Zouk (pronounced ‘ZOOK’) dance and music is now taking root in the United States. It was born in the French Caribbean, adopted in Brazil and spread throughout Latin America and Europe.
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.
“We’re hoping to expand a bit more,” said student Nicole Brandon of the movement in the U.S. “We’re definitely not as popular as salsa quite yet, but we’re working at it.” Zouk music began in the West Indies in the early 1980s. The band Kassav is widely credited with creating the first zouk songs. The group combined traditional Caribbean rhythms like gwo ka beats from Guadalupe, Haitian compas and Trinidadian calypso with synthesizers and drum machines.
The word “zouk” in Creole 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 became known as the “forbidden dance.” By the early 1990s, however, lambada music had begun to fade. Fewer bands were composing lambada songs. 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.
Dancers kept many of the core elements of lambada, including flowing body movements and head rolls. “It’s a slowed down version of the old lambada. So very close, very sensual, very connected,” described student Carmen Marshall.
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