Zouk: The Art of Connection

Flow and Bliss through Tantra into Zouk

Maria Cristina Suta
Jun 12, 2019 · 13 min read

Brazilian Zouk, for all intents and purposes, has become a dance about connection. This dance form has a very high potential for inducing states of flow, of bliss, because of the nature of the connection in the dance. Half a year ago, I set out to develop my dance, and find why these blissful states occur and how to generate them. So far, my journey has led me to Tantra into Zouk, a workshop developed in Amsterdam by Roger van Doggenaar, which teaches dancers concrete techniques for developing this state of flow with any partner.

It all started in the fall of 2018 when, together with a group of master’s students, I wrote an academic research paper about connection and encounters in Zouk. At that point, I had already been taking regular classes for two years intensively, with the incredibly talented and dedicated teachers in Copenhagen. I had attended several workshops and festivals in Europe, and learned from the likes of Bruno & Raiza, William & Paloma, Carlos & Fernanda, Michael & Aline, Natasha & Zulu, Ludek & Monika, China Soulzouk, Willem Engel, Gui Prada and many more.

For the reserach project, we traveled to Rio de Janeiro to interview Zouk students about their experiences with the dance. My focus for the research was on how the state of flow is achieved in Zouk and what it means for the lives of people dancing it. Apart from students in Brazil and in Denmark, I interviewed Bruno Galhardo and Raiza Previato, Gui Prada, and I went to Zouk class with Renata Peçanha and at Jaime Arôxa’s school in Tijuca. I read theories about the senses and movement, about peak experiences and aesthetic experiences, about the role of awareness in the dance connection, all of it to find the link between moving in the dance and the transcendental experience that it can generate.

The first time I encountered the notion of Tantra was within the context of my research. Someone had mentioned the practice, and revealed that it has incredible potential for reaching deep states of relaxation and surrender, a sort of meditative state that can be experienced and expresses in the dance.

When built upon excellent technique and mastery of the dance, it was revealed that tantric practices and principles can be a source of connection, of the depth of feeling and flow that makes this dance style unique. At the time, the notion of Tantra was so vague, so foreign to me, and so esoteric, that I did not know what to do with it. So I took this knowledge and set it aside. Little did I expect that it would show up in my life in a tangible experience only a few months later.

In March 2019 I was sitting in a cafe, trying to keep my eyes open and my attention on my best friend who had come to see me and support me in my burnt-out state. I had been working myself to the bone: with my studies, my job- and dancing, which I had been recently taking more seriously than ever. So seriously, actually, that I started approaching it all wrong, and going to dance class had become akin to going to work, or doing a chore- and I had reached a plateau. Through the fog in my mind, I heard my friend say that he is going to Amsterdam the following month, to this workshop: Tantra into Zouk. A glimmer awakened in me then, and trusting my friend, my instinct, and the sliver of will power that came to life in that moment, I decided I would go too.

It has changed my life forever.

One month later I arrived at the workshop exhausted, wary and skeptical of what was going to follow. I watched as the other participants kept to the edges of the room, nursing a cup of tea by themselves or chatting uneasily in pairs, a little nervous about facing the unknown. I also watched as, in the following 4 and a half days, the room was transformed.

Roger doing his magic

I marveled as these disaggregated individuals were brought together by the facilitators into a loving, supporting group which allowed everyone to safely explore themselves and develop their dance. By the end, one of the dancers there said that she had never felt more at home anywhere else before. “It was the first time I traveled alone, without friends, and it surprised me that in such a short time I felt so comfortable and at home.” Another follower expressed that she had never before felt so free to express herself, and never felt so seen and so heard as in this environment.

As for me, attending this workshop absolutely cured my burn-out and got me unstuck from my plateau- it helped me become more creative, expressive and connected in the dance.

So, what is Tantra? And how do its teachings help create flow? In terms of this workshop, Tantra is defined simply as “expansion through awareness”. Tantra is often associated with sexual practices, but in this workshop there is no nudity, and the only sexuality that is present is the sensuality which can be explored in the dance, if the couple chooses to do so. There is so much to learn from this workshop even without engaging in sensuality at all.

Within the framework of the workshop, Tantra is about connecting to yourself, and connecting to your partner. One of the basic principles it operates on is that safety and trust are necessary for surrender, which is the key to the coveted flow state. Once surrender is achieved, it opens the space for bliss and ecstasy through awareness in the dance.

I can’t say that I fully understand what Tantra in general is all about yet. I can’t declare that I know all the practices associated with it, or fully believe in all of the precepts or agree with them. But I do know what the Tantra into Zouk workshop DOES for the dance. When building upon a solid technical basis gained from attending regular Zouk classes, this workshop can facilitate personal development and healing, increase connection and offer a gateway to transcendence and bliss.

Disclaimer: The growth that I have experienced through this workshop truly reflects my level of introspection and engagement with the exercises. The beautiful thing about Tantra into Zouk is that everything is an invitation. You are invited to be critical and skeptical, but also invited to keep an open mind. Every experience at this workshop varies according to how much the participant chooses to engage with the content. The experience is totally personal: you get as much out of it as you put into it. Because I chose to fully engage with the exercises in the workshop, and because I chose to apply all the techniques and tools I learnt there, I:

  • Released a lot of the tension that I was holding in my body. I did this by doing the exercises in the workshop and also by appealing to the incredibly skilled body workers and therapists that are present there as co-facilitators. This has allowed me to overcome my burnout, to feel more comfortable and healthy in my skin, and to reach a fuller range of motion and expression in my dance;
  • Was confronted, in a friendly manner, with sides of my personality that I am less proud of, which allowed me to become aware of them and thus change my behavior in the dance in such a way that I can now welcome more states of bliss;
  • Learned to speak up and give accurate and helpful feedback, and also how to receive sometimes uncomfortable feedback and maximize it to my advantage;
  • Learned to set clear, accurate boundaries and to own them with confidence, which also allows me to relax more and think less in the dance, and therefore experience flow more easily. When you trust yourself that you will have your own back and can keep yourself safe in any situation, surrender in the dance comes easily, and that’s where the bliss occurs;
  • Accessed my full range of emotions- anger, sadness, happiness, tranquility, sexuality, etc. and learned how to access different aspects of my personality and express them in the dance, from playful to mysterious, from sexy to innocent, from powerful to soft. I have heard this topic in other workshops before, but I have never embodied it and owned it like I do now. Tantra into Zouk showed me how to find them in myself and bring them forth from within, instead of merely acting them out. This diversified the different flavors that I can play with and boosted my dance to a whole new level- where complexity, playfulness and creativity can emerge and transform the dance into its most expressive potential;
  • Learned to dance from the heart and connect to the heart- which is the origin of connection and bliss in dance;
  • Learned some practical tools and tricks for how to create connection with any dance partner, so that I can experience a blissful dance with just about anyone, and not only with the very few people I have natural connection with. Now I can consciously create this and invite it into the dance. I have had this experience with partners I would have never expected to have it with, even with partners that I have had terrible connection in the past. I was surprised that I could create deep connection and invite it into my dance with anyone;
  • Met incredible, sensitive and powerful people. A beautiful unity has formed between the participants of the workshop, where everyone shows love to each other, respects each other, supports each other but also gives each-other space and empowers every individual to take ownership of their process and become stronger. In this workshop everyone is welcome and is supported. You feel safe to explore, to make mistakes, to learn and to create beautiful connections;
  • Was confronted with past emotional and psychological trauma and resolved a huge chunk of it (at a Zouk workshop! Who would have thought?!). Turns out that this trauma was causing mistrust in people in general, and this worked to block connection in many dance situations;
  • Learned to be honest with myself about who I am and what I want- on the dance floor and beyond;
  • Empowered myself to look honestly as myself, accept who I am and where I am- in dance and in life, and from this very solid and realistic base- work myself up;
  • Had the best dances of my life (including the best ‘threesome’ dance), each and every one of them a slice of bliss, because everyone present there was eager to connect, and knew how to do it thanks to the tools we received in the workshop;
  • Learned to dance by myself. I learned to express myself independently of a partner, and this has brought much more flavor, richness and fun to my dances. To achieve optimal connection with a partner, you must first connect to yourself. Since safety and trust are necessary for surrender and reaching the flow state, the best way to achieve absolute trust is to first and foremost trust in yourself. Surrender with a partner leads to bliss, and this bliss is so much more powerful and beautiful when it is done consciously;
  • Achieved a better theoretical and practical understanding of connection and flow states- where they originate and how to tap into them.

Of more profound changes in my personal life I will speak, perhaps, elsewhere. Safe to say that my relationship to my life partner and my relationship to my family have improved dramatically.

How, you ask? Well, what the organizers of this workshop understand very well is that each dance is a micro universe, a mini-life, a relationship. You come into the dance with your own particular flavor and also with your own particular baggage. And every lesson you learn in dance you take with you in your real life relationships.

At Tantra into Zouk, the dance becomes a melting pot for life, a safe space to explore who you are and to experiment with how you communicate and create connection with your partners, a skill that transcends dancing. The lessons and the tools learned at the workshop have seeped into every conversation, thought and action after the workshop. Tantra into Zouk has been the catalyst for a healing of my relationships outside of the dance world, independently of the people involved in these relationships, who now experience the results without having been part of the workshop themselves. It is in Tantra into Zouk that I discovered how to be kind to myself and love myself, with all of my challenges, anger, sadness, trauma and baggage. And that has just been the first step in me healing them and becoming better. For myself and for those around me.

I know it sounds like I’m exaggerating things, but there’s a reason why I chose to write this article in the first place. I don’t exactly have a track history of sharing my thoughts online, but attending this workshop has been such a transformative experience on so many levels that I am gladly doing my best to share that with the world. This article reflects my process and my results, which may be different for other people attending. It doesn’t mean that everyone will have the same experience of it, but I do invite everyone to make their own experience.

The process that led to so many transformations started due to this four and a half days program which included both the Level 1 and Level 2 workshops, facilitated by an incredibly skilled and dedicated team of organizers. The team of 4 space holders additional to the main facilitator was there to support me personally at every step. I owe so much of my process and transformation to Jasper and Thomas, who have patiently stood by my side through thick and thin, who worked their magic (bodywork and energy work respectively) on me and shared their wisdom to make it all fall into place. It is so unique to be able to have such support within the context of a Zouk workshop. Together with Jessica, these space holders attend to all of the participants who reach out to them with a dedication and presence of spirit that I have not seen manifested in any other circumstance before.

Jasper showing his love, care and attention to a participant in the workshop

Another awesome thing about this workshop is that the content, spanning 45 hours of teaching, exercises and integration in total (both levels included), was delivered in such a way that the skills I learned stayed with me and even continued developing after I left the workshop. I’ve tried attending congresses and other workshops before, most often to the same result: I don’t remember much of the content or embody much of the lessons learned afterwards. Here, however, each exercise was analyzed and reflected upon with every partner in the rotation right after it had been performed, so I got to understand the process in real time and thus remember it. Additionally, the teachings from the previous day were revisited and reflected upon every morning. There was ample space for asking questions and sharing thoughts with the group, so that the content became a unitary whole spanning all of the days, and therefore was easier to integrate.

Integration was also facilitated by the fact that the content of the workshop is so introspective in nature that you are invited to interact with it on your own terms every time. And because it is made crystal clear that every exercise is merely an open invitation, the act of taking ownership and engaging with it makes it stick with you so much better.

Participants actively choosing to engage with the workshop content

Furthermore, the workshop employs an amazing and unique feedback system that allows for visible and track-able progress in terms of dance and connection skills. One of the participants declared that this feedback system really helps him see the progress- and that’s part of why he keeps coming back. He has participated in every edition of the workshop, and he is not the only one that keeps going back. Apart from many other participants who did the same, I have also already attended the workshop twice. I learned just as much the second time as I did the first time. Because the workshop is so personal, you tailor it to exactly who you are at that moment. Upon returning, you take your departure in your current state, and you deepen the process and get further in your development every time.

At Tantra into Zouk, dance becomes so much more than the moving of your feet. The dance becomes art. It becomes writing poetry with our bodies, painting stories with our emotions, expressing flowing moments in the music, projecting the joy of our hearts into time-space, radiating energy, becoming and creating at the same time. In the flow state, we play each-other’s skin like a piano, a violin, a harp. As a dance couple, we create a story, a unique narrative of metamorphosis in every dance we perform.

The flow of Zouk intermingling with the flow of everyday life

The experience of the workshop opened the gates for transformation and growth. It instigated a process that set things into motion- both in my dance life and beyond. Zouk’s full potential lies in absolute movement. Beyond a mere motion of bodies- full blown Zouk is pure movement- of bodies, of emotions, of processes, of transformations. In reality, nothing is static. Your body, even when you’re standing still, even when you’re sleeping, is always in process, always in motion. The entire universe, reality, is in constant motion- in constant flow. Tapping into this flow and consciously surrendering to movement through awareness in the partner dance leads to transcendence and bliss. Attending this workshop has allowed me to reach the full potential that dancing Zouk offers, as a physical activity, a co-creative endeavor, and a healing spiritual practice.

The process is to be continued, because I will keep going back.

I invite you to make your own experience. You can find the upcoming events here.

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