ZoukSide Down – A journey with Brazilian Zouk

A personal blog aimed at contributing, and paying homage, to the most sensual, beautiful dance of Brazil.

Make the Most of Your Moves

Some weeks ago I took part in a great Kizomba workshop by Ronie Saleh. One of the things that resonated with me was his approach to learning. He said that he likes to learn a move and then squeeze all he can out of it. Instead of learning one way to do a move, and then learning something else, he learns it thoroughly and tries to figure out all the possible variations of it he can. He can spend hours just teaching different variations of the side-to-side basic step of Kizomba, and keep it interesting.

This approach can be used for any social dance that allows for creativity, Brazilian Zouk included. Generally, the simpler and more fundamental the movement, the more useful variations of it will be. How does it work in practice? Here are some possibilities, using the Brazilian Zouk basic step as the example movement. It’s written from the perspective of creating variations, but you can of course learn them from others as well.

  • Explore different directions. We begin the basic step by stepping backwards. What if we stepped forward or to the side instead? What if we change directions in the middle of the movement?
  • Try doing the movement with the other side, or as mirror image. The standard way is to begin with the left. We can use the right, too.
  • Use different timings. What if we slow down the steps to half the speed, or increase the speed? What if we change the speed of the movement in the middle?
  • Do only a part of the movement. What happens if we stop after the first step?
  • Try out different positions in relation to your partner, change hands and points of connection. What if we did this step with full hug instead of the standard dance position? How is it different when I change my distance to my partner? What if I’m behind my partner, instead of in front of her?
  • Change the way the body works in the move. What if I bend more at the legs here, or less? What happens if I bend when doing the move, as opposed to standing straight? What if I move my hips more?

You can change multiple things at once. As as example, what if you only did a part of the movement, and did it with a different timing? There are many possibilities. Not all of them will be nice or useful, but plenty will. 

Note that it’s important to learn the original version of the movement really well, so you have the necessary base to support the variations. Otherwise, you will likely end up doing weird things and doing them badly. In the basic step example, to make more difficult variations work you will need to understand things like how to use contact, rotation of the upper body, pre-movement, and so on. You have to know the leading principles that can make the variations work, and your follow has to know the following principles.

I think this approach – extracting variations from the moves you already know – has many benefits.

  • It allows you to more easily dance to music. When you know a lot of variations of simple, basic things, it’s easy to adapt to what happens in the music, no matter what your current position is.
  • It helps you to keep things interesting. The follows tend to appreciate a new twist given to a standard move – it may even feel like a completely different move. When you know many variations of a single step, you can combine these variations in many different ways. If you know a ten step variations, that’s already a thousand different sequences you can make by combining three of them.
  • It speeds up learning immensely. I still remember all the variations of the side-to-side basic I learned in that workshop, and I was able to do use them in social dancing immediately after learning them. It would be a completely different story if I had learned completely different moves or some sequences instead.
  • Learning to do variations of a move helps you really master the move. If you do only the standard version, you may lead it badly but it still works, if it’s something the followers are used to.

When you only know sequences, you’re like a person who knows some stock phrases in a language; you can only communicate in very limited ways. When you know the individual moves and can freely link them to each other, you’re like a person who has actually studied the language, and can make up new sentences. When you can adjust the moves themselves to fit the music and the moment, you’re a fluent communicator, capable of expressing nuances – maybe even poetry. Unlike with language, there is no need to have a big vocabulary; it’s enough to know really well the moves you will be using.


Author of this article: Jukka Välimaa

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This entry was posted on March 28, 2016 by in Leadership for Dancers, Other Thoughts on Dancing and tagged .
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