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Brazilian zouk dancing gaining popularity in the US

NORTH MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Kendra Haynes stretches so far back that her long blonde hair touches the floor.

It is a Monday night in Miami and the hour is approaching midnight. At the C Lounge and Cigar Bar, Haynes and a small crowd dance Brazilian zouk, a partner dance with the closeness of tango, sensuality of bachata and quick turns reminiscent of salsa.

Haynes' partner dips her nearly all the way to the floor and up again. Then he spins her in circles and she rolls her neck around, hair following like a whip.

"It's really hard not to fall in love with zouk once you see it," Haynes said.

Zouk dance and music - born in the French Caribbean, adopted in Brazil and spread throughout Latin America and Europe - is now taking root in the United States.

Brazilian zouk classes and dance scenes can be found in cities stretching from Seattle to New York, and festivals featuring parties and top dancers are being held in Miami and Washington. A second annual zouk congress starting Thursday in Los Angeles is expected to draw hundreds.

"It's already huge in Europe, it's very big in Australia, all of South America," said Haynes, one of the first to give zouk classes in Miami. "The U.S. is just a little bit behind."

Zouk music began in the West Indies in the early 1980s. The band Kassav is widely credited with creating the first popular zouk songs. The group was formed in Paris and combined traditional Caribbean rhythms like gwo ka beats from Guadalupe, Haitian compas and Trinidadian calypso with synthesizers and drum machines.

The word "zouk" is Antillean French Creole and means "party." The music quickly spread throughout the Caribbean and could also be heard on radios in northern Brazil. There, another music craze was taking place: Lambada and what would become known as the "forbidden dance" for its close, sensuous twirls and hip movements. By the early 1990s, however, lambada music had begun to fade. Adapting what they heard on the radio, Brazilians began dancing lambada-style moves to the slower-paced zouk music trickling in from their neighbors to the north.

"The music kind of died out," Chris McGowan, author of "The Brazilian Sound," said of lambada. "But the dance lived on."

Dancers kept many of the core elements of lambada, including flowing body movements and head rolls. While in the Caribbean, zouk is danced at two beats per measure, in Brazil, dancers adapted it to four beats per measure, allowing for a slight pause between some of the steps.

"It has the memory of lambada in it still," said Shani Mayer, a 28-year-old Israeli-born dancer who has organized both zouk congresses in Los Angeles.

Mayer discovered zouk as she was backpacking through South America. A trained dancer, she went to a social after an Afro-Brazilian dance class in the city of Porto Seguro - considered the birth place of Brazilian zouk - and took an instant liking to it. After her trip, she returned to Los Angeles in 2006, eager to continue building on what she'd learned, but couldn't find any studios that taught zouk.

Surfing YouTube video one day, she noticed an Israeli flag at a zouk congress in Brazil. In Israel, zouk was already being danced. She packed her bags and went to Israel to train.

"I don't think any other dance gives you that freedom," Mayer said. "And I like how the guy has complete control over the whole body, not just the feet, but the head, the arms, everything."

For more than a decade, zouk has been growing in seemingly unexpected places like the Czech Republic and Switzerland. Two zouk congresses are held in Holland each year.

"Dutch people have a certain openness about themselves," said Charlotte Mathiessen, a zouk dancer in Amsterdam. "They are not too afraid to get to know each other. I think that's probably why this dance can exist here."

In the U.S., meanwhile, up until about three years ago, it was hard to find anything more than a weekend zouk workshop.

"The beginning was tough," said Kim Rottier, a zouk dancer and instructor in New York. "It was very hard to start the scene with no one to work with."

In addition to a dearth of Brazilian dance teachers, it also took time to find the right audience. Rottier started teaching zouk at a ballroom dancing school. But zouk, she says, is "a little closer, a little maybe sexier than a lot of the ballrooms styles. It took a long time to build up a base."

In Miami, a growing Brazilian population also contributed to the dance's rise. Renato Medeiros, 33, recalls leaving Brazil to pursue a culinary career in the U.S. about seven years ago, and being perplexed there was no zouk dancing in Miami. For almost two years, he didn't dance.

Then a friend arrived from Brazil and began giving classes.

He said the last year there has been "a boom."

"I think it's the sensuality," he said of the dance's growing popularity. "Zouk is a completely fluid dance. It's almost like you're floating."


Join the discussion

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killzone9 May 24 2014 at 7:37 AM

Why put in a story about dance and not include video? Seems much easier than describing in words!

Flag Reply +98 rate up
21 replies
ropeted May 24 2014 at 8:11 AM

makes no sense at all,. when I want to read about something, it's on video, when I want to see something, it has a picture and type

Flag Reply +88 rate up
5 replies
wr1960 May 24 2014 at 7:40 AM

lets see a video.

Flag Reply +45 rate up
1 reply
tigerladdy wr1960 May 24 2014 at 2:56 PM

Go on YouTube and search for Zouk. Very erotic dancing, if you have the right partner!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
3 replies
Barb and Russ May 24 2014 at 8:48 AM

Yep, a story about dance and a bunch of still shots.... that does not make sense guys. Next time wait till you have a video please.

Flag Reply +38 rate up
1 reply
jasonbossert_ma Barb and Russ May 24 2014 at 1:56 PM

It's simply just a version of the 80's dance style Dirty Dancing

Flag Reply +4 rate up
1 reply
Cher jasonbossert_ma May 24 2014 at 10:43 PM

that wasn't 80's dancing it was 60's style dancing shown in the 80's

Flag 0 rate up
chefjohnp May 24 2014 at 8:53 AM

How can you possibly demonstrate a dance with still shots????? Where's the video??? Boneheads!

Flag Reply +28 rate up
1 reply
Franco chefjohnp May 24 2014 at 9:58 AM

Shhhhhhhh, let them think otherwise. :O)

Flag Reply +3 rate up
frankieboy26 May 24 2014 at 7:10 AM

Everything is recycled. Zouk dancing is basically the old Hustle with a lot of hip gyrations and head spinning. It's all been said; it's all been done.

Flag Reply +27 rate up
3 replies
Gayle May 24 2014 at 9:38 AM

AO-hell get your act together. You show videos of stupid stuuf then we have an article about dance and all you show are stills. What the hell is wrong with your writers and editors?

Flag Reply +21 rate up
4 replies
JC May 24 2014 at 9:40 AM

This kind of idiocy gets repackaged every few years and is sold as "new" to extremely small-minded people.

Flag Reply +13 rate up
mpdive12 May 24 2014 at 8:48 AM

I do the funky chicken

Flag Reply +6 rate up
3 replies
suncruzma May 24 2014 at 8:21 AM

pictures mean nothing can't get the image altough I am sure it has been done before with a few added moves and humps and I don't like the name. send video for better visual

Flag Reply +5 rate up
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