First Zouk

“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?


Langtang (3 of 5)


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.


Langtang (5 of 5)


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.


To read about how my next zouk experience worked out, click here, or to read about my first samba party in Rio, click here… 

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