2015 Helsinki Zouk Festival - learning to breathe again

Workhop at the Helsinki Zouk Festival with Daniel estévez

Workhop at the Helsinki Zouk Festival with Daniel estévez

Have you ever had the feeling of flying?
Have you ever felt out of breath by happiness?

I have, the past weekend at the Helsinki Zouk Festival.

For the fourth time, I had the pleasure to attend to this gem of an event. Freddy Marinho & Andressa Castelhano together with their Rio Zouk Style team have little by little raised the bar for what can be described as a truly top level zouk festival. After well exceeding everybody’s expectations last year, all of us were nervously and excitedly looking forward to what this year’s edition had in store for us. Can all the magic be repeated?

Simple answer: yes, it can.

The social media is pouring with syrupy posts praising this “intimate family event” with “only the cream of the crop in terms of artists and social dancers”. It was “magical” and “sensational”. And I have to agree. Even more exceptional dancers flocked to the cold capital of Finland this year, packing the dance floor with so much talent, focus and passion that we all were bursting from the seams.

Dancing day and night at the Helsinki Zouk Festival

Dancing day and night at the Helsinki Zouk Festival

If you want to understand more about what is Helsinki Zouk Festival and what makes it special, I urge you to read also our last year’s story.

But first the highlights from 2015 Helsinki Zouk Festival!

Artists who took part in this year's event were Leonardo & Becky Neves, Jefferson Dadinho & Nathália Moura, Xandy Liberato & Evelyn Magyari, William Teixeira & Paloma Alves, Daniel Estévez Lopez and the hosts Freddy & Andressa with their Rio Zouk Style team.


 

What, When, Where?

Event: 2015 Helsinki Zouk Festival (4th edition)

Time: 23-25 Oct 2015

Duration: 2 days and 3 nights

Dance styles: Brazilian zouk, West Coast Swing

 


Workshops

Mzouk Demo by Daniel and Ossi

Mzouk Demo by Daniel and Ossi

The whole idea at the Helsinki Zouk Festival is to offer a single track of workshops for each participant, depending on their level: There’s one track of workshops for beginners and one for intermediate/advanced dancers. The workshops were held on Friday evening and on Saturday & Sunday at the beautiful Kulttuuriareena Gloria.

On Friday evening the festival started with three beginner workshops for beginners, two by the local Rio Zouk Style team and one WCS class from 6-9 pm.

On Saturday and Sunday there were workshops in two halls from 12-3 pm and 4-7 pm. On both days there were six intermediate/advanced workshops in the main hall and four-five beginner workshops at the smaller room on the second floor. Saturday and Sunday workshops were concluded with a 30-minute yoga cool down.

Though the event is focused clearly on Brazilia zouk, new to this year was West Coast Swing, which you could find on the beginner track with the All Star dancer Edson Modesto Jr.

Dadinho and Nathalia show their best moves

Dadinho and Nathalia show their best moves

Pure passion in Leo and Becky's demo

Pure passion in Leo and Becky's demo

The workshops flowed nicely and on schedule; it helps a lot when people don't need to change rooms all the time. It's a welcome change to many festivals where you every hour spend time studying the schedule, running around a big venue, hurrying from one workshop (that ended late) to another (that might start on time).

Having a cool, compact venue with only one beginner track and one intermediate/advanced track really calms down the atmosphere. And I think this is the basis for the family feeling - all of us spending the whole weekend together in the same space. It was very easy to find your friends and make new ones.

On the downside, the upstairs room is getting almost too small for the large number of beginner dancers and us more advanced dancers that love go there to refresh our fundamentals. In the main hall the room was quite full but there was enough space. And there was always time for questions and to get tips from the teachers during or after the class.

There was a special mood always in the demos - here William and Paloma improvise to us on stage after their workshop

There was a special mood always in the demos - here William and Paloma improvise to us on stage after their workshop

Ending the long day with a joga cool down

Ending the long day with a joga cool down

What I also liked this year as well as the years before that there were more workshops focusing on technique and on the basic steps (also on the intermediate track), instead of long patterns.

This year the theme seemed to be breathing with several teachers incorporating different breathing exercises to improve the movement and connection in social dancing. Many dancers were talking about these workshops still after the event, and said that they had a positive impact on their social dancing.

Another thing I enjoy about the workshops is the venue; its high ceiling, cool decor, spectacular lighting and sound system - sometimes the workshops felt like being in a concert or the coolest party in town. No wonder the parties were so spectacular as our mood was already set for it all day long. More about the venue and the location at the end of this post.


Videos

There was a number of exceptional demos and shows at the 2015 Helsinki Zouk Festival. See a playlist of videos we gathered here:


Shows

Rio Zouk Style team's performance

Rio Zouk Style team's performance

Everybody who came to HZF last year’s remember the explosion of talent and energy that put the whole crowd in flames on Saturday night. This year was no exception. The creativity, passion and the skills of the dancers in the world of Brazilian zouk never cease to amaze me. I don’t think there was anyone in the audience that wasn’t moved by the shows.

The good thing also is that there were only a handful of shows each night. On Friday there were four and on Saturday six shows, all great and entertaining, and especially the professional shows on Saturday …. I wouldn’t have missed them for the world! The beautiful stage with its dramatic lighting really supports these works of arts that we got to see.

William and Paloma performed for their first time in Finland

William and Paloma performed for their first time in Finland


Parties

Parties at the Helsinki Zouk Festival are known to be legendary. And so they were again. The word must be spreading since this year the level had gone up once again, with even more spectacular social dancers filling the dance floor.

This year I could see that there were more followers than leaders, but I had no trouble staying on the dance floor all night. The sheer level of the dancing really took my breath away. Since there is no massive crowd or gigantic venue, everybody have a bit easier time catching any of the pros for a dance. But for me, it was the level of the non-pro dancers that really amazed me. It’s always the highlight of any congress to have a couple of those divine dances, but I noticed I was having diving, sublime, heavenly dances all night, starting from the first song all the way until the last one.

The music at the HZF is mostly zouk remixes that are great for traditional / Rio zouk and hiphop / Black zouk with some other pop and kizomba tracks that complement it nicely. The sound system is one of the best in all the congresses I’ve attended where the volume is not too high but fills the space perfectly - no wonder as this a concert venue with a professional sound technician taking care of the massive system all day and night.

Saturday party at 2015 HZF

Saturday party at 2015 HZF

About the party schedule (and here comes the “bad news”): The parties are at 10 pm - 3:30 am on Friday & Saturday and 9 pm - 1:30 am on Sunday. But this year as the change to winter time happened on Sat night, the party ended then at 4 am, wohoo! Yes, the parties end early, but it could be just a critical part of their charm. And it means you can sleep almost a full night before the workshops!

By the way - if three nights of dancing is not enough for you, there was indeed a pre party on Thursday at Ravintola Kaisaniemi and a fantastic after party at Bar Uggla on Monday. Also some of our super active North American visitors organised an after party at a near-by bar on Sunday night. Many of the international visitors stayed until the Monday’s party and the mood was very high! Don’t forget to schedule in a couple extra days for your next Helsinki visit!
 

Location and venue

What can make or break a festival is the venue. Kulttuuriareena Gloria, that now served the HZF for the third time is one thing the makes the festival as magical as it is. Located in the heart of Helsinki, it’s a walking distance from the railway station (which marks the center of Helsinki), all the main sights, restaurants, shops and hotels - perfect for tourists! All the workshops and parties are under the same roof, which makes it easy to plan your weekend.

Full view of the main hall at the venue, Gloria

Full view of the main hall at the venue, Gloria

The main hall has an high ceiling, very atmospheric lighting and the most professional sound systems. I’ve found that the concrete floor is perfect for dancing. It can be a bit cool to lie down on so you may want to bring warm clothes if you want to do some stretching between the workshops. There are showers and no food or drink service during the day but you can drink water from the tap in Finland and grocery stores, cafes and restaurants are right around the corner. During the nights the bar is open at the venue, serving (expensive) drinks. Note that you could also bring your own water bottles to both to the workshops and this year also to the party!

Workshop warm-ups were an event of their own, with mood lighting and relaxed atmosphere

Workshop warm-ups were an event of their own, with mood lighting and relaxed atmosphere

This year the event was a bit earlier in the autumn (it keeps getting moved up every year - I like it!) and now we got to enjoy the most beautiful sunny days with all the trees in beautiful autumn colors.

Enjoying the autumn day in Helsinki

Enjoying the autumn day in Helsinki


Can I have some more of the Helsinki Zouk Festival magic, please?

HZF is always at the top of my list of Zouk events not to be missed*. What I said last year still holds true: “the Helsinki Zouk Festival has shaped up to be one diamond of an event.” The organisers have found a great recipe and they have their good senses to stick to it! I really commend them for not messing with it, and for focusing on the quality of the festival. Read more about this in our story about the 2014 HZF!

The dates for the 2016 Helsinki Zouk Festival were already announced at the event, so you can pencil in 14-16 Oct 2016 in your calendar! For more 2016 zouk events, see our full annual zouk event calendar!

*) Disclaimer: Of course HZF is on the top my list, it’s a no-brainer for me since I live in Helsinki. But make no mistake - I have absolutely no affiliation to the event and didn't participate in organising it. I’m very demanding & picky about the dance events I attend to, even in my home turf, and of course it makes me happy that I can with all honesty recommend this event.


How was your weekend?

Were you at the 2014 Helsinki Zouk Festival?

Share your thoughts in the comment section below!