pt. 2! A stop in Prague

I never pass up an opportunity to visit a Medieval European city and during two warm & sunny September days I had a chance to see Prague. Quite similar to Budapest, the city is split by a river with a a big decorative castle on top of a hill on the river's west bank. Hey, if you find a good layout for a city, why change it?

The city as a whole is quite spread out but if you don't mind a bit of walking you can see all the main tourist attractions in one day. The metro and trams are very easy to use and a 24h ticket costs 110 CZK (~4,5€). Busses I didn't try in Prague but in Brno they were very good with displays inside showing of the name of the next stop, running accurately according to the schedules on bus stops. Hotels are plenty, and like restaurants, offer good value for money (a room for two in a nice 3* hotel in September +/-50€, meal with beer easily for 10€). The traditional food is pretty heavy and meant to be washed down with local beer - I recommend both! If you like shopping, I would direct you to Palladium.

Personally I enjoyed my stay in Prague. I'd say it's best for a quick & simple city break - the old town is pretty compact but lots of things to see; everything is made easy for the tourists (and hopefully you don't mind seeing plenty of them); it's clean, cute and cheap.

The Opera House

Tudo bem?

I'm halfway through my Spanish and Portuguese courses! And thoroughly confused...

It was a great idea to brush up on my language skills before the "big trip". But... Maybe it wasn't the best idea to take the first Spanish course in about ten years and at the same time start learning Portuguese. Though I am feeling more and more confident with Spanish (and obviously also noticing how limited my vocabulary still is). It's the Portuguese I'm struggling with.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pole Art 2011 - a vertical dance competition

Though I'm a big fan of dancing of the horizontal kind, I didn't want to pass up an opportunity to see some of the vertical kind: pole dancing. Figured it would be interesting and oh boy was it! I definitely hold a high regard for people with such acrobatic capabilities that they can move with grace up and down on the pole. Or two poles actually, a static one and another that is free to rotate.

Pole Art is rather new competition and showcase event for pole dancers. Well I guess so is the pole dance community as well, pole dancing beign a rather new art form, sport and type of dance. This particular event was the third of its kind and most competitors were champions of various national and internation events from the current or past two years (but nothing was noted from before 2009). Also the group of nationalities was rather narrow: Finns, Swedes, French, Russian, Britons and Americans. Though the backgrounds of the participants varied - people from various dance arenas, gymnasts, acrobats and circus performers. This was the first Pole Art event where males succeeded to get to the finals and thus had the male category for the first time. Altogether 9 females and 4 males competed for the respectives trophies (shaped as a huge diamond BTW). In addition to to the competitive series, there were a number of showcase perfomances.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

First zouk demo!

Yesterday my darling friend Sami celebrated his 30th birthday with a big bash. As the date came closer he invited me to do a little zouk demo at the party - and probably had no idea what he signed up for. Neither did my dance partner Jaakko but he was happy to make it happen. With two hours of practice on the afternoon before the event we came up with some small tricks.. I cut up an old white skirt.. And our zouk "show" was ready:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Zouk 1 year in Finland!

It's now one year since the zouk invasion rolled into Finland! I've been part of the crusade for 7 months only but a strong member of this crazy crew that's about to take over the entire country ;) To celebrate this birthday (or anniversary?) the FinZouk team organised a big party last Saturday!

And what a party it was! The Helsinki Salsa Academy was ours for the night and we had lured in quite a number of old and fresh zoukers. The program packed evening included a couple b-day rodas, our talented teacher's show and loooots of dancing! I had perhaps the best zouk night of my short but expansive zouk history!! An equivalent of a "perfect game", I burned the floor with passion and precision all through the night. And good times didn't limit to the dance floor - was happy to just hang around with the happy crowd while catching a breath between all the dancing :)

First draft of the BIG TRIP all laid out

Ready - steady - go!
My big trip starts December 2011 and will go on approximately for six months.

The idea is to see the world, specifically some of the most exotic & far away places I never get around to visit during a couple weeks' holiday trip. I've also picked places where I can (at least a little bit now) speak the language, have a chance to practice my dancing and - obviously - where it's mostly warm when it's cold in Finland. I want to see nature that doesn't exists in my home country, explore new cities, experience different cultures and and give myself some time to relax & enjoy life and see where that will take me. And come back home happy & healthy :)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Zouktime! Czech, check!

I took part in a great congress in Brno, the 2nd Zouktime congress - an international zouk and lambada event. Excellent teachers, good venues, great parties, fantastic shows... :) There were six of us FinZoukers and about 15 other nationalites, altogether over 250 people. The organisers had clearly made an effort to make the event interesting and each feel welcome.

It was great to see the development in myself since the last (and my first) congress three months ago in Sweden! And was surprised I'm starting to get more into the lambazouk style with its faster tempo and snappier movements. But I still have a firm hold on the slower and more creative Rio zouk as well.

I really enjoyed taking all the workshops even despite beign completely sleep deprived after the "no end time" parties :D I'm always amazed how open, happy and down to earth all the zouk dancers and teachers are. My hat really goes off to the teachers: was excited to see how well they performed, especially those that got coupled with partners that have a different dance style, in a surprise Jack & Jill one minute dance-off. I also got to be one of the judges! Adilio Porto & Natasha Terekhina won and Renato Veronezi & Solage Dias came in second place.

Looking forward to the next congress (yes, I have something already planned)! Some video and pictures from the Brno congress weekend below.

My favourite show of the Brno weekend by Leonardo and Layssa:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunny September (Sun)days

This particularly sunny September Sunday we discovered Seurasaari, an open-air museum of traditional Finnish cottages, farmsteads and manors from the past centuries. Other than seeing interesting and cute old cottages it's a nice island to go for a walk/run, enjoy the nature and spot birds & squirrels if that's your thing. There's also a cafe and place to make a barbeque. And a big stage for some dancing (have to remember that ;)).

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Flea market weekend (but where were the fleas?)

My 'cleaning the closets' project was a great success - got five big bags of clothes, houseware, books, CDs and random knick-knacks to get rid of. That meaning, to sell and recycle! I booked a table in one of the biggest local flea markets and the day went better than I had expected. Was at the market from 7 am (!!?!) to almost 3 pm and managed to sell half of my things, all for a reasonable price. One big bag of unsold clothes I donated to the clothes collection box.

It was great to see people  finding something interesting from the things that I no longer needed. I even sold one cardigan I had knitted about 10 years ago and had never liked or used. The best part was that the girl who bought it got more excited when she realised I had made it myself - the cardigan had a story - and was even delighted to pay more for it than for the brand name knits. So, one cardigan has a happy home now :D

Luckily I had no time to go around the market to make any "great" finds for myself. I might need to visit the flea market again later this year :) Can recommend this to everybody, both for selling and making finds!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Last of the summer salsa

It's the final days for outdoor dance parties & socials in Helsinki. Salsa Borealis - the Helsinki salsa lovers' organisation - finished their summer season yesteday. As the sun was setting in the park behind the Opera House the salsa dancers filled the dance floor one last time this year. I ventured with a couple salsas too and I'm getting a bit more comfortable with it! Thoroughly enjoyed the zouks and bachatas they played too - my favourites.

The sun is starting to set earlier and earlier every day and it's a bit depressing to sit at home in the evening when the rain is beating down the window (like tonight). Last night we had a stroke of luck and got just two drops of rain and the skies cleared. Thanks to the power the organisers got from the Opera House we had some nice lighting too.

Goodbye summer... thankfully the dancing never stops!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Summer favourites

Summer is almost over in Finland and it was another enjoyable weekend - maybe the last summer weekend. Sad... Bur it has been another good summer! Summer city life and leaving the city are - for me - equally fun. Here's some of my this summer's favourite things.

Cold drinks * Ice cream * Sunsets * Clouds * Picnics * BBQs * Nature * Enjoying the sun * Boats * Picking berries * Cycling * Dancing *  Participating in all kinds of summer events * Having fun for no apparent reason.... :)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Goals for the winter

After losing some motivation with weight training, probably due to going all dance-crazy this spring, I'm now getting back to the gym. And since a month or so of taking a proper break it's now fun! It's strangely satisfying to have sore muscles. It's also easier to get motivated with real-life goals: I genuinely want to have stronger arms and core so that we can do even crazier lifts on the dance floor!

Week of a dancing girl in Helsinki

Monday: Great way to start the week is by trying out the new gym's latin dance class. The one I tried included some chachacha and salsa choreography - and was suprisingly interesting and fun! Have to do that again!

Tuesday: Normal zouk social and technique & acrobatics practica -day. Ok, acrobatics is not normal in zouk, just normal to our "let's see how high we can get the ladies" zouk people!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lahti Samba Carnaval - more Finnish samba!

The Lahti samba school Maracaña - the oldest samba school in Finland - celebrated its 30th birthday at the end of July with a carnival in the hometown Lahti. This was the third samba carnival in the small Southern Finland city and a rare treat for the locals. All the Finnish samba schools were present at the parade and we had around 200 performers, both dancing and playing in the bateria! And the samba continued well into the night...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I love sunsets

Be it home or travelling, sunsets really draw me (and my camera) in... The past couple weeks we've had some really nice ones! During the summer holiday there's plenty of time to sit by the lake or the sea and watch the sun go down and enjoy the view.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

More islands.. Suomenlinna!

Summer in Helsinki = picnics everywhere! It's also the best time to visit the many islands along the Helsinki shore. Suomenlinna sea fortress is our regular spot! Great place for enjoying the sun with a nice sea breeze, boat spotting, exploring old fortresses, hugging big cannons, having a snack, having a drink... :) Also met one local resident, an orange kitty!

There's lots more to see - cafés, submarine, summer theater... Also places that the regular people are not welcome such as the prison!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Island Salsa

Last weekend Salsa Borealis (Helsinki Salsa Association) organised a 24h salsa party in the Pihlajasaari island, a popular sunbathing and camping spot five minutes' boat ride south of the mainland Helsinki. The party started at noon on Saturday and ended some time Sunday afternoon and attracted I'd say at least a hundred salseros and salseras there! The weather was really hot with practically no wind, luckily the sea was still pretty cold so the steaming dancers could cool themselves down!

Salsa in Pihlajasaari - super rueda and lots of colourful dancers!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Zouk to salsa - crossing styles

Yesterday was a pre-opening night for one dance bar/restaurant in Helsinki and we got to open the Cuban styled bar's dance floor with zouking to salsa music! A crime to a salsero maybe but normal to us dance floor - dance partner stealing zoukers ;)

We recently had a discussion about crossing and combining music and dance styles - this started about Papetchulo's Ta Bater, a kizomba song which I fell in love with in one zouk party. For me it's perfect for zouk but excellent obviously for kizomba as well and it's great that a song can be used in many dance styles. I've also come across with some bachata type zouk and salsa songs, and I'm sure there's plenty of other more or less fluent combinations around.

Sometimes we cross styles more deliberately... I've noticed that if you're really dying to zouk, you can zouk to almost anything that has some kind of beat. Often we zouk to reggaeton and sure I could zouk to salsa or even to heavy metal if I really wanted to (and have done that!). I've heard that this is seen in other dance circles as well, mixing the dance and music styles - and I would welcome even more of this! But beware - this is not for everyone, just for us dance-mad people ;)

Dance parties and bars are great venues for this! In Helsinki downtown the list is not very long if you're into salsa, bachata, kizomba, zouk or reggaeton type of jamming but there's something at least a couple nights of the week. In general the places to go to are Cafe Caisa, Coronita, Cuba, Havanna and Pacifico. In addition to them many dance organisations have social dancing at various venues, it helps if you follow groups such as Salsa Borealis, Alppila Latin Dance Social and of course Brazilian Zouk in Finland.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Let the girl fly...! Pasty would say. Tuesday was another 'zouk in the Opera park' evening. As a lot the zoukers were late or on classes we had to be a little more creative and try new things, such as following and leading blindfolded, two guys leading one girl.. whatever we could think of. A nice challenge and great practise!

Blind leading (..the blind?)

"Where did she go??" - Absolutely the best pic of this practise :D

We also took this extra time to work on some lifts -- working on the 'let the girl fly' part, which some of us in particular enjoy a lot! We put together our first lift combo:

That was so much fun! We'll definitely use this now - and continue working on the lifts in the future! Maybe some day our lifts will look something like in this show (perhaps with only some ~10 years of practise?!):

Monday, July 4, 2011

The hot Helsinki zouk and samba festival

Last weekend we had the Second Helsinki Zouk and Samba Festival: 8 hours of fantastic zouk workshops by Freddy Marinho and Andressa Castelhano, a Brazilian couple that currently teaches in Moscow. Really enjoyed their style of dancing and teaching - plus it was also the Rio style zouk which I'm more familiar with :) Took one of their samba de gafieira workshops as well. That was a bit tricky and not at all like the samba (no pé) I'm used to but was fun to try it!

We also had two zouk parties so definitely got my zouk dose for a couple days! ...But again I'm craving for more!

Learning to follow.. As Andressa said: "On the dance floor you have to obey the man. And elsewhere, the man has to obey you!"

Monday, June 27, 2011

Report from the First Scandinavian Zouk Congress

Took part in the First Scandinavian Lambada/Zouk Congress in Uppsala about a week ago. The rainy smalltown in Sweden had a very well organised congress with two days packed with workshops and three nights of parties... In our case five nights as a large part of the "Team Finland" decided to take an overnight cruise from Helsinki to Stockholm on the way there and back. And we did indeed terrorise the cruise passangers with zouk where ever they played something zoukable!

At the congress we were 14 Finnish zoukers there, with about 120 participants altogether. The rest were mostly Swedes and there was a small group of Dutch, a couple Norwegian, one Danish and one from Australia. Teachers included Pasty & Josta, Olaya & Papagaio, Tania & Marcelo, Kwok and a number of Swedish teachers of which my favourite was Sanna Nilsson.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Flash mob - zouk style!

Yesterday we had the first (but certainly not the last!) zouk flash mob in downtown Helsinki. We chose the square at the tunnel between the main railway and metro stations as it was forecasted to rain. And it worked out perfectly! With no specific practise we took over the floor one by one, finally forming a group of 5-6 zouky pairs. I was the first to start and was super exciting!

Some fancy improvised moves, stealing, 2-1 dancing... all the usual zouk stuff ;) We missed some lifts as the time just flew by but we'll get around to them the next time! Luckily at least we didn't get interrupted the security, apparently we were considered harmless. Well one very funny interruption kept going through our mob: the over-anxious floor-cleaning guy beeping around! Just the perfect addition to the mad mob!! Two songs and the group spread out. And met for a beer :)

Video cameras were present - here's one video taken by Joni and another one by Laura. Probably there's also more videos and pictures floating around the internet as we saw plenty of cameras there!

On a side note, we got the second place on the Helsinki Samba Carnival - the Roseira won with their Renaissance themed parade by two measly points (103 - 105). The PA system that broke down took a couple important points from our samba school but that's how it goes: everything have to go perfectly to win! In any case, our group within the Imperio do Papagaio got positive feedback and the full 2 points: "good mood, suitable and cheerful choreography! energetic and happy group! singing and appropriate use of space."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Can I have a zouk on the beach?

While the hot summer weathers were visiting Finland we arranged a trip out of Helsinki to the neighbouring Vantaa's Kuusijärvi (='pine tree lake'). The zouky people spread their blankets in the middle of the unsuspecting sunbathers, had a little picnic snacks, chatted and went for a swim in the cool lake.. until Markus arrived with his boombox - which he's named the Zoukblaster - and we just had to start dancing! When we started doing the zouk moves I heard people around us asking if they were on candid camera :D No, just our 2-3 hour unplanned zouk party ;)

Swimming in the lake had a nice cooling effect in the middle of the all the dancing. Have to say it was interesting to dance with the oily/sweaty/half naked guys... After all that dancing on the uneven terrain (+ the samba carnival and tropical party the day before) wore this dancer down and I skipped the bachata party in the evening. Next time bachateros!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Samba Carnaval - Survived it!

It was a fantastic carnival day in Helsinki on Saturday! The temperature went above +25 C and no clouds on sight - hot!! All the dancers were dripping sweat straight from the start and my black makeup was running as if I'd been crying. The sound system of our crew broke down already before the half point of the parade (also before the judges..) and we had to sing with out the melody, luckily we could at least hear the drumming of the bateria clearly. Was a bit rough to dance and sing as loud as you can for about an hour in that heat... but we did it for sure, with a big smile on our face with the help of thousands and thousands of people cheering us :)

Our 'Sanaleikki' group really had team spirit and I'm sure the whole Papagaio samba school impressed the judges with the costumes and the performance! The winner of the Finnish samba championship will be announced on Wednesday (as in Rio after the carnival). The five competing samba schools were 1) Império do Papagaio, theme "Wonderland of child's play" (Helsinki) -- 2) Samba Maracanã, theme "The most beautiful diamond" (Lahti) -- 3) Samba Tropical, theme "The four seasons" (Seinäjoki) -- 4) União da Roseira, theme "Renaissance" (Tampere) and -- 5) Samba el Gambo, theme "Hearts full of the magic of Christmas" (Kokkola). In addition to the samba schools there were also jugglers, capoeira group, folk dancing group, some Brazilian bands and people from the Brazil-Finland organisation.

Here are some ~50 pictures from the carnival taken my friends.
-- A heartfelt thanks to all of my friends and family who cheered me along the road!

Here is one comprehensive set of beautiful carnival pics by Mika Sipura - also with one pretty nice shot of me - the sweaty sambista!

And: A video broadcast of the entire(?) carnival! Spot one familiar blond girl at around 18:15-18:30 :D

Friday, June 10, 2011

Countdown to HSC.. 3,2,1!

Final preparations for the Helsinki Samba Carnaval 2011! Days to the carnival: 1!

Tan, check!
Nails done, check!
Hair ready for the final fixes tomorrow, check!
Make up all set, check!
Energy bars and recovery drinks bought, check!
Costume pieces all done, sown together and neatly organised, check!
Well, almost... :D Very very close and everything will be 'check' by the end of the night and can sleep well before the big day :)

Already started to hydrate myself for the carnival, will be a super sunny and steamy afternoon tomorrow!! Also stocking up on magnesium. And healthy food. After visiting the pharmacy and the grocery store earlier today to prepare myself for the exceptionally HOT samba carnival tomorrow started to feel like I'm preparing for war :D The amount of stuff I hoarded.... Bandages, plasters, safety pins, painkillers, sun screen and tons of snacks & sports drinks.. and the very important "recovery drinks" :P

Here's some of the items I'll be packing with me tomorrow (not including any of the makeup and hair products - or the costume)...  And a sneak peak of the costume colors and materials below :)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Essential shopping

Today was my lucky day: finally found a new pair of dance shoes for zouk and other latin socials/parties! My collection of zoukable shoes is veeery limited and despite numerous attempts have not found a pair of "real" dance shoes that would fit my feet of strange proportions. Almost ordered tons of shoes from one US online store (that had a super helpful customer service) but backed out at the last minute as there wouldn't have been any sensible way to return them.

So these shoes I just found randomly at a local generic shoe store. Fit is great, they stay firmly on (yes, did some zouk 'laterals' in the store), have just the right heel height, don't look too boring and the price was ok (49,90€, Andiamo). Win!

Also found 4 tops, 2 belts and nail polish on the same trip - all at half the price of the shoes!! Ok, I admit they weren't exactly "essential" but at least cheap :D And hey, returned some jeans to another store so they were basically free... :P

Bought some samba essentials as well: hair extension for the carnival. Needed a new one as I've turned blond since the last carnival and luckily found a cheap & decent looking piece (9€ from Cybershop). It's a whopping 75 cm long (in reality 150 cm, folded) and goes down all the way to my waist. Might keep it long this time and then can trim it for the next carnival since it will get messy anyway after one use. Also got some new piece of belly jewlery that will match the samba costume - very important stuff! ;)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Endorphin overdose!

Best way to rest a sore shoulder? Definitely stay far far away from zouk gatherings!!

Didn't follow that advice but instead gladly spent 4 hours "burning the floor" in the park in beautiful summer weather with the sun setting on the other side of the bay in the end. Had so much fun dancing and doing crazy moves, dips and lifts that totally forgot I should have been resting my shoulder. How did I live before zouk and the fantastic Helsinki zoukers?! Hopefully my arm doesn't fall off :D No severe pains though but that might be due to the endorphin overdose...

The pictures are from last week's Opera zouk... But rest assured, the evening was equally sunny and despite the wind it was warm enough to wear a skirt :) Today there was no chance I would or actually could have stopped for one second to take pics - lot's of wonderful guys making sure I literally didn't step out of the dance floor for hours on end!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Ready to play .. Samba!

Helsinki Samba Carnaval is just a couple days away! We had a big dress rehearsal today - no cameras allowed to make sure our costumes and choreographies will remain a surprise on the big day. I was thoroughly amazed by the shere awesomeness of the costumes and floats I saw today. Everybody has clearly worked hard and the level of creativeness and detail is incredible. I'm sure my samba school will win the carnival, can't imagine anyone could top us! I'll proudly sing at the top of my lungs and dance my feet off with my fellow dancers on Saturday!

So, the group to watch is Imperio do Papagaio, the theme to follow will be "Leikki - Wonderland of Child's Play", the place Senate Square, the time 3pm this Saturday! 1000 dancers... 40000 people expected to come see the spectacle... and then cameras are definitely welcome!!

Testing new things

Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3...

Bought a new portable speaker - for beach dancing obviously! Did some testing while having a picnic & tanning session with the girls. And couldn't resist doing a couple zouk steps as well, hehe. And worked out fantastically! Volume and bass are pretty impressive and battery life seems good as well, all considering the tiiiiiny size and the low prize. Happy with it already!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Imagine this...

The new background image to the blog is done! Had this vision about making a pretty random but colorful compilation of some of my fave travel and dance related pics - so far :) Hopefully this background will be updated in the future as well.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lifts and dips

Best way to spend a warm and sunny summer evening? Definitely dancing outdoors! Our zouk Tuesdays continued in the lovely park by the Töölönlahti bay behind the Opera House. As the early evening lindyhoppers fanned out we took the stage. Some zoukers actually came with blankets, chocolates and beer too.. hmm, I like where this is going.. :D

I took lots of pics (which are not organised yet) and some people videos as well, such as this one:

Thanks to Laura for uploading the video! As it happens the video also captured Jaakko and I goofing around - while the others dance zouk beautifully :) Ok, I don't always goof around!! But love to do it when I get the change, hehe. The video is a testament that I can totally dip a guy twice my weight (it's all in the technique, obviously ;)) and that improvised lifts also look very improvised! :D

One photo that sums up the "lovely summer eve dancing" atmosphere - taken by Ruj who helpfully posted it on our facebook page :)

Monday, May 30, 2011

First zouk in the sun!

First outdoor zouk - the summer has officially arrived! The stage behind the Helsinki Opera House served our small but entusiastic zouk crowd well. Though not as enthusiastic as could have been after a three-hour morning workshop on Rio vs. Porto Seguro style. Still wondering which I prefer more, maybe the calmer Rio :) Well it was a good time and place to test those moves!