It was a gorgeous sunny Thursday morning two weeks ago when I boarded a train in Alicante on the southwest coast of Spain. I was leaving my little Spanish spring holiday behind me and dragging a surprisingly heavy trolley bag. The air was still cool and people were going about their usual daily routines but I had a certain special smile on my face: I was on my way for some all-day-all-night zouking in Barcelona at the DansaBrasil 2015!
DansaBrasil congress, also known as Congresso Internacional de Lambada/Zouk en Barcelona, had been long on my list of "must-visit events". Being already at its 10th edition (!!) it's quite a historic event in the zouk scene and for many European so called old school zoukers it has been their first zouk congress. Though on this particular jam-packed weekend there were a lot of options for us zouk dancers; while many of us enjoyed bank holidays on Friday 1st of May, the congress organisers around the world also wanted to bank on this. Events in addition to DansaBrasil that same weekend were the Prague Zouk Marathon, L.A. Zouk Congress and the Zouk Fusion congress in São Paulo.
But my (harder than ever) choice was made - I was not going to miss the 10th anniversary of DansaBrasil!
What, when, where?
Event: DansaBrasil Congresso Internacional de Lambada/Zouk 2015 (10th edition).
Time: 30 Apr - 3 May 2015.
Duration: 3 days and 4+1 nights.
Dance styles: Mainly lambazouk, also traditional zouk as well as some axé and samba de gafieira.
Concept & Teachers
DansaBrasil is a fun, feel-good lambazouk event held at a university campus area in Bellaterra, about 20kms northeast (inland) from Barcelona city center. It's an "everything in one place" type of event where workshops, parties and accommodation are all in the same place, under one roof.
If you looked at the list of teachers you could notice they had invited a quite a nice mix of artists from various zouk styles. The 2015 roster included Braz Dos Santos, Gilson Damasco & Julie Scheeffer, Joseph Koniak & Solange Dias, William Dos Santos & Natasha Terekhina, Renato Dias, Ludek Luzny & Pavla Luzna, Adilio Porto & Sarita Poitrowski, Henri Velandia, Tomer Schwartz & Karin Ferri, Sarah Mae Chauvaux and also members of the organising team Xavi & Laura, Papagaio & Olaya, Nuria, and many more.
At DansaBrasil there are three full days of workshops; on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from 1:30pm to 7:40pm. Each day there were three one-hour workshops, a 20 minute-break and three more one-hour workshops. Though the event clearly leans more towards lambazouk, there are classes both for lambazouk and traditional / Rio style zouk (called plainly 'zouk' at this event). Some samba de gafieira classes were also in the schedule and in addition to those you can take a few hours of solo classes in axé, reggaeton, modern dance and of course also in zouk ladies' and men's styling.
The schedule offered 3-4 levels of classes: beginner, intermediate, intermediate / advanced and open level. As usual, it is quite hard to see the difference between the levels, especially between intermediate and advanced classes. Also some of the students don't know their level or prefer taking workshops a bit (and more than a bit) above their level. This didn't really create any major problems and in any case it can be hard to teach an advanced sequence in one hour to a group of 50-100 students of any level.
You did remember to sign up for workshops, didn't you?
There's a specific system about the workshops at DansaBrasil, which I haven't ran into in any other event so far: you have to sign up to your classes. A week before the event I received an email from the organisers saying that "it is mandatory to request for the workshops you want to assist before the congress begins" and that the class schedules would be on their website the following day for registration.
So the next day I went online to check their site, signed in with my username and password (which you have to create when you purchase your pass for the congress, so save those for later use!) and looked up the 'horarios'. After some head-scratching, reloading and trial-and-error I finally figured out a way to sign up for the classes: you simply had to click on the timetable at those hours that you'd like to select. Seems obvious but there was absolutely no instructions on the email (the email didn't even contain a link to the website) or on the site, and the timetable didn't show any indicator that you could click on it (change of cursor or mouseover text).
Once you got to the event, at registration on Thursday afternoon they didn't have the personal timetables ready so you needed to pick them up Friday morning before the first class. So you could believe the line of people at 1:30pm when the first class started as a couple hundred eager dancers were hurrying to get their laminated schedule cards and solving problems with their registrations. This laminated piece of paper you actually had to keep with you to be allowed in to your workshop!
It was indeed an interesting system... Their intention with this is honorable: to have a good ratio of leaders and followers on classes and to make sure none of the workshops are too full. So after a certain number of people sign up for a particular class, it becomes full - period. But there were some problems; I found out at the event that many didn't figure it out how to register or the registration simply didn't work, so they were stuck with whatever classes had available spaces by the time the event started.
Also this type of system leaves out spontaneous choices and drives people to pick classes with teachers they know - if you have to pick your classes without ever seeing the teachers, already a week before the event, you just look at the list and choose the familiar names (hopefully also those classes that match your level!!). It was quite funny that during one of the shows on Friday they were recommending people to join a specific class the next day - but how could you actually decide to jump in and join that class if you had to lock in your selections the week before? Probably you could go to the reception desk the next morning ask to change you schedule (if there was space on that class) but would you bother to do that?
So how did the system work? Could you sneak into a class that wasn't on "your card"? On the first day they checked the cards quite rigorously at the door, later more sporadically. Some people who were stuck with classes they didn't want due to the problems with the website, sat in on the classes they actual had wanted to join - but only sat in as they had been told they can't take part in the classes.
All in all, despite the slight awkwardness of the registration system and "show your card before entering the class", personally I was quite happy with the workshops. The classes were good, people were interested in learning and the teachers were focused on giving a thorough class. People seemed to be in a positive mood. There was a nice mix of topics and dance styles in the schedule as well as a good number of workshops in solo styles for variation. The leader-to-follower ratio was almost 100% equal (kudos for that!) and despite the large number of people there was enough space on the classes - the registration system surely must have helped in this. Also the rooms were spacious and not too hot (except on the last day when the heat wave arrived to Barcelona).
I especially liked that the workshop days started quite late (1:30pm) so that you could have a decent 5-7 hours of sleep between the parties and the workshops. It was nice to wake up to a sunny day, rather rested (as rested as you can imagine one to be..) and have a slow breakfast without too much rush. There was only a very short lunch break between workshops (20mins) but having the time I did manage to have a solid breakfast every "morning" so I didn't really miss having a long lunch - a snack did just fine.
As do happen at most events, the schedule was about 15-40mins late. It would have helped to have a member of the organising team to go round the rooms 5-10mins before the classes to signal the teaches that the class is ending and make sure the teachers stick to the schedule (possibly they did this but alas it didn't work). Also the days started already late; at least Sunday when I went to the class at 1:30pm on the dot there were no teachers and just a handful of students. Actually, the schedule started every day at 1:10pm with a 20-minute warm-up and ended at 7:40pm with a 20-minute stretching - but I never saw those classes or if they even had them.
See more about the venue & the location later in this post.
The parties were held from Thursday to Sunday at the congress venue. Read more about the venue & the location later in this post. An after party was held - following a tradition of this and a few other Barcelona events - at Puerto Olympico bar Zich. See my notes from the afterparty in Sep 2012.
The parties started at around 11pm at the congress venue's Arnau hall. On Thursday and Friday the parties ended at around 5am and Saturday and Sunday at around 6am, continuing in the lobby after that pretty much until the 8am breakfast.
What really stands out in parties is the joyful mood. There was a lot of space so you didn't need to be watching your back or your partner's back like a hawk - just enjoy dancing! The teachers crowded the area in front of the bar and were eager to invite other teachers and students for dances. The biggest crowd was attracted by a group of teachers leading Henri & Renato on the Sunday party. It's fun to see the guys don't take dancing too seriously and have taken the time to learn to follow - quite nicely too. In general people were having a good time on the dance floor, switching partners on the fly and the up-beat & energetic music kept people on their feet all night. Boy did my feet ache at the end of the event, I could barely stand!
The music was mostly lambazouk, kizomba and some zouk remixes for traditional / Rio style zoukers. Most people complemented on the djs for keeping up the good energy, and I can say I liked the music too. Perhaps sometimes the volumes got a bit too loud but you could resolve that with ear plugs. In addition to zouk, every night they played also a couple songs of samba de gafieira, salsa and bachata. As tradition goes, there's also a 3-4 song break for axé. When they had this late in the evening, adjacent to the samba-salsa-bachata break, I found it a bit too tiring. I do dance all styles if need be or if I feel like it, but if you're in a nice zouk flow and at 4am they change the music for half an hour, it feels like an endless half hour. At that point you do start seriously to think about going to bed.
The venue (do read below for more info about the venue) is spacious and the floor is in very good condition. The party room is not really decorated with anything particular for the parties - after the workshops the lighting merely changed but the room is a rather typical congress hall. On the back of the room there are some gala-dinner type of large tables that quickly fill with cups from the bar. There are some chairs for resting your tired feet. In front of the room is a bar; in fact with your full pass you receive one drink coupon for each night - non alcoholic drinks, which obviously included beer! (This is Southern Europe, after all...) The prices in the bar were not particularly cheap but ok (3€ for soft drinks, 7€ for alcohol + mixer); if you wanted to save money on drinks your room wasn't too far.
As usual, there were shows every night. The showtime was at about 1am (about half an hour later than on the schedule). Like most of us, I have a love-hate relationship with the shows... The professional shows on Friday and Saturday did spark a lot of energy and are always worth to stay & watch. But the break in the party tends to get too long. I think the showtime and the resulting freezing-up & re-warming-up would be more bearable if they would just cut down on the chit chat, introductions, thank yous, announcements and festival advertisements.
Most memorable show for me was perhaps this lambazouk threesome with David, Olaya and Vivian from Barcelona. Also Adilio & Sarita's performance got a roaring applause from crowd and you could see the performers themselved were quite moved too.
VENUE AND LOCATION
The venue, Campus Hotel UAB, is located at Bellaterra, about 20kms northeast from the Barcelona city center. For precise location, check the map at the top of this post!
Workshops and parties were at the hotel as well as the accommodation - very convenient. The place is easily accessible by FGC trains from Plaça de Catalunya station, only half an hour from the city. The area itself offers pretty much nothing but zouk for us tourists - the whole campus is pretty bare and covered with concrete. But when you look beyond the apartment blocks you'll find a huge, lush forest. I had a nice view of that from my apartment.
Workshops were in three halls and in the biggest of the three they also had the parties. The floor was great for dancing - not wood but nice smooth surface with no annoying cracks! There was enough space to dance, day and night, and though it got warm I think it the temperatures were quite good. The sound system was well organised, though I have to say at some workshops(!) the music was way too loud - at parties you can almost expect this but for workshops I think there's no excuse to make it so loud.
For meals & refreshments you have a few choices. At the venue there is a café/restaurant for simple meals and coffee & drinks. The hotel also served breakfast (8-10am), lunch (12.30-1.45pm) and dinner (8-9.45pm). Breakfast was included in the hotel room price but not in the apartment price. Lunch and dinner tickets you could buy for 12€ from the congress reception. I tried the dinner twice and once it was ok and the other time not really good. For the price it's bearable and certainly easy (buffet) but not really highly recommended. The congress team was also selling beverages between the halls during the day. At the parties there was a bar set up in the main hall.
A couple hundred meters from the venue there is a little grocery shop and a couple simple restaurants. In the apartment entrance halls there were also vending machines. For best grocery shopping I'd recommend the shops on the other side of the Bellaterra station (15min walk)!
If you're looking for clothes or other things - during the workshops there were a number of clothing vendors between the workshop halls. For anything else, best to head to other side of the Bellaterra station or the Barcelona city.
As I've mentioned, DansaBrasil is a "full service event"; they also offer accommodation. When you purchase your pass you can book either a room (single, double, triple) or an apartment (for two people). The rooms are located in the same hotel building as the workshops and parties and the apartments "a 2-minute walk" from the hotel, which actually meant just across the street.
I had trouble finding out what really is included in the room or the apartment and there was quite a difference in the prices, which were in my opinion rather high for the location (74€/night for a two-person apartment and around 100€/night for a double room). I did send numerous messages to the team but in the end all I could get as a reply was that there is breakfast included in the room price but not in the apartment, which does have some type of kitchen. Nothing about the accommodation sizes or what to find (and what not) in them, is cleaning included or wifi..
Well, I made my choice purely on the price and booked the apartment. And I'm quite happy with my choice! The apartment had two beds, two desks, lounge chairs, bar stools, kitchen (mine had plates, cups, basic utensils and a couple pots and a pan), plenty of space for clothes, a safe and a bathroom with shower. There's wifi throughout the apartment and the hotel. The apartment was not cleaned during the stay but there's nothing you really need for a 4-night stay - a set of towels and clean sheets were there when I arrived.
The only problem I had was getting in to the apartment in the first place. The organisers had appointed the distribution of keys to one person - who was nowhere to be found for over an hour on that Thursday late afternoon when a number of us arrived for the start of the event. Would be nice to make sure that somebody is there to meet and 100% available for the tired travelers and let them into their paid apartments for a shower and change of clothes. Luckily the hotel lobby had soft couches at least!
How to get there?
For location, check the map at the top of this post!
To get there, take the S2 or S55 (FGC) train from Plaça de Catalunya station to Bellaterra station. Trains go every ~12 mins and it takes about a half an hour. From the station it's about 10 mins walk (east) to reach the venue, Campus Hotel UAB. The apartments were just cross the street from the hotel.
If you're coming from the airport, take the airport bus (every 5 mins) to Plaça de Catalunya and just walk to the other side of the square for the train station - note that there are a few underground stations in the area, and you should find the FGC station.
FINAL VERDICT & SUM UP
I had simply a great time at DansaBrasil. I particularly liked how the schedule was set up; parties weren't crazy long and the workshops didn't start super early so I got a decent amount of sleep (congress-wise) and could attend both days and nights of the event for the most part. That's not a small achievement!
The range of teachers and their level was good. Workshops were in a variety of themes and there was a positive atmosphere. The registration system for the classes (or the fact that it didn't work) did bring up disappointments for some. But perhaps it solves problems that some other events have as the workshops at DansaBrasil weren't overcrowded or packed with ladies.
I enjoyed the parties, so much so that at the end of the weekend I couldn't feel my toes (or wished I couldn't). I had a good flow on the dance floor and was smiling ear-to-ear. There were more girls than guys, surely, but not so much that I would have been standing on my own for too long.
The venue is in good condition and serves the event more than well. Admittedly, from a tourist point of view, the campus location is a bit dull but it's understandable that you can't arrange an event in the Barcelona city. If you want to see the city, do reserve an extra day or a few of them - even though it's close, you will have no time to go there if you have the festival full pass. It's a good time of the year to visit Barcelona as it's not yet the highest of high seasons and the weather is already very nice!
What could be improved?
There's always room for improvement. Definitely firstly the scheduling system needs to be looked after so that it works for all. Also it would be useful (though this is a problem among many organisers) that the organising team is available via email or Facebook for questions before the event.
Another thing is the timing; I know that the zouk calendar gets full every year but I hope the organisers in the future try to work together with other organisers so that there wouldn't be so many big zouk events on the same weekend (DansaBrasil, Prague Zouk Marathon, L.A. Zouk Congress and Zouk Fusion). We zoukers love to travel and visit your events but we can only be in one place at once.
One more thing I'd like to address - shortly - and make a personal request: I would like to have more workshops and generally more awareness for lambazouk on1. Now still many lambazouk teachers and most dancers in Europe dance lambazouk on3 (on the slow-quick-quick rhythm), which is obviously ok and for some music it is better. But to enjoy the lambazouk musicality and flow I feel that the on1 timing is 100-times better. So I wish the teachers bravely started to teach more of lambazouk on1! I was happy to see many classes on1 at DansaBrasil and hope to see even more in the future!
Who is this event good for?
I would recommend DansaBrasil for anyone who likes to party and enjoy a positive, cheerful mood. If you love lambazouk this is a clear choice for you as there are not many events in the year that offer lambazouk in this scale. Also if you're still new to lambazouk but curious about it, this is a great event as there are also other zouk styles and a big number of great dancers from around the world. In addition to that, you get to enjoy a bit of springtime Spain and - if you bear to leave the congress or have some extra time - the glorious city of Barcelona.
My thank yous
Congratulations to DansaBrasil for reaching their 10th year on this fun event! I hope to be back one year again - so keep up the good work!
This time I was traveling by myself and there's a certain advantage to this as you do get a bit more social (at least I do) and meet lots more people - and I certainly did meet a lot of fantastic people at the event. Thanks to everybody who came to talk to me, shared a dance, a meal or a beer and made my weekend such as success!
Coming up in the blog
Soon I will go back in time to relive Berg's Congress 2015 - the zouk paradise on earth. Also read in the next weeks my interview with living legend of Brazilian zouk and the star of Brazouka musical, Braz Dos Santos. These and 20 more (not kidding!!) brand new posts are waiting for their finishing touches so stay tuned!
Were you at the DansaBrasil congress?
How was your weekend like? Share your thoughts in the comments!