Organisers of international zouk events obviously want to show their event in the most favorable light. Therefore when deciding whether it’s worth attending, checking their website, social media and event photos won’t always give an accurate picture. I visit international zouk festivals regularly (have been to 12 so far) and I want to help other social dancers choose events by offering unbiased reviews.
My next review is about my first time at the Portugal Zouk Festival, which took place in Lisbon from 26th to 29th November 2023. Because of it being the second edition of this event, there were some glitches, but overall it left a positive impression and I can see big potential for the future. Let’s dive into the details.
The festival took place in Time Out Market in Lisbon city centre. All workshops and parties took place in a large hall on the 2nd floor of the building, overlooking the market. I liked the venue and the setup. The lighting and flooring were good, there were enough bathrooms, chairs for putting clothes on and sitting, and a stage.
Location was easily accessible by public transport since it was so central and had loads of restaurants nearby to accommodate all types of diets and preferences. At night there were not the nicest people out on the streets around the venue, but I felt safer than in Prague.
There was a nice mix of people from intermediate to advanced levels. I’d say a higher level than the Prague Zouk Congress that I visited in the summer. I had many great dancers with good leaders who pushed my limits and showed me what I’m capable of, which I’m very grateful for.
I recognised or met many bachata dancers who had started learning zouk – this to me is a good sign that the zouk scene is attracting great dancers and growing.
One big unfortunate thing was that many women attending had purchased leader’s passes but were actually following at parties and workshops, which made the event very unbalanced. Organisers had done their best to avoid this situation by closing the sale of followers’ passes a month before the event, but this is something they didn’t anticipate. The imbalance was unfortunately a major issue and took away a lot from the experience.
Artist lineup for dance workshops was very good, some of the top names in the zouk scene, as well as some newcomers. There were Rau & Isa, Renata & Jorge, Bruno & Raiza, Nina & Matheus, Iago & Ninna, Walter & Larissa, Lucas & Thayna, Viny & Jessy, Pilou & Mafalda and Pedrinho.
There was one track of open-level workshops and everyone was together in the same room. While I did not attend all workshops, I participated as much as I could.
Because of the follow-lead imbalance, the workshop experience felt quite frustrating. Not only were there many more followers, but also too many people for the size of the room and instructors didn’t establish any strict lines or circles that would have made it easier to switch partners. So instead of fully focusing on what instructors were showing, I had to also focus on making sure I wouldn’t stay without a partner 2-3 times in a row. In one class they made leaders move around, instead of followers – I felt this was a better solution rather than having followers fight for a partner.
Workshop topics seemed seemed to be more about styling and flashy moves. My first impression was that many of these moves were unleadable unless the follower also took the workshop*. However there might have been an underlying theme to have fun and play with the basics, which would help explain the workshop topics. The head movement classes seemed more technical and leadable. A few new moves were also introduced by the artists.
If you had a fixed partner you could also register for special evening masterclasses with some of the artists, but I didn’t do so. Those without a partner could sign up for a waiting list to be matched with someone, which was a nice opportunity.
There were 3 official parties with different dress codes: “White”, “Halloween” and “Brazilian Funk”. I love dress codes a lot. It makes it easier to choose outfits when packing. On Thursday there was a mini-marathon as well, but I didn’t take part so I can’t comment on it. It seems that there weren’t many participants.
Because of the imbalance between leaders and followers, the first two parties for me weren’t great. I finally got to dance a decent amount at the Sunday party (funk-themed) and they played the best music, so I’m happy with that. At the first two parties there was also a lack of space, but as some people left on Sunday, the last party was better.
I personally loved that the parties ended at 3 am on the clock and they weren’t dragged out to the morning hours. This ensured that people showed up at reasonable times and also went to bed at a reasonable time.
There was an unofficial open-air after-party on Monday evening at Parque das Nações, but I unfortunately didn’t like it. The tiles were pretty decent to dance on, the location was under a roof in case of rain and I did get to dance with some of the best leaders in that festival but the location was not exactly aesthetically pleasing in the dark, the weak speakers couldn’t play music loud enough and it was annoying to get there since it was far from the city centre. I didn’t stay long.
I am so happy I participated in the “Jack and Jill” competition since this fun event balanced out the not-so-good parts of the festival. The music was fire, even in-between rounds and I enjoyed myself fully, both participating and watching. The hosts of the competition were super funny (Ricky and Pedrinho)!
There was a Novice and Intermediate division and for Novice there were 50 followers and 41 leaders competing. Level was very high, the Novice follower finalists should have already been in Intermediate in my opinion. Competitions were also streamed live by Mondyvideo.
Organisation of the festival was of high quality. There was excellent communication through Instagram, good branding and marketing and I didn’t notice too many hiccups during the event.
They also openly addressed the follower-leader imbalance and assured that they did their part to prevent it (stopped selling follower tickets early). They ensured that next year they will be implementing even stricter rules so that participants would stick to the role of their purchased ticket.
Generally, I loved how open the organisers were to feedback. They let us know we could approach them in person and after the event they made Instagram polls and sent a feedback form to our e-mails.
One issue was that they might not have expected that many participants or overestimated the capacity of the venue – for the first two main parties there was not a lot of room to dance or a place to put coats and jackets since all the chairs were already full. Workshops were pretty crowded as well, as I mentioned before.
Organisers themselves are well-known names in the zouk scene (Bruno & Raiza, Iago & Ninna and Pedrinho) and all Brazilians too. What sets them apart from other festivals is that they have a bigger mission and “why” behind what they do, which they also explained to us. This shows me the great potential of this event despite the issues and I hope that next editions will be better.
As a follower attending this event I did not have the best time, since there were not enough leaders for the event. However the high level of leaders and opportunity to participate in the Jack and Jill competition made it worthwhile for me. I could see that the level of organisation was very good, but since it was the second edition of this event, some issues were to be expected.
My overall score for the event is 7/10 and I would attend again next year, since I see potential.
For photos and videos of the event, visit my Instagram account @jettence and find “PZF ‘23” in Story highlights. Official photos can be found on Mondyvideo website and @portugalzouk Instagram account. Check out my other festival reviews as well!
Disclaimer: I paid for the full pass and all opinions are my own. Whatever I experienced this year does not mean that the next editions will be similar or that you will have a similar experience.
* There is the question of course, how much of social dance is actually leadable without the follower taking any classes, but that’s a whole other blog post.