Porto Seguro. A little piece of paradise located in the tropics, in the sunny state of Bahia approximately in the middle of the Brazilian coast line. It was the place first seen by the European settlers over 500 years ago when one Portuguese guy called Pedro Álvares Cabral touched shore at what is now Porto Seguro city in 1500. In addition to its history, the place is mostly known for its beaches, coconuts, açaí and massive axé parties. But for zoukers Porto Seguro is especially known as the birth place of lambada - and for Berg's Congress, most likely the biggest zouk & lambada congress in the world at the moment.
Last year when I was dancing around the world I kept hearing so much about it I decided I wasn't going to miss the next one!! I made my flight bookings already way before I had even come back home, actually last March when I was on my way to hike to Machu Picchu!
So came December I was ready to go, with a long itinerary of parties and zouk classes. The Berg's Congress is held bi-annually, always around New Year. The latest event was now the 5th Berg's Congress and it's a 10 day ordeal with 10 nights of parties and six days of workshops all in one. About 1000 zoukers (I've seen even estimates of 2000 people) come to dance there!
The workshops are held at the beautiful "Berg's house" that has two open-air dance floors, swimming pool, drink & snack bars, a clothes shop, restrooms, cloak room (free! day and night)... you name it, they have it. The dance floors are fitted with fans and roofs (no walls) that'll keep you in shade of the hot afternoon sun. Ladies dance there in heels, dance sneakers and sandals of all sorts - you won't need to bring your nicest leather soled dance heels (but some do). The guys are ok with sneakers during the evenings and many dance in their Havaianas during the days.
During the night the house transforms into a party place with nice lighting and decorations that change depending on the night's party theme. The themes included this year Brazilian colours (green, blue and yellow), the red party (this year's congress colour), Hawaian party and of course the new year's white party. The nights are memorable to say the least... There is a great mood, you can dance all though the night - with the help of the drinks & snacks - and the free fruit buffé in the wee morning hours! Just watching the world's best dancers showing their skills in social dancing at a level 1000% above "advanced" you'll feel your head spinning. And obviously you get to dance with them too!! Though it's not just the pros that will sweep you off your feet, you will have memorable dances with so many people: the level in Brazil is a tad higher. Safe to say you won't know the term sleep deprivation as well as you know it after the congress.
A word about the music: If you think lambazouk music is fast, wait until you come to Porto Seguro. But lambazouk is not all they have... There are two dance floors with typically a bit more upbeat & fast lambazouk music on the main floor and a mix of other zouk styles on the second "piscina" dance floor (next to the pool). Three of the parties were at the beach restaurant Beach Beat where the floor is not completely even but the experience is far above average when you get to dance under the palm trees & stars, hear the waves hit the beach just 10-20m away and see the sun rise while you zouk away... or go have morning swim after the party!
At Berg's house there are drinks and snacks sold all day and night, there are healthy and some unhealthier options pretty cheap and you can buy them with coupons that they sell at the two caixas basically around the clock. You can also withdraw cash there (for a small fee). In the shop they have all kinds of dance clothes, mostly for ladies. There are also stands around during the days selling different dance schools t-shirts, DVDs, some DJs CDs, local crafts and hand-made jewelry. Basically all you need you can find there!
So how did I like it?
Well firstly I have to say I had a blast! I loved the Taperapuan beach in Porto Seguro - it's not what you'd call a quiet or idyllic beach (well there are idyllic spots up along the beach too!), especially around New Year. If you love big parties on the beach and axé (check it out here) then you will love it there. The water is warm and you can even do some snorkeling and other water sports too, there's lots of great food (picanha! açaí!), it's safe, it's clean... And you won't be cold for one moment there - that's a big plus for me on so many levels!
The congress seemed a bit unorganised when I was planning on coming there but once we arrived everything was so simple and the organisers took care of every small detail. It is a bit of a struggle to stay awake the whole 10 days & nights and it's impossible to attend to all the workshops and all the parties from start to finish. And sleep. And eat. And go to the beach. I made sure I did little of everything each day, most of it was zouk! Have to have some moderation though... Usually I leave a party when I get either tired or bored. In Brazil the same rules rarely apply, there I tell myself that when I reach a certain number of extraordinary dances I allow myself to leave to rest. Sort of "quit while you're ahead" strategy for surviving a 10 day congress. And it's not uncommon to have a (long string of) those extraordinarily great dances in a place like Porto Seguro.
The teacher & performer list is quite exhaustive with over 100 teachers from all around Brazil, Argentina, Australia, Holland, Israel, Switzerland, UK, US..... The 2013 line-up included such top teachers as Adilio Porto & Krisztina Balazs, Bebé, Braz dos Santos, China, Dadinho & Janaina Martins, Didi dos Santos & Patricia Gianocaro, Dikla Damty, Gilson Damasco & Natasha Terekhina, Solange Dias & Joseph Konaik, K-Yo Victor & Gabriela Póvoa, Mafie Zouker, Philip Miha, Renato Veronezi & Babi Pacheco, Ricardo Ferrari & Grazi Pisano, Romina Hidalgo, Rodrigo Delando & Adriana Coutinho, Shani Mayer and of course the organisers Berg Dias & Bella Fernandez -- and many many many more. It's easy find lots of old & new favourites!
DJ's list was pretty long as well, with names such as Edu, K-Yo Victor, Mafie Zouker, Mané, Poeta and lots others from Brazil and around the world.
The congress workshops and most parties are held at Rua da Boemia, 8, Taperapuan beach, Porto Seguro, Bahia, Brazil. This is about 5km north (up the beach/coastline) from the Porto Seguro city. The address may be hard to locate on some maps but will be easy to find on location: from the main beach road Avenida Beira you turn right to Rua da Taba and turn left from that to the small dirt road Rua da Bohemia where you'll find the place at the end of that road. The beach kiosk/restaurant Malibu is approximately at that intersection of Avenida Beira Mar and Rua da Taba (you will see signs to Berg's Congress too), it's about half way between the beach party complexes Axé Moi and Toa Toa.
Some of the parties were this year held at the Beach Beat beach bar, at the intersection of Avenida Beira Mar and Rua dos Ibiscos, across the street from Churrascaria Beira Mar/gas station. The main grocery store and pharmacy you'll find a 100m up the road from that, by the way.
There are two zouk-lambada events that take place every other year in Porto Seguro, the Berg's Congress (a 10-day event) and the slightly smaller Berg's International Zouk Lambada Summer Festival (a 6-day event). They both take place close to the new year.
The latest event was now the 5th Berg's Congress (also called the 2013 congress or V Berg's Congress) and it was held 29 Dec 2012 - 7 Jan 2013. It included ten nights of parties and six days of workshops: first three party nights, then six workshop days+party nights and one final party night. The composition of the Berg's Congress and the start/end date may vary slightly from time to time.
The next event will be the 2nd Berg's International Zouk Lambada Summer Festival on 2 - 7 January 2014. And the next main event, the 6th Berg's Congress will be held around the 2015 New Year (2014-2015).
How and how much?
If you get yours early you may save quite a lot, also if you manage to buy it in Brazilian reais you will also get it cheaper than in euros e.g. Depending on the full package may cost you between 150-350€. Look for offers through your local zouk teacher, at other congresses or via the event website.
Through the event website you will find names of good accommodation options as well - proximity to the event place & the beach is highly recommended (and will be relatively easy to find). Look for the apartments/hostels/hotels and flights to Porto Seguro (BPS) as early as possible as the place is small and very popular among Brazilian holiday makers, it's the main tourist season of the year! The London dance school Zouk Lambada UK, run buy Berg's sister Solange, organises also fully inclusive trips (flights+event tickets+accommodation) to the event but these sell out as early as in February, or as soon as they are announced! These include accommodation in the Berg's house so it's a great deal if traveling from/to London is a good option for you.
What's so special about it?
Brazilian beach paradise, dancing under the stars, beautiful bodies in bikinis, great food, warm atmosphere, sunny days... And the best zoukers in the world. Need I say more? Bonus is that it's also well organised and you feel welcome there no matter who you are & where you come from :)
Want a challenge? The International Zouk & Lambada Championship!
For the aspiring zouk stars Berg's Congress hosts every other year (on the odd years) the International Zouk & Lambada Championship! This is a fairly big competition with cash prizes and trophies for the top three in two categories: amateurs and professionals.
The competition takes place on three rounds; elimination round, semi-final and final. These are held on the party nights, starting at around 9-10pm. Each round last for one to two hours. This time there were 9 amateur and 18 pro couples that took on the challenge and competed on three consecutive nights.
Winners on the professional category were Felipe Lira & Amanda Primo from São Paulo, second place Isaac Lopes & Olga Bernucci from Belo Horizonte and third place Ricardo Ferrari & Graziella Pisano from São Paulo. The winners on the amateur category were Salah Naser & Andressa Nirvana from Brasília, second place Zilmar Fonseca (São Paulo & Maria Eugenia (Argentina) and third place Gabriel Silva & Juliana Leijôto from São Paulo.
Want to compete? Here's all you need to know!
The International Zouk & Lambada Championship is a bi-annual competition organised Berg's Congress and Berg Dias. This is "the mother of zouk competitions", the 5th edition to run now in 2015.
Amateur and Professional.
Elimination (on Jan 3 2015): Improvisation to a mix of two zouk songs (slow and fast) of 4 minutes in small groups of 3-5 couples. The songs are drawn for each group before their round.
Semi-final (on Jan 5 2015): Choreographed shows.
Finals (on Jan 7 2015): Improvisation to a mix of two zouk songs (slow and fast) of 4 minutes one couple at a time. The songs are drawn for each couple before their round.
Top Brazilian zouk teachers. In 2013 the judges included e.g. Rodrigo Delano, Gilson Damasco, Solange Dias, Renato Veronezi, Bella Fernandez, Rodrigo Oliveira.
Cash prizes for each of the top three couples in both categories and trophies.
Information about registration will appear on http://www.bergcongress.com/ before the competition. Dancers of any nationality are welcome!
Most dancer couples have matching costumes, some more elaborate than the others but if you wish to enter you may need two sets of costumes. Ladies dance on heels or jazz shoes. Lifts/acrobatics may allowed in some of the stage. In general the level is very high, both for amateurs and professionals. The contestants are mostly from Brazil, possibly partly due to practical reasons and partly since the level has been so high among the Brazilians that for non-Brazilians it can be a bit intimidating. In general the mood is very positive - there are hundreds of spectators on each round and everybody is cheered for.
Other zouk events in Brazil
There are currently lots of zouk and lambada events all over Brazil and new ones are popping up constantly. In addition to Berg's Congress other main events include BH Zouk in Belo Horizonte (June), Congresso Mundial de Zouk in São Paulo (November) and there's a couple different ones in Rio, including Summer Zouk in Rio held by Renata Peçanha and many more. There are many smaller events also in Curitiba, Florianopolis, Fortaleza, Pantanal, Recife and the list keeps growing every year (or month, even!). Take a look at the latest zouk calendar for current zouk events!
Regular zouk parties and classes in Porto Seguro
Besides the Berg's Congress, there are also regular parties and zouk classes in Porto Seguro. For parties go check out the Oasis club in downtown Porto Seguro, they have zouk dancing on couple nights per week. The Oasis club is in the city at Pataxós Square, near the ferry. If you're in the neighbouring town Arraial d'Ajuda you may want to check out Raizes in case they have a zouk lambada party.
Berg is also active in the regular zouk scene. There have been zouk parties at Berg's house on Rua da Bohemia every last Saturday of the month, latest on March 30th, 2013. Berg Dias & Bella Fernandez also run zouk classes on Wednesdays and Fridays (also at their house) 7.30-9.30pm.
Some more information on zouk parties in Porto Seguro may be available on this site.