How zouk swept me off my feet - and 10 tips for (future) social dancers

This is a post I originally wrote in 2013, after a couple years of dancing Brazilian zouk. I thought it was about time I took another good luck at myself, how I feel about this beautiful dance. Here's to hoping my story of how I became I zouk dancer (at the end of this post) along with a few tips might motivate others too.

Dance like everybody is watching!
— Said nobody ever

Dancing seems to be a daunting idea for some...
"I don't dance."
"I've always had two left feet."
"But I have no rhythm."
"Oh it's nice to see you dance but really I never could do that."

Isn't that what you hear often? How many times have I seen the Dance like nobody is watching poster, somehow reassuring us all that dancing would be something you would need to hide or be ashamed of??

Trust me, anybody can dance. And should! 

Are you wondering how to get started with dancing? Or need tips to help to get your friends over their doubts? This is the post for you. Below you'll find links for the rest of our Beginner Dancer series and after we start with 10 tips - or first steps - on your(?) dance journey! At the end of the post I also share my story of how I started with social dancing and got swept away with Brazilian zouk.



Getting out on the dance floor - 10 tips for (future) social dancers

1. Dancing is walking.

People seem to make a big deal out of simple things, that you need to leap out of their comfort zone. Dancing is in essence all about finding music you like and moving to it. Your dance teacher will help you get started with the basic moves and picking up the rhythm, but essentially most of social dancing can quite often be described by walking to the beat of the music. You don't need to be an athlete or an acrobat to dance enjoyably.

2. Dancing is good for you.

Dancing is good for your health, it improves your memory, builds your confidence and it's a great way to meet new people! Read more at Dance: It's good for you! - 15 benefits of dancing.

3. It's ok to be in contact with other people.

While some feel it takes some special qualities to dance, others may also think it takes some extra-ordinary qualities to dance with other people. You may feel you need a bigger personal space than others. You might think that partner dancing is something for weddings, for feeling up another person or just something for professional ballroom dancers. I'm saying this because I used to think like that.

There's nothing sexual about any common partner dance. If you don't feel comfortable dancing with strangers then you can start with a person you like and trust. Soon you'll notice you'll be dancing with everybody!

4. You don't need a partner.

In most cases you don't need a partner for a partner dance class. In the classes partners are commonly rotated and that's the best way to learn. Most social dances like Brazilian zouk are easy dance to get into since in the parties you can freely go ask anyone to dance.

At some point, once you get immersed with the dance and want to practice more on your own time, it's a good idea to get yourself a practice partner. That's usually never too hard to find!
 

5. Get comfortable.

People ask me sometimes what they need to bring with them to dance classes or parties, what to wear? Well first of all, it's good to have clothes in which you can move and you may want to bring a change of clothes in case you get sweaty. The shoes depend on the location and the dance style but you can start with wearing normal walking shoes at clubs. At dance studios you usually can't come in your outdoor shoes but there you can also just dance in your socks. Your teacher will help you in finding proper gear, when needed. The most important thing though is to be comfortable!

6. Get social.

It might be quite nerve-wracking to go to your first class and party. Personally I think it's good to go with a friend, even for just the fact that it's fun to share your thoughts and practice the steps you've learned. But one great thing about having social dancing as a hobby is that it's indeed social - you'll be sure to make new friends while dancing!

7. Network.

When you're starting out dancing, social media can be quite helpful. Find dance groups on Facebook to connect with people between the classes and to find new places to go out & dance. There's probably more than one dance school and dance party night in your home town, so once you get started it's a good idea to go check out a few of them!

8. Practice makes perfect.

Now that you've maybe taken your first steps you're ready for my #1 for any new social dancer: take part in as many socials, practicas, parties and dance gatherings as possible, straight from the start. Don't be shy. Need I remind you that the whole idea of social dancing is social dancing - so get out there and dance! Don't worry that you may know only the basic step, and even that barely. Social dancing is the best way to progress! Use what you know, there's no need to invent any crazy moves or to try to impress everyone, just be yourself. 

9. Don't drink (drunk) & dance!

I've seen this more than once: A person has just started social dancing and goes to their first party. They get nervous and have one cocktail.. then another... another... and one more... 

It's natural to be nervous. Perhaps you've only gone to a few classes and only danced with other beginners. Suddenly you see all these advanced dancers in the stylish outfits doing wild movements. Don't worry - we've all be a beginner once (at this point you read the 11 things I wish I knew when I started dancing zouk) and nobody's there to judge you! To beat nervousness the best way is not to get drunk before going dancing. Your dance partners will appreciate it. Alcohol will not improve your dance skills, no matter how you much you hope it would. If you feel a bit shy without a drink then a better solution is to go with a friend and take the first dance with him/her. 

10. Enjoy life and be open.

Take it from me, it is worth to be open to experience something new. My favourite part of dancing zouk is that I keep experiencing something new all the time. Dancing is intoxicating, challenging and rewarding. But above all it's one of those rare things where I can completely live in the moment and not think about anything else. I hope you find a dance style, a hobby or work that gives you as much as zouk has given me!


Your tips

What would you tell to a person who's starting out with social dancing? Share in the comments!


My zouk story

The first steps

It was the early 2011. My friend had somehow convinced me to visit a local club to "check out some kind of Brazilian dance". I had been dancing samba no pé (carnival samba) for a few years, after many years of urban dance styles. I wasn't so sure why I'd be interested in this particular, weird-sounding Brazilian dance, but I thought why not. So one Sunday night with a friend of mine I walked into a club in Helsinki. And what I stumbled upon was the closing party of the very first, and - at time - a very very small but equally ambitious "Helsinki Zouk Festival".

Puzzled, I was looking at the dancers winding around each other, changing partners and pace, eagerly covering all the floor space. To me the dance looked something out of this world - and most definitely out of my element. But somehow the movements and especially the flowing rhythmic music got me curious.

The very next week I went to my first zouk class. Feeling shy (yes, me, shy) about being close to a new person, about being 'lead' and about 100 million other things I was clearly unaware of, I gave the dance a chance. I survived that class and the next week I was back there. And the week after. And so on.

The (never ending) road of discoveries

What started out from curiosity, soon became (to be honest) an obsession. Well, a positive obsession, or addiction, if you ask me. After a few months it was fairly clear to me that this was the thing I was made for to do. Everything about the dance - the range of music, the types of movements, versatility of the styles and the depth of connection - all of it called out to me. But the feeling that this is "my thing" from the begin with hasn't meant that everything has been easy. I think I've every possible mistake in the book, but I believe every (mis)step has been just as valuable.

Looking back, what made a big difference for me was that quite early (less than one year of starting with zouk) I took off on a round-the-world trip, spanning through the Southern Hemisphere. No surprise, I ended up staying in Brazil for a bit longer than I thought. (This blog I really started only to serve as a notebook and a memento from that trip and I'm still puzzled how all this has turned out.)

Embarking on the trip itself was originally motivated by whole other reasons than dancing. But, it ended up giving me a unique chance to try many different styles of Brazilian zouk and to learn from various types of teachers around the world. I came back home with a enormous set of experiences and with eyes wide open about all the possibilities of the full spectrum of Brazilian zouk. This has kept me on the road of eternal discovery with this amazing multi-faceted dance.

 
Photo of my dance partner Jaakko and I by our amazing friend & photographer Kristina Tsvetkova

Photo of my dance partner Jaakko and I by our amazing friend & photographer Kristina Tsvetkova

 

Today, I'm still learning this dance - I think I'll be never done with the learning part. I'm active in my home zouk community in Helsinki, Finland and I'm very proud of our friendly zouk family. My dance road has lead to teaching Lambazouk with my dance partner Jaakko, who's been by my side since that first day in 2011. Together we founded Lambazouk Finland in 2015. I also organise some events and regularly play music at the various zouk nights in Helsinki. I still travel to every event that I can possibly manage (about 5 per year), so if you see me somewhere, do come say hi!

Thank you to all who have been and continue to be a part of this journey!


Where can I find zouk classes near me?

Below you'll find stories from the Zouk The World's 'Dance like a local' series on where to social dance all around the world! Right now, you can find zouk in most European countries, in Canada and USA, in Argentina and Brazil, in Australia and New Zealand, in China, India, Japan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Oman, Singapore, Thailand, UAE and Vietnam. The list of countries changes (expands) so do keep your eyes out for new places. If there's no zouk community near you, check out also our Zouk Calendar for great events to dance Brazilian Zouk!