Go Zouk! Yes we mean it! In case you think we’re referring to the dance club down at Jiak Kim Street in Singapore, the answer is no. We are talking about one of the latest latin dance instalments that is already creating ripples in Asia.

Zouk or Zouk-Lambada, as it’s originally known, started in the mid-80s and has its roots in Lambada. Zouk is typically danced to Zouk music or Zouk beats. Under Zouk-Lambada, there are many different forms of Zouk, such as Rio-style Zouk, Lyrical Zouk, NeoZouk, Soulzouk, Porto Seguro-Style – the variations and its evolutions are close to endless! Zouk’s sensuality lies in its involvement of parts of the body exploring different angles and directions, unlike salsa which is led by hands. Both opposite sexes have their hips stick together and moving first, followed by the rest of the body. Eye contact, limbs, head and shoulders are in connection with each other as various moves are executed.

Vida De Latinos was privileged to get in touch with Emily Ma a.k.a The Lady Bachata & Zouk from Hong Kong, a fitness / dance instructor and co-founder of RioZouk Asia which is a dance company she co-founded with dance partner Marcos Fonseca from Brazil. Born in 2009 in Hong Kong, RioZouk Asia has been providing Zouk classes and choreography around the world including Japan, Vietnam, India, China, England and Taiwan. Emily shares with us insights on Zouk dancing, her life and her passionate journey in the Zouk scene.

When was the first time you were exposed to dance?
I started with traditional Chinese dance with my mother at a very early age. She was a professional dancer performing internationally, and she is part of the first generation of Chinese performers with TV (musical show) exposure, so dancing and performing runs in my family. I also learned to play the piano and drums to spice up the rhythms in my portfolio. From the age of 13, I started proper contemporary dance training and did cheerleading. I was never a typical student but I loved sports, athletics and performing, having won medals and recognition among the teams then. So looking back to my school years, it is fully peppered with dance, music, sports and different types of public performances.

What did you do before becoming a dance instructor?
My first job was working at a hair salon, as it allowed me enough free time to keep doing my dance & sports due to the flexible working hours. I also studied make-up and started working as a freelance hair & make-up artist for 2 years. At that time, I  grabbed the opportunity to work for a global make-up company as a business development manager.

How were you introduced to Zouk?
While I was a business development manager, I was a social Salsa dancer as it was adaptable to my working schedule. The combination of the sounds and rhythms made me fall in love with this style. One day I attended a Zouk performance from an Australian couple at one of the famous Salsa festivals in HK. I asked my Salsa instructor what was that dance called and he told me it was Zouk. The dance reminded me of my artistic roots, so i flew to Australia to study this dance style, and it ignited my passion for dancing and performing.

How was RioZouk Asia born?
When I came back to Hong Kong from Australia,  I wanted to spread the word and to start teaching this dance. I still remember a male friend of mine once told me: “if you can make Zouk happen in HK, I’ll change my job from a business man to a belly dancer”. I opened a dance studio and in order to ensure that the studio was profitable, I began teaching other fitness such as kickboxing aerobic, dance aerobic. After 1.5 years, my true dream finally came true. I could go full time in this industry. Around this time, I met Marcos through a Malaysian Lambada instructor. Marcos then was globetrotting the world to teach his dance styles. After careful considerations and due to a busy international teaching and performance schedule, I decided to close the studio and use existing ones instead.

How has Zouk changed your life?
Zouk gathers people from different backgrounds and I love that! My dedication to this industry allows me to travel all over the world – and I love this international exposure! In the last 2 years, I’ve been to more than 10 cities/countries and of course, I had to visit the birth place of Zouk – Brazil – where I connected with the sensual, the musicality, the sense of humour and with all the ingredients that make Zouk such a special dance. I truly felt at home whilst I was in Rio. What I do now is much more than just a job. It’s a passion, a lifestyle and it brings me so much joy and happiness! Through dance, one can not only teach but also learn so much, almost without having to use any verbal communication. We can understand ourselvess by finding inner confidence, get more physically & mentality healthy through (fitness) dance. I actually don’t feel I’m working every day – i just feel pure excitement and total joy!

Did you expect people in Asia to be open to Zouk?
I kept my expectations neutral and knew that by putting in my passion for this style, things would start to happen…

What is the Latin dance landscape in Hong Kong like compared to 5 years ago?
It is still in its very early stages.

How different is Zouk from other forms of popular Latin dance like Salsa and Bachata?
I would say Salsa is a passionate style resembling fire; Bachata is a romantic style resembling the wind zooming above the ocean; Zouk is a mixture of sensuality with infinity where two partners eventually become one. Having said that…I love them all!!

There are so many different forms of Zouk out there (eg. SoulZouk, MZouk, Lyrical Zouk etc). Which form of Zouk do you practice and how different is it from the other forms of Zouk?
In the end, they are all ZOUK. It’s just different ways to brand the same style with minor variations.

Which form of Zouk do you think is the most popular in Asia right now?
Zouk is still in its infancy in Asia. It’s too early to start labelling or branding different streams of the main style.

Do you think Zouk, and other Latin dance styles are good in enhancing couples’ relationships?
Not just to enhance relationships between couples, but also between friends & family. I still remember I had a brother & sister students who fought every single time when they came to class, but after a while they started understanding each other, and even their mom started sending me overseas SMS from time by time to thank us for what we taught them, which, in her opinion, was more than just dance. Dance is communication, a self expression that requires a non-verbal way to create engagement and to facilitate other forms of communication.

You have travelled all over Asia to perform and taught Zouk. Which is your most favourite country that you loved performing and teaching at?
I love them all! All the countries have different cultures and I always thrive to “expect the unexpected”. You learn different ways of expression, different forms of reaction to what is being taught and you always end up learning something new from a class given in a different country. These learnings provide all the “new spice” we bring to our classes and courses we conduct worldwide.

Any plans to come to Singapore and spread your magic?
Of course we would love to and we look forward to this opportunity.

If you were not doing Zouk, what would you be doing?
I would say that regardless of any future choice, dance and performance will always have a very important part in my life.

What would you say to someone who has never done or know Zouk, and what should they expect?
Come and dance with us! It’s the best way to feel if this dance style is for you.

Your plans for RioZouk Asia this year?
Enhancing our current performers’ skills, continue with our classes and with our international globetrotting to bring Zouk to different parts of the world and to bring pieces of different parts of the world back to the style of Zouk we teach!

You can find out more about Riozouk at http://riozoukasia.weebly.com/

This article was published on Vida De Latinos’ online magazine, 1 February 2013

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