It takes quite a lot of effort to create something good. But what does it take to make... magic?
I know, I know. Last year I made the statement that Helsinki Zouk Festival is a zouk event quite unlike any other. And true, the 2013 HZF was great. But indeed, the last weekend's 2014 HZF was simply beyond words.
I try not bore you with everything I've already told before. Yes, Helsinki is a cold, dark place in November. The zouk scene is small but us zoukers in Helsinki are extremely proud of it. And I think many may agree we've developed a fairly nice group of dancers here. But now, we also have one of the best zouk events in the world!
Helsinki Zouk Festival is organised by Freddy Marinho and Andressa Castelhano with their Rio Zouk Style dance school now for the third time with the same format:
- Six professional zouk artist couples representing the best of the best in a few different zouk styles.
- Two and a half days of workshops with only one intermediate/advanced track and one beginners' track.
- Three nights of parties (plus separate pre & after party).
- Family atmosphere.
In summary: Less is more. Quality over quantity.
Artists who took part in this year's event: Renata Peçanha & Jorge Peres, Leonardo & Becky Neves, Jefferson Dadinho and Kelly Palhares, Daniel & Leticia Estevez Lopez, Clinton Lacerda & Cristi Boone and the hosts, Freddy & Andressa.
The workshops were held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the second time at the beautiful Kulttuuriareena Gloria. The event kicked in last Friday evening with three workshops for beginners by the local Rio Zouk Style team; Jukka, Noora, Sonja-Maria, Riikka and Freddy.
On Sat & Sun the professional artists ran their workshops in two halls: the intermediate/advanced workshops in the main hall and the beginner workshops at the smaller upstairs room. Each artist couple had three one-hour workshops. Most couples had two for intermediate/advanced dancers and one for beginners.
The Saturday and Sunday zouk classes started at noon and ended at 7pm (with one hour in the middle for lunch) and were completed with a 30 minute cool down partner stretching & joga class. I noticed a nice little bonus in this type of structure (only one intermediate and one beginners' track): you really don't need to have the 10 minute break between every workshop as people don't need the extra time to switch rooms. This makes the 6 x 1h workshop day almost an hour shorter. More time for napping! :D
There are definitely certain benefits for having only those two workshop tracks, as opposed to have them running in parallel at 3-5 halls which is quite usual nowadays for all festivals. It does calm the atmosphere as there's no need to run between halls and make those life-and-death decisions of what workshop to take. Or like I'd put it: "how to be in three places at the same time".
Everybody was indeed complementing for the warm atmosphere in the workshops. The stunning venue does provide a nice backdrop for the classes, it's easy to enjoy your time there. While limiting the options to only two workshop tracks almost everybody ends up taking the exact same classes - this brings people nicely together :)
I think the people were also quite pleased with the content and teaching at the workshops. The classes weren't too crowded and there was plenty of chances to ask questions and even get personal instructions. You could notice also the quality of the teaching was the focus of the event - not to learn more figures but really to improve your dancing.
The upstairs room where the beginner workshops took place did turn out to be a bit on the small side for the amount of people. On a positive note, the organisers had managed to attract a lot of new beginners to join (yay!!). And no wonder, it's quite a feat to get a full weekend of beginners classes with that line-up of teachers - I would have loved to start my zouk hobby like that! All in all I was quite happy with the workshops and managed to attended almost all of them. The schedule was on time, people on a good mood and learning a lot - what more could you ask?
A word about the shows. All of us who attended the event really agreed that Saturday professional shows and the whole build-up was something truly unique. Even the most jaded, "seen it all" zoukers were moved (myself included). What was so great about it? There were only six shows. Yet even in that small group you could really see the diversity of zouk. The unquestionable talent. The love, passion, joy, raw power. The goosebumps, laughs, tears and screams! The amount of electricity the artists and the audience created then could have light up the entire city of Helsinki for that night.
See here a playlist of the show videos and relive the Saturday showtime! Note that Daniel & Leticia's stunning new show is not public yet and is not on the list due to their request.
Another cool thing about the festival place is that it's actually a concert venue. This means it has a great stage with professional lighting and the acoustics in the place are superb. No distracting banners, dj booths etc behind the performers that I feel often at other events ruin the show atmosphere that the artist work so hard to create.
So the full showtime menu of the weekend: On Friday the teachers entertained us for a moment with their demos and as it was a Halloween theme party (fun!) there was a short (thank god!) costume competition with congress passes for prizes. On Saturday the artists performed the six amazing shows around 1am. On Sunday there was a hilarious surprise samba de gafieira show by a large group of the artists. I never knew Leo & Freddy would make such a great samba couple! ;) And yeah, there was another small surprise: my birthday roda!!! I must have been the luckiest girl ever to be able to dance on my birthday with all my friends and all the fantastic zouk artists - a dream come true. A huge thank you to everybody who took part in that!
I have to start with the most obvious statement that I heard a thousand times over after the parties: A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. I'm not kidding. I've been to over 20 dance festivals like this but what took place in Helsinki last weekend was beyond compare. After dancing, or what I really should say is flying on top of the clouds all through the Saturday party I returned home in a completely new level of euphoria. And I kind of thought that perhaps I was the only one who had an out-of-this-world zouk night... a night like that is so so rare. But soon I noticed it wasn't just little old me.
It was mind-boggling to talk to people at the event and seeing all the ecstatic faces. I could clip you guys here the deliriously long row of praise you could read on Facebook every day about the event - but really: ask a person who was there. And then you'll be extremely sad you weren't! (I'm sorry.) I think the thunderbolt that was the Saturday showtime really kicked in with a lot of people. And that zouk high lasted not only that night, but all weekend. At the Monday after party I was still dancing on top of the moon.
I think I wasn't the only one who cried inside when the music stopped.
On to the party schedule: The parties are held in the same venue as the workshops, Kulttuuriareena Gloria. Friday party was at 11pm-3:30am, Saturday party 10pm-3:30am and Sunday party 9pm-1:30am. Yep, the parties end early. It's a little bit depressing to watch the clock run out and end a fantastic dance flow. But, positive thinking: it does mean you do get to sleep a somewhat decent amount before the workshops. I actually was at almost all the workshops and in the parties from start(-ish) to finish and ... and still made to work on Monday morning. Not bad. When the parties end earlier it also means you're not lounging around all night, looking and waiting to find the most perfect dance partner - because let's face it, it's pointless. Just go and dance with everybody!
Where the HZF (not unlike many other dance festivals too) have failed slightly in the past has been the male-female ratio, both in the classes and the parties - especially the latter. And I think I've ranted about the hawk-like zoukeiras that practically pounce on the artists. But this year the leader-follower ratio was quite even both day and night time (yay!). I'm happy to say I could dance all night long at all the parties. It was easy to catch any dancer you wished and the ladies got a lot of dance invites from the guys - even from the artists.
About the venue: The space is very airy with a super high ceiling. It does get hot, but no surprise there. The floor is really perfect (in my opinion) for dancing zouk even though it's not parquet. And there was plenty of space for the whole crowd - in the middle of the night the floor was surely busy but no need fight for spot to dance in. And as I mentioned, the place hosts a lot of concerts so it really does have the perfect acoustics and a sound technician is there day and night making sure the music pleases our ears (I didn't even need the ear plugs!). Regarding the music: I felt that it was a nice mix of Rio style zouk remixes and Neo / hiphop / Black zouk with some nice faster zoukable kizombas. Perhaps would prefer to start with a little bit faster or up-beat music at the start of the parties.
By the way - if three nights of dancing is not enough for you, there was indeed a great pre-party on Thursday at Ravintola Kaisaniemi and a fantastic after-party at Bar Uggla on Monday. So yeah, I'd advise you to book in a couple extra days for your next Helsinki visit!
As you may notice regarding pictures of the festival parties - I have none. None whatsoever. I absolutely had no spare moment to take a single picture in the parties. I was having too much fun!
Location and venue
One thing that really does make a difference in the festival is the venue, located right in the Helsinki city center. The main hall has an extremely high ceiling (go check out the balcony!) and atmospheric lighting & pro sound systems. The floor can be a bit cool to lie down on so you may want to bring warm clothes if you want to do some stretching - though some people loved to cool down on the floor. There's no showers, no food or drink service during the day but you can drink water from the tap in Finland, it's cleaner than Evian! During the nights the bar is open at the venue, serving drinks. Prices are high in Finland... you just have to live with that fact.
No food is served at the venue itself but as you're in the center of Helsinki you have lots of restaurants as well as a deli and a grocery store closeby. You're also within walking distance of all the main Helsinki sights and transport points such as the Railway Station and even the ports that connect Helsinki to Stockholm and Tallinn.
Closing notes on the HZF ... and the "Finnish Way"
After three years the Helsinki Zouk Festival has shaped up to be one diamond of an event. Freddy Marinho said during one of his funny commentaries between the shows at the Saturday party that "there's a quality control at the border of Finland, they only let the best people enter the country". And that was so true this weekend.
Though not a Finn, Freddy knows what he's talking about (Freddy - I think you're an honorary Finn by now!). In the most humble Finnish way us FinZoukers are particularly proud about our small but amazing zouk scene. We tend not to make too much fuss over it, but we know we have something special. Where we may have so far lacked in marketing skills, not being able to yet build a scene of hundreds or thousands of zouk dancers, we've certainly succeeded in perfecting our skills as dancers. In fact it's not at all un-Finnish to try to create something spectacular out of nothing.
Perhaps the best thing about the weekend - or really the key which made the workshops and especially the parties so utterly enjoyable - was the positive, family atmosphere. It's hard to create that. And will be interesting to see how the HZF can re-create it. If I could hope for something it would be to have the parties run a bit later. Other than that, I'm one satisfied zoukeira!
All this praise for my home town event? Don't get me wrong. Personally I didn't contribute to the festival in any way other than being there - I have no affiliation to the event and didn't participate in organising it. What I write here is of course with a lot of love but like everything I say in this blog, it's with complete honesty. I just count myself lucky to be able to dance zouk and live is this funky town of Helsinki where perhaps the best zouk festival is being organised.
Seeing all the heartfelt comments that people from around the world wrote after last weekend and the "where can I buy tickets for 2015" and "I'm inviting all my friends to come along next year"... I'm sure the HZF will be a big hit in the future as well!
Were you at the 2014 Helsinki Zouk Festival? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
A MESSAGE TO ALL MY ZOUK FRIENDS OUT THERE
I always feel these syrupy thankyoueverybody, hugtheworld, Academy Award Speech type of posts you may see e.g. on Facebook after the zouk festivals....Well, they're quite lame. Yes, the festivals are great, heavenly etc etc. We all know it. Blah blah. Get over it. And reading them every Monday (as there are festivals pretty much on every weekend) it gets really old really fast.
But now I get it. I mean I really get it. Because I just lived that moment myself. That superb high where you want to hug the world, kiss a street sign, go to the rooftop, scream from the top of the lungs "I love life" and then jump to a space rocket and shoot to the moon.
Another thing you may have heard from someone before:
"Zouk is just a dance like any other".
"Dance is just a hobby."
"Aren't you taking all that a bit too seriously?"
Yeah, the person who told you that don't know sh*t.
After this, I can't wait to return to Brazil next month for more zouk!! Then I can once again calibrate myself and tell you where we in Europe stand at the moment in comparison with the superb Brazilians ... will the brasileiros prove me they are still the kings and queens of zouk?