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What Is Brazilian Zouk and Why Do I Like It So Much?

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Brazilian zouk is a dance I fell in love with very quickly. Many years later it’s still my favorite dance style. Since it’s not that well-known here compared to salsa or bachata and people always ask me about it (“You dance WHAT?”), I decided to dedicate a whole blog post to Brazilian zouk. I’m going to share with you a video playlist of the best zouk demos, talk about the history and also give you the reasons why I like it so much.

Introduction To Brazilian Zouk

Brazilian zouk is a partner dance from Brazil. It’s a social dance, meaning the purpose is to dance at parties where they play zouk music. The dance is not choreographed, partners on the dance floor are improvising to whatever song the DJ is playing, however you do need to learn the most common steps beforehand. Competitions have started appearing in recent years, but their goal still remains to recognise people for their good social dancing skills, also to promote correct dance technique.

Brazilian zouk originates from lambada but has been influenced by samba de gafieira, contemporary, jazz, ballet, Argentinian tango, hip-hop, and other dance styles and is still very much evolving.

According to the Brazilian Zouk Dance Council there are three main sub-styles of zouk: rio zouk or “traditional zouk”, lambazouk and neozouk. They are quite different from each other since they have differing basic steps, therefore need to be learned separately. I dance Rio zouk but have taken a few workshops in lambazouk as well.

(NB! There’s also a dance called Caribbean zouk that is danced in the French Antilles but that’s not what I’m talking about here and people argue if it has had any influence on Brazilian zouk at all.)

What Brazilian Zouk Looks Like

Here’s a YouTube playlist that I put together a while ago to show people what it is exactly that I’m dancing and learning. These demos are what best portray the nature of brazilian zouk in my opinion. Since I dance Rio zouk, the playlist will consist of mostly Rio zouk examples. To give you shortcuts for other styles, Natasha & Gilson are dancing lambazouk here and Mafie & Anna are a prime example of neozouk.

History Of Brazilian Zouk

As I mentioned before, zouk has its roots in lambada. In the start of 1990s it was pretty much all you could hear at nightclubs in Rio. In the mid-90’s the DJs decided to stop playing it and move on. However lambada dancers still wanted to continue dancing and started using zouk music, since it had a similar rhythm to lambada. Zouk is a music style from the Caribbean islands, popularised by the band Kassav from the French Caribbean island Guadeloupe. Since zouk was slower (especially zouk-love), the dancers started modifying their dance to fit the new music and also gave it a new name “zouk-lambada”. 

The development from lambada to zouk happened independently in multiple places in Brazil. In Jaime Arôxa’s dance school in Rio, Renata Peçanha, Adilio Porto and other teachers played a big role in structuring the dance for teaching, adding more linear movements and creating new steps that are the base of Rio style zouk today. Other places like Porto Seguro gave birth to lambazouk that kept more elements from lambada like circular movements, constant stepping and higher energy.

At first, zouk music sounded more like our kizomba songs now (eg “Ou lé” by Kassav). At the beginning of the millennia, DJ’s like Mafie Zouker and others started getting more popular with their zouk remixes of pop songs, which brought a new wave to the dance. The songs you hear at parties and festivals now, have kept the zouk rhythm, but sound much more modern and less “caribbean”.

Zouk has spread from Brazil to all over the world with zouk dancers everywhere from Singapore and Australia to US, Russia, Netherlands and even Hawaii. As of now, most European countries have a zouk scene, even if it’s still very small.

Zouk Music

Zouk is danced on 4/4 (four-on-the-floor) time. The ideal speed is 70-80 bpm, but we can also dance up to 90 bpm, especially in lambazouk. Zouk can be danced to a wide variety of songs and I think that’s what makes it so popular. Music you hear at parties can range from zouk to pop, R&B and reggaeton, but what they all mostly have in common is the distinct african-caribbean tresillo rhythmic pattern. Take a listen to a short clip of tresillo-over-two that is the zouk rhythm we know and love. It is also possible to dance zouk to a slow lyrical song with no beat – in this case people often add more contemporary or lyrical dance elements to it (See Bruno and Brenda dancing to “You and I” by John Legend).

Zouk And Other Social Dances

When it comes to bachata, it seems like zouk has influenced it a lot. Sensual bachata dancers have adopted many moves from zouk, like head movements, body waves, body isolations, tilted turns, “snakes” etc. They are also now using pop songs at parties and making bachata remixes out of them, similarily to what zouk dancers have been doing. See an in-depth comparison of bachata and zouk in this article.

As for kizomba, some of you might have noticed that modern kizomba and zouk music are extremely similar and you’re right, since they share the same rhythm and origin (dating back to the rise of Kassav). However both branches have evolved in slightly different directions and as a zouk dancer at a kizomba party today, I will most likely find the songs a bit too fast for dancing. I’ll still be able to use slower songs though. Joint parties of both styles or a zouk-kizomba room at bigger events are still common.

Why I Like Zouk So Much

I find the head movements and flying hair so beautiful to watch. Zouk gives the feeling of letting go, surrendering and trust, both when you dance it yourself or watch someone else. The moves are relatively big so you’ll feel like you’re flying across the dance floor. It’s wonderful to dance it with a skilled partner!

I like that zouk is challenging, giving a lot of room for improvement and has forced me to work on my posture, mobility and strength to be able to execute the more advanced moves. Zouk instructors nowadays also teach proper dance technique elements from ballet and modern dance. Some would argue that this makes the dance less of a “social dance”, but I’m not mad about it.

There’s so much variety within zouk that you simply cannot get bored. The music can be anything from lyrical and slow to something with a strong bass and a lot of attitude. This brings the possibility to dance like an elegant ballerina, badass hiphop dancer or sassy Beyoncé.

Hope you learned something new from this article (I definitely did while writing it!) and maybe even got interested in trying zouk out for yourself. Thanks for reading!

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