The Edmonton zouk community is happy to host Getúlio Ramalho for a Zouk Expression Immersion on May 28 and 29. We sat down with the dancer with a smile in his eyes to find out more about his thoughts on connection, creativity, and leaving the steps behind.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and how you got into dance?
Sure. My first experience with zouk was actually with what came before zouk: lambada. I was eight or nine years old, I danced a little in school, I had a teacher, but I ended up quitting because my family didn’t support me dancing.
After I turned eighteen I felt the dance in my body and heart again. My brother played a lot of James Brown songs at home, and it just made me want to dance. I started going to parties and dancing, just for fun.
People started asking me if I was a professional dancer . . . I said I wasn’t, and they said “why not?”
So I decided to see what dancing was all about. I went to a school and started taking classes, and I learned to dance samba, forró, zouk, bolero . . . everything!
Interestingly, I met my father for the first time a few years ago. After I met him I understood for the first time where my love for dance comes from: he’s a dancer, and my grandfather is a dancer too. It was an amazing experience to meet him and understand more about myself and why I wanted to dance.
What was it about dancing that was so compelling for you?
It was the way I felt. It felt good.
And what do you love about zouk in particular?
I love zouk because you can explore all kinds of body movement. You have so many choices. If you like a song, you can probably dance zouk to that song.
Lambada songs were very fast, but when you change the traditional lambada music for slower French zouk or kizomba songs, you have many more possibilities for moves. Zouk is great because you can dance to the traditional music, or you can change the music completely and involve the whole body in the connection with your partner.
I think zouk has no limits for your creativity. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing . . . bad because sometimes people get too complicated with the moves and the steps. And good because you can open your mind and your heart and enjoy the moves as they happen.
In fact, the dance starts before the steps; you create connection and after that the steps happen. But sometimes people put the steps first and forget about the dance.
To me, the dance is between one step and the other step—that’s where it happens.
How do you cultivate the ability to focus on connection rather than steps?
People need to connect to themselves first. Some people don’t understand how their own body works. If you don’t understand your body, you can’t understand how another person’s body works either.
On the dance floor you bring all your experiences with you—from your life, from other dances, everywhere. And on the dance floor you meet with someone with totally different experiences from you. I try to hear my partner and feel the possibility I have with that person. When I dance I leave the steps behind.
What approach do you use when teaching your students in class?
In class, I always tell students to have more connection and fewer combinations. If you have more connection, you need combinations less. You can create if you understand how to connect. And if you keep the connection, the movements will happen.
And I always talk about three basic concepts: contract your stomach, lengthen your neck, and smile with your eyes.
Can you tell me a bit more about these three concepts?
Definitely. If you contract your stomach, you move from the center of the body. When I’m totally relaxed, my body is turned off. When I contract the stomach, I turn my body on. I’m ready for action!
When I straighten the neck it’s easy to look around, to make sure I know what’s happening on the dance floor around me.
And your eyes tell the truth about your heart. The eyes cannot lie. They can try to lie, but it’s so difficult.
Smiling with your eyes is you giving your partner your best. I may not feel good because I had a bad day or something, but I try to take something good from inside and give it to my partner. I put a smile in my eyes that says, “Hi, how are you?”
You can forget all your steps, but if you have these three things, you’ll feel good, and be able to keep dancing.
What’s your best advice for having great dances with people?
The idea is to help people feel comfortable dancing, and respect their limits. I like to use my emotions and the basic steps; I don’t need to do complicated movements for the dance to feel good. Go to the dance floor and see what you can do with simple movements, it can feel even better than complicated movements.
Often the best dances are at the beginning of the night and at the very end. In the beginning—after you just arrived—you dance slow because you want to warm up. And at the end you dance slow because you’re tired! That relaxation opens up more flow and possibilities with the body.
And it’s important to remember that every dance is new. You can dance the same song with the same person, but you need to feel like it’s the first time. If I dance with you today, and tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, it’s a different feeling, it’s a different time.
What do you think leads and follows need to know to lead and follow well?
The big challenge in social dancing is that leads often forget to lead and follows often forget to follow. This becomes a vicious circle where the follow doesn’t follow because the lead doesn’t lead, and the lead doesn’t lead because the follow doesn’t follow.
The important thing to remember is that when you’re following, you need to wait. And if you’re leading, you need to be clear.
What advice would you give to someone at the beginning of their zouk journey?
Enjoy! Zouk is so much fun, it’s an amazing dance. Zouk is a wonderful way for you to enjoy dancing with different styles of music. You just need to find what you like and try it out.
As a beginner it’s also important to respect yourself and your limits. When I was a beginner I saw other people dancing and I wanted to do it all, and I couldn’t. Respect your limits. You have them today, and tomorrow you may not—just keep working on the movements to get better and to get more flow. And of course it takes practice and practice, and trying, and feeling.
And when you feel comfortable with your body and mind, you can be comfortable with another person, too.
Thank you so much for your thoughts!
If you’d like to learn more about zouk, join us for weekly classes on Wednesday evenings!