“I think I’m actually getting this” I think in a moment of pride, stepping side to side with my partner and managing to time my footwork to the samba rhythm. Of course, my pride comes before a fall (though, thankfully, not a literal one) as the next moment, he guides my shoulders downwards into a headroll, which I attempt with a stiff neck and a face full of my own hair. Maybe zouk isn’t for me.
I had been in awe of the graceful dance of zouk ever since it had appeared out of nowhere a few years ago and started taking over the London dance scene. So during my time in Rio de Janeiro I signed up for dance lessons with Renata Peçanha. After all, where better to learn zouk than in the city where it first originated?
In my hubris I had signed up for the intermediate lessons, thinking that my limited dance experience would carry me through. On arrival, I catch the end of the beginners’ class and began to wonder if it would have been a better fit. I then break the door. Great first move, Ailish.
My first lesson starts with a warm up in front of the floor-length mirrors. I recoil, hating the sight of my reflection at the best of times, let alone when I’m trying to follow dance steps. But as I fall into the rhythm of the basic back-and-forth footwork, and the instructor adds in some arm movements, I start to relax, and start to feel a bit more positive.
All that ends when we’re partnered up, and I realise just how little zouk I know, and just how out of practise I am at dancing in general. My partner Irla is a wonderfully friendly and encouraging dancer, but I fumble over even the simplest of steps.
The music ends, and Renata shows us our first move of the lesson. Of course, it involves a smooth and graceful neck roll. Even in slow motion, I can’t make it look good. I feel as though I have a steel rod running from the top of my head down my back, and, as the others agilely glide through the movement, I awkwardly jerk into the final position.
We change partner, and dance through the new movement we have learned. I start to get a better grasp of the footwork, but any time I’m led into the head roll, I fumble through a feeble attempt and I try not to look at the increasingly judgemental mirror.
My partner is rapidly losing patience with me, and audibly sighs when I mess up the move once again. Losing what little confidence I had in the beginning, I start to doubt how I will get through the next two weeks.