I went to Marseille to visit our newest TangoForge artistic collaborator, Cédric Tellier. The night I arrived he invited me to his Brazilian Zouk demo at a salsa and bachata party in the suburbs. I’m competent in drinking champagne and taking notes so I put on my most colorful outfit and went along.
Just like tango, these Latin dances suffer from static cultural obsolescence. Stuck in musical monotones, cheesy disco lights, retro gender roles, and outdated wardrobe. If these dances could shed their cultural epiphenomena, they could be so much more popular and relevant, but organizers persist in replicating the clichés in every advertisement.
As a trained scientist, I can rise above these aesthetic offenses, and extract observations about the dance itself. I checked my observations with Cédric later.
Brazilian Zouk is, like tango, improvised and it is also marked.
“Zouk is about surrender”, said Cédric. “That’s what my second teacher said I had to find to dance tango”, I responded. “How is the surrender of Zouk different than the surrender of tango? This is a fascinating question, and I didn’t get an answer from Cédric.
Later I asked for a short experience and explanation of Zouk. Instead of marking the movement of the Revel’s legs, the mark for zouk is manipulation of her spine. She moves her arms and head in response. Importantly as she tips her shoulders, taking the neck and head to an angle and then pivots, her hair flies out horizontally. Where tango produces projections of the legs, zouk produces flying hair.
“If a girl has great legs, I tell her she has to dance tango”, says Cédric. “If she has hair, I recommend Zouk,”
In fact, the feet are really not at play in Zouk. In salsa and swing the feet follow prescribed patterns to support the partners’ movements toward and away from one another and to express the rhythm, but in zouk the feet are purely functional, they stumble around as necessary to support the movements of the upper body. The mark’s legs are for stability. He stays with her and doesn’t express any rhythm with steps. This means there’s no need for any kind of shoes (or skirt) that anybody will look at.
Where tango dancers need flexibility in the hip joints, zouk dancers need flexibility in the upper spine.
The eyes are on the undulations of stomach, back, and breasts, not the shoes and legs.
Girls like to twirl and dip. There’s lots of that in zouk.
Bachata, or “Sensual Bachata” seems to be a mix of salsa (some structure to the footwork) + Zouk (twirling and undulating the spine).
When I interview my students to learn what they want from tango, almost every woman tells me “I want to express myself”. What I really want to say to them is “either you’re doing the wrong dance or you’re lying to yourself and what you really want is to be dominated by a man.” I think it’s generally the latter, because at any gentle suggestion, they stand firmly on tango. If it’s the former, they are destined for frustration.
If you want to express yourself as a women, the correct dance is contact improvisation.
But what women are not saying, is that what they want is the experience of submission to masculine domination, guidance, tenderness, etc. Due to a cultural juggernaut beyond our control, extending our legs or twirling under the control of a man makes us feel “pretty”. Let’s just be clear, that is NOT self-expression. (I do think these gender roles can be profound.)
So if you want submission, then zouk is an alternative, and perhaps a friendlier one than tango, with more contemporary music and fashion flexibility.
The questions should be: what part of your body do you want to move? What part of your body do you want to show off? What kind of shoes do you want to wear?
Zouk also seems like a good solution for guys who have a hard time hitting the beat with their feet but like to make women happy and experience control and mastery.