As the Edmonton zouk community gets ready to host its first Brazilian zouk immersion, we were lucky to sit down with guest instructor K-yo Victor to find out why he dances, what he thinks about music, and the birth of soulzouk.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and how you got into zouk dancing?
I’m from Rio, but I moved to Brasilia as a young guy and have been there now for a long time.
How I started in the dance scene is kind of funny . . . but similar, I think, to how everybody starts—for personal reasons—I was dating a girl and she dumped me! So I got into the dance scene and started going to socials. I started a course in salsa, samba, other Brazilian dances, for just three months, and I got addicted.
After the three months I began studying to become an instructor. The school where I was studying had a two year program, and in those two years I learned salsa, bachata, zouk, forró, tango, bolero . . . but I fell in love with zouk. This was around the end of 2003, beginning of 2004.
The principal reason I fell for zouk was the music, I fell in love with the music first, and suddenly I figured out that people were dancing to that music.
What was the music you fell in love with?
It was zouk . . . French zouk. Actually I knew the music from a French language course I was taking, I had a teacher who used it in the course, and I liked it and started looking for it. So I got some CDs from the teacher—there wasn’t a lot on YouTube or on the internet at that time. Later it got easier with YouTube and the internet to find the music.
Who were the key artists that you were listening to at that time?
At that time it was Ali Angel, Nichols, Loony Johnson, To Semedo, Kaysha, Jean Michel Rotin. Pretty much these singers were the ones I followed first.
What was your process of learning zouk? What did you find challenging and what did you find was natural for you?
This is a great question! I started with the basic structure, like everybody. The dance school taught me how to do the movements, based on the music. This was my first connection with zouk.
But after awhile I felt too connected to the patterns, and I started looking for something more free. Sometimes I would listen to music and I could hear lots of interesting elements in it, but I couldn’t dance to those elements with the steps I was learning.
Then I saw a video of a guy from Rio, named China, who was dancing to hip hop and other kinds of music. That was really, really inspiring because he wasn’t just using the beat of the music, he was using other instruments and elements of the music, including the voice of the singer.
When I saw China dancing I was so inspired that I decided to move to Rio to learn from him. Studying with him really opened my game, my field of action in the dance.
For me the hardest part about learning zouk was letting go of the rhythm and trying to focus on other elements of the music. When you listen to any music, your first reaction is to the beats—it’s what makes your body move.
What advice would you give to people trying to foster the ability to hear beyond the beat?
It seems like a cliché, but it’s thinking outside the box. Because the box is the beat, the rhythm. Outside the box is the melody, the voice of the singer, or little bits of instruments that just appear once or twice in the song.
One of the things that helped me was listening to acoustic or a cappella music, because it doesn’t have the beat as the first element, you have to get deep into the music to understand it.
This must be challenging for most people because of the way we’re raised to listen to music—to hear the beat and to dance to the beat.
Yes, it’s really difficult to avoid the rhythm, the first thing that appears in the music.
Because our body is made for rhythmics. Our heart is beating in a constant beat. You walk in a constant beat, a constant frequency. A constant beat is easy to understand, feel, and hear.
When we get into the other sounds, they seem weird at first. We have to train ourselves to receive them.
When you dance using these sounds, how does it feel for you?
I can totally express myself, in every single way. If I have hard beats, I can do hard movements. If I have soft sounds, I can do soft movements.
It’s hard for me to listen to a good melody and just keep stepping, instead of doing waves . . . speeding up the waves or slowing down the waves. When you have all these interpretations, you can just make your body DO these interpretations.
You’re associated with soulzouk. Can you speak a bit about what that is and how it evolved?
Actually it’s a fun history. At that time we had lambada in Brazil, which was huge, lots of people dancing it. After that came zouk, which was lambada in slow motion, with slower music.
Then we started bringing other kinds of music to the dance floor . . . we started to play hip hop and R&B music, like Craig David. Music where the beat’s not so strong, but the melody’s strong.
We started dancing to this hip hop music, and people from lambada and zouk started saying we weren’t dancing zouk. So at some point, we just decided to call it soulzouk. But the point wasn’t to create something new, it was just like, “ok guys, if you don’t accept it as zouk, we’ll call it something else!”
After my training in Rio, I brought the hip hop music with me back to Brasilia—at first the deejay didn’t accept it at all. He eventually accepted it because they were playing it in Rio.
We danced in a different way and people thought it was a style, but soulzouk was never a style of dancing, it’s just a different way to feel the music.
Can you say a bit more about soulzouk being a different way to feel the music?
Sure. As I said, we try to connect with the music in a different way. Like with the melody or the harmony. Because of that we can use any kind of music . . . we don’t need the zouk beat. We can use any kind of song.
We have four concepts that guide our dancing: leading, contact, comfort, and enjoyment.
One thing connects to another. When you have more contact, you can lead better—contact leads to better leading skills. When you have more leading skills you have more comfort on the dance floor. When you have more comfort you enjoy the dance more. When you develop one skill, the other skills get better too.
But everything starts with contact. That’s how it is. Zouk is totally about contact.
Technically speaking, what are the most important points of contact to establish and maintain?
The head. If the head is connected, it’s easy for the other parts of the body to be connected too. A forehead connection . . . nose connection is good too. If you can get nose to nose connection and be comfortable with that, everything else can be connected.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in zouk?
Like the music. Listen to zouk music, listen to it all the time—in the bathroom, the living room, before you go to sleep, all the time. You have to like the music.
Eventually you’ll be able to dance to any music. But in the beginning what inspired me to dance was that I really liked the music. There’s a lot of other good dances out there . . . Salsa is fantastic, bachata is nice, tango is amazing . . . but the music, I just don’t connect with the music in the same way.
In regard to the music, and figuring out if you like it, do you have any musical recommendations?
Paulo Mac, 2Much, Craig David, Ali Angel, Ravidson, Projota. Anything from these artists is zoukable.
What dance advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Don’t punish yourself about doing something wrong. Just try to do what you’re feeling. If you want to walk, walk. If you want to body roll, body roll. Just don’t hang on the feeling that you’re doing something wrong.
As a beginner, just try to really express what you hear and what you’re feeling.
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
For the guy the thing is—when you’re dancing, try to find her smile. This is my favourite quote. If the girl is smiling on the dance floor, it’s done, you don’t need to do anything else.
For the girls, use the guy as your support. Sometimes I think girls are so busy being shiny, they just forget about the guys. But you need them, you need the guy in order to be shiny!
The guy is the frame, the girl is the picture. If I just have the picture it will be good, yes, but it will be missing something.
So, for the guys, find her smile, and for the girls, let the guy lead you. It’s like, you know, when you’re at home, and you have something to open in the kitchen. And you KNOW you can open it, everyone knows you can open it. But you just come to the guy and ask him to open it anyway, to make him feel useful. Because we guys—when we do this—we feel that we did something helpful. It’s good for us.
It’s the same on the dance floor, if you’re doing all sorts of stuff without him, the guy will be like, “ok, what am I doing here? I’m doing nothing.” If you let the guy lead you, we feel like we’re part of the dance.
And about finding her smile, are there any strategies that work really well?
Comfort, always comfort. When you make the dance comfortable, it’s good.
Ludic Zouk offers Brazilian zouk classes on Wednesday evenings in Edmonton. Come check it out!