What I Learned in Two Weeks of Zouk
After fumbling my way through my first zouk class, I was determined to keep trying. I had two weeks left in Rio, and I had signed up for lessons every day, hoping that by the end, I’d have gotten a hang of this beautiful dance.
I return for my second class with a dull ache at the base of my skull. I’ve suffered from a weak neck joint for years, and I start to wonder why I even signed up for a dance than involves so much neck movement.
The class gathers for the warm up, and I join in a little less enthusiastically than last time. The leader today is a show off, watching himself in the full length mirrors as he throws elaborate poses. I’m glad when the warm up ends and the friendly Fernando takes over to teach the class.
We work on the flowing giro movement, where the women bend forward, then spin out, extending their bodies to the side. After a lot of extra instruction from my partner, a friendly dance assistant named Marcos, I begin to follow the move, and learn to (somewhat) gracefully extend my upper body outwards.
We change partners (as I gush my thanks to Marcos), and, as my next partner takes my hand, I stiffen. He has gripped my hand firmly and is pinching down with his thumb. I can already tell this is going to be a yanking-me-around dance.
My prediction come true, as the music starts and he pulls me into a move I’ve never encountered before. Audibly sighing as I get it wrong, he pulls me into another move, then seems to lose all interest in me and scans the room over my head. He even pauses to have a chat with someone, leading me listlessly through a basic step while his head is turned away from me to focus on someone more interesting.
So of course, my confidence is shot to hell. I pray for the dance to end, as my partner alternates between ignoring me, hurting my hands, and leading me into complex moves in which I fail miserably.
The song finally ends, and he pulls out one last move of flicking my arms upwards. I have no idea what he’s trying to make me do, so I fall back on my signature move- freezing awkwardly on the spot and smiling nervously (nailed it). He laughs. In my face.
Vowing to avoid a second dance with him at all costs, I return to my lovely Marcos, who makes me feel like I’m not all that terrible after all. I also have a dance with the wonderful teacher, Fernando, who, with his firm lead and encouraging smile, makes me feel like I can follow any move he throws at me.
I’ve experienced this in lessons all over the world; the kind and encouraging dancers who can (and will) dance with anyone, contrasted with the hotshot dancers who clearly don’t want to dance with a newbie in the first place, and make their partner feel inferior.
Over the next two weeks, I dance with my share of hotshots, but thankfully also a lot of wonderful partners who make me feel like I can follow anything. My favourite are those who just have a laugh, relaxing me and making me realise it doesn’t matter if I mess something up.
The lessons cover a variety of movements; giro, cabeça, cambre, and others whose names I don’t grasp. Some of these I get with ease, but I fail miserably with others. My neck is still stiff and inflexible, and any movement of the head and neck makes me feel rigid and uncomfortable, especially when compared to the graceful dancers I’m surrounded by.
My two weeks come to an end, and I’m still not sure my dancing has improved. But I remind myself that it doesn’t matter. That I’ll always have some successes and failures, some wonderful dances and some awkward encounters. But I’ll keep trying as long as I’m enjoying myself.
My lessons took place at the wonderful Renata Peçanha dance school in the Lapa neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro. A variety of dance classes are available daily, for all ability levels. At the time of writing, a one month dance course cost R$140 (£27/ $38).
To read about my first zouk experience in Rio, click here…