Back-to-back festival weekends take a toll on any dancer. But I'm not any dancer, I told myself - I can take it! :D So just a couple days after Tallinn Salsa Festival I repacked my bags for London Zouk Fest. I had been looking forward to this lambada-zouk & Vero zouk weekend for quite a while - both my favourite zouk styles under the same roof!
What? London Zouk Fest 2014
Where? Heathrow, London, UK
When? 28 Feb - 3 Mar 2014 / 2 days and 3+1 nights
Park Inn hotel close to the Heathrow airport was our home for the past five days. The event itself took place on Fri-Sun, with the artist line-up including such zouk stars as Solange Dias & Joe Koniak (the organisers), Renato & Babi, Alisson & Audrey, Xandy & Evelyn, Daniel & Leticia, Braz & Josy, Carlos & Fernanda, Jakub & Lucia, Ludek & Pavla, Yuval and many more. So not only was there lambada-zouk and Vero zouk, but also Rio style zouk, Mzouk and new fusion styles. A number of London-based teachers were also giving workshops and performing at the event, including Arthur & Aieste, Pedrinho & Linda, Davi & Sara and Gary & Marisa, to name a few.
Workshops at Zouk Fest
The organisers provided us with quite a jam-packed schedule of workshops in no less than four rooms from 11am to 6pm! As there was a record number of zouk styles represented, so were options. The workshops had the typical themes, I quite preferred the ones focused on leading & following, connection, the ladies' styling workshops and obviously I took the chance to take classes with my favourite teachers who travel less in Europe, Renato & Babi. I could hardly manage a full day - but hey, you're really not supposed to!
Parties & showtime at the Zouk Fest
The Zouk Fest gave us three main party nights, starting the music at around 10pm. The party peak hours were packed with people - and it was a big venue so there must have been hundreds of us there! It's nice to see the zouk scene in Europe is booming and so many made their way to London.
There were actually two rooms in the parties. In both rooms the dance floor was part parquet and part carpet. I was lucky to have a pair of shoes (that I bought at the event, without even realizing how perfect they were) that worked on both floor types so I had no troubles during the parties. Having two party rooms meant that people could pick the room with the music they preferred - both rooms had a mix of zouk music styles and the smaller room also other latin music a few songs each night (bachata, salsa). But the rooms were adjacent to each other, so there was a bit of overlap in the music and sometimes not just a bit. In any case, I didn't find that to bother me too often. It was quite handy to have two rooms and especially so much space - with the hundreds of zoukers we needed it. It also meant I had absolutely no time to take any pictures at the parties - I was fully focused on burning the floor!
A special thank you to the organisers for providing free water with two water coolers that were changed to full containers all throughout the nights - and workshop days too. This was a lifesaver! There was a bar at venue as well, for those that wanted something more potent than water ;)
Solange & Joe's adorable kids opened the showtime in the evenings - it was quite cute and very brave of these obvious future zouk stars! All of the party nights had shows, showtime early on in the evening (before midnight). I was happy to see many new shows this time around! It wasn't too long of a break but the competitions that went on Saturday and Sunday, especially on Saturday, was too much for my liking. On the plus side, the parties did go on quite long enough, to around 5am on Friday and and past 5am on Saturday. The Sunday party, that was scheduled to end at 1am (why?) went in the main room until 3am and after that until 6am in the smaller room. My feet didn't last all the way until the last song in any of the nights!?! So no complaints there on my part!
My two cents - or pennies - on the Zouk Fest 2014
Overall I like the event and left home as tired and deliriously happy as any good congress participant can be.
I liked the location - I love it when there's no need to travel hour(s) from the airport to the congress destination: You land in Heathrow, you're pretty much there. The hotel was nice and everything you needed is right there: your bed, the congress venue, a couple restaurants (try the Bravo Bravo evening meal buffet if you're there - great if you're starving like me!), gym & spa, grocery shops just around the corner... And NO time wasted on traveling from hotel to the congress place! During the festival you really don't have time to see the city anyway so why waste time on trying to do that. It's an hour to reach the city, conveniently by metro from Heathrow (use the free bus service to Heathrow and back; double decker buses 105, 111, 140, 285). Book an extra day before the event to see London, in case that's what you want ..and that's what I did.
Some other things, outside the workshops and the parties that I quite liked were the nice shops at the event, both dance clothes and shoes. I made some great finds there - not cheap though but in normal price range for quality dance wear... I'm especially proud of my new stunning and perfectly fitting dance sandals with the 9.5cm slim heel. I just about managed not to buy any tops - I still have sooo many from my shop (totally shameless self-promotion moment ;))!
Regarding the "room for improvement" - there's always some. And they're usually the same everywhere. First of all, the party schedule changed on a daily basis - and in the evening it still wasn't as they announced it in the afternoon. Secondly, there could be less program on stage. Particularly the Saturday night competition, like I mentioned, was waaaayy too long (costume competition for the "Back to School theme"). I believe there were about 15 or 45 rounds in that competition - or at least it felt like it (I lost count and stopped following). Like Solange said, Joe loves the microphone and he does go a bit overboard when he gets a hold of it (no offense Joe, you have a nice voice ;)). The Sunday night competition was a lot shorter - luckily they learned very fast. In any case please next year remember that people come to the parties to dance and socialize - not compete or sit and watch :) But of course, you could take this time and rest in your room, it's right around the corner!
For those that travel to events in the hopes of dancing with the teachers I can tell you great news. Unlike many other events I didn't really see the professionals being hounded quite as much as elsewhere (I'm sure they felt they were hounded quite enough in any case, don't let this fool you!) and when I so wanted I managed to easily catch any of the smiling & happy teachers during any night.
Aaaand here is good point to remind all the anxious zouk dancers that there's plenty of great dancers and amazing dance experiences with us good old - and new!! - amateur dancers! :) Don't make it the sole purpose of life to invite the teachers for a dance (and especially don't spend your evening agonizing or waiting for a chance to do that) - invite your friends or take a look at the dance floor for new people to share a dance with! At the same time I do have to say that the guys in London for some reason seem to lead more roughly than I personally hope, or many other follower either that I spoke with during the event; here's a particular room for improvement to the London based zouk teachers - or any zouk teacher anywhere for that matter - to work on with their students the future! As always, it's not about the number of moves you do, it's how you do them. Listen to the music, connect with your partner and respect others on the floor :)
As a final verdict on this yet again amazing and positively exhausting weekend: London, I will be back!