Just a short while ago I was celebrating my four-year zoukiversary! (Yes, that means it's been four years since I started dancing Brazilian zouk.) Time flies by and a lot has happened during those years, such as traveling around the world by myself as well as basically redefining myself.. no biggie! :D Never did I imagine that such a thing as Brazilian zouk would just take my life by the balls and completely sweep me off my feet. It's been a fun ride!
Reminiscing the years passed by, it's fun(ny) to read old blog post and watch the old dance videos - that is some scary stuff! But all part of one awesome journey. This lead me to think what would I do differently if I had the chance? Nothing really, I guess. But there are indeed some things I wish I knew when I started dancing zouk. Some of these are things that people did keep telling me - but at that time I didn't really sink in. Here's what I would tell to my fellow beginner zoukeiros and zoukeiras that are in the beginning of their dance journey!
1. Everybody starts from zero.
For the longest times I went around apologizing for being a beginner, for my lack of skills, for not understanding a lead or for whatever mistake I made... And just generally feeling a bit sorry for myself for not being better yet. It's ok to know where you stand in the learning curve but don't feel bad for it. Anybody who has danced for some time already have realised that we've all been beginners once! So what if you make a small mistake on the dance floor or can only do the very basic stuff... Everybody's been there. And nobody with a solid head on their shoulders will think any less of you for being a beginner.
2. Becoming a fantastic dancer doesn't have an age, weight or any other limit.
It's a cliche to think you need to be "young" or "skinny" to be able to be good at something as physical as dancing. Don't set yourself some arbitrary limits of what you should be like to dance better or think any less of yourself because you don't fit into what you imagine is the stereotype poster image of a dancer. Once you get around dancing you'll notice that great dancers come in all ages, shapes, sizes and forms!
3. It's not about the tricks - it's about the fundamentals.
Watch a dance show and you'll be certain to hear the crowd cheering at a cool lift and 'oooh' at a fancy trick.... And you'll think: that's what I want to learn - I want to be that awesome too! Well you can actually rather easily learn to do a cool looking trick or lift. But what may look cool is not what you should focus on.
It's quite normal in the beginning to spend a lot of time thinking about how you look. That's probably because in the beginning you may only have some idea about how the dance should look but absolutely no idea about how it should feel. What will really make you the most awesome dancer you can ever be - and also will make you look a lot better on the dance floor? Get better (and better, and better) at the most fundamental things. All the very advanced moves you love watching are all based on a solid foundation. And most importantly: the better you are in the basics, the more enjoyable it is to dance for both you and the person you are dancing with. It helps a million times more than learning any cool trick! Mastering the basic steps and the fundamentals concepts is the ultimate dancer's dream. There's never a time when you'll be done with the basics.
4. It's all about getting out on the dance floor.
Love taking dance classes? Great - you're on your way to become a great dancer! But (for me and many others) the end game is not about the time you spend in dance classes. Yes, you will do lots and lots of classes and you will enjoy learning new things. But the reason you should be going to dance classes is not to pass time in the classes - but to learn skills for social dancing! And for that you also need to go out dancing! Dance parties and socials might feel intimidating at first but - trust me - once you get the hang of it, it's so much fun. For me, the #1 reason I never want to stop learning and becoming a better dancer is to be better at social dancing.
To ease you over the barrier of those perhaps scary first socials? Get a friend from your dance class to go with you, try out a few dances and don't be quick to pass judgement on yourself (or the others either). In no time you'll notice you're dancing! Find dancers you enjoy dancing with and test out all those skills you've picked up on the classes. There's never really too early to start social dancing - so get out and be social!
5. Don't let your talent or the lack thereof to get in your way.
Do you think you have more or less "natural talent" to dance than the average Joe? Yep, some people may have natural talent or in some way just have it easier in the beginning. But the saying hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard doesn't come for nothing! And certainly there's no such thing as a natural dancer who would just walk to a party and know everything right off the bat. In any case, do you have to be the best in the world in dancing to enjoy it immensely - definitely not.
I've seen people who are absolutely sure that they "cannot learn to dance" or "have no rhythm" or "cannot move their hips" to become awesome dancers that have an acute sense of rhythm and develop superb hip movements. Never decide what you cannot do, instead decide to put your best effort to it and you'll be blown away at what you can!
6. Love the mirror.
The way to advance is not to obsessively compare your skills to the other people's skills. It's quite natural to arrive at a point where you feel everybody else is learning so much faster than you. Instead of looking at the others, look in the mirror. Look at yourself and how much you've improved - and while you're at it, don't belittle your achievements! Look at how you can be better, what could be your next goal and think about what steps you need to take to reach that. Don't be scared of the mirror, which is also (together with a video camera) one of your vital practice tools.
7. You'll never be ready - and that's a good thing!
A slightly caricaturistic view of the development in my knowledge of zouk over the past four years:
There's no such thing as being ready or being done as you learn to dance. Your skills, knowledge and interests will evolve. The image of the "advanced dancer" you might have envisioned yourself to be will change a 1000 times over. That's ok and if you're anything like me you'll love every step of the journey - even the steps backwards that can turn into amazing insights and triumphs in the long run. The more things you learn, the more you find new things you need to learn and re-learn. To me, dancing is like a driving-me-nuts bottomless treasure chest.
8. Social dancing is not a one-size-fits-for-all thing.
You can't please everybody, right? But it's easy to forget that and feel bad when you seem to fail the mark. Maybe you have trouble connecting with someone or you seem to be always off-time with another person or in other ways don't enjoy dancing with some other person. Surely when your skills improve this will happen less and less often. But... People do have different preferences in music, in dance styles, different ways to interpret the music and to connect, different body structures, different moods... What fits and pleases one person may not fit or please you.
Typically when you dance with someone you do try to adapt to the way he/she leads/follows, etc, but it's still not always possible to have a perfect or even close-to-perfect match. That's ok. It doesn't automatically mean that there's something wrong with you, or with the other person. Also don't forget it's natural not to know everything in the beginning, nothing to stress about. The fun thing about dancing really is that two people can come from very different backgrounds, skills, shapes & preferences and dance together quite amazingly regardless of that. If we all would be perfect matches to one another then how boring would that get!
9. Embrace your personality.
Did I mention that social dancing is not a one-size-fits-for-all thing? Once you start dancing and asking those ever-important questions from your dance friends (and even when you don't ask them) you'll be hearing an endless array of advice. It's good to take it all in - but also to realise that not 100% of what you hear may work for you, be relevant and sadly even true - not everybody knows everything. The one person you should listen to and stay true to is yourself. Don't be afraid to step out the mold and embrace the dance with your own personality! Dance is a great way to express yourself - make use of it! Avoid putting labels or passing judgement, and forever stay curious. You'll be sure to discover more of the dance as well as who you are and your personality through that!
10. Dancing is a great way to make new friends.
You might think "I have enough friends". Well if that's really what you think then stay away from dancing in that case! I didn't start dancing specifically to meet new people - I didn't really know what to expect either. But I have indeed noticed it's a superb as well as a really fun way to meet and connect with people from all aspects of life and all around the world. A quick way to notice that is when you travel: show up at a local dance social, have a couple dances and you'll instantly have a bunch of new local friends!
A note here about dancing and making "more than friends" a.k.a. hooking up: Social dancing is not speed dating! If you, the person you're dancing with or your significant other at home doesn't understand that then think again and feel free to educate yourself/them. It's easy to mix the facts as some people are not used to the idea of being close to a person that's not your spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend. You need to realise that being close to another human being is completely natural and in dancing it is done all within the boundaries of what feels ok between you and the person you are dancing with. Respect your dance partners, don't hit on them or behave inappropriately; that way you'll be sure you're welcome to dance with them in the future.
11. I can no longer ever see my life without dancing being 100% part of it.
Actually I didn't really need to know this before I started dancing. But I added it here just to prove a point; it's the most surprising perk of dancing zouk! It's ok to go a little nuts about dancing - join the club :)
What are the things you wish you knew when you started dancing?
Share your thoughts in the comments below!
As this dance "hobby" of mine is an ongoing - everlasting, probably - project, it will be fun to look back at this post a few years later and to see how my list have changed by then!