If you’ve spent most of your life unaware that “zouk” was even a word, you’re not alone. Robert Pehlman, an instructor and organizer at Triangle Zouk, said he hadn’t heard of the word either until a few years ago.
Pehlman, a graduate student at N.C. State, said he found his way to Brazilian zouk by hanging out with people who were social dancers.
He said that at first, it can be hard for people to get the feel of the dance, which has a very fluid, stretchy movement, but he said it’s not all about the technicalities anyway.
“Zouk has a lot of technique, but a good portion of that technique is about how to connect with people,” Pehlman said.
Lydie Costes, an organizer and instructor at Triangle Zouk, said her passion for zouk comes from the dance’s unique potential for self-expression and the heightened level of connection that distinguishes it from other social dances.
Brazilian zouk comes from lambada, a popular dance in Brazilian clubs in the '80s and '90s, Costes said. As lambada went out of style, Costes said clubs started playing Caribbean zouk music, and people started dancing lambada to Brazilian zouk music and called it ‘zouk.'
“From there it has spread and changed dramatically," Costes said. "It’s found all over the world now, and it takes influences from tango, hip hop, modern dance and other styles, and it's danced to a wide variety of music, so it's really versatile and creative and fun."
Jason Romano, a Triangle Zouk organizer with previous Latin dance experience, said he struggled with this versatility at first.
“Zouk is interesting in that it allows you to work within the beat really closely where you're stepping on the beat precisely, and then it also allows you to break out and play outside of the beat and then go back into it," Romano said.
Lior Vered, a Triangle Zouk organizer, said she felt especially impacted by the closeness of the dance.
“It’s a very intimate dance and for me, it’s a place to come and do the emotional work of being vulnerable with someone else, opening your heart and really being connected to someone," Vered said. "I think it changes you more than just physically. It really touches something if you do it long enough, and it changes the way you interact and think about people."
When Vered started out, she didn’t have any prior dancing experience, but she said the opportunity to make a fool of yourself only brings the group closer together.
Shannon Zacco, an organizer and instructor at Triangle Zouk, said the bond between partners is so obvious that platonic pairs are often asked if they’re a real couple.
“Most people look in and are like ‘What? You guys aren’t together? What are you talking about?’ and we’re like, ‘No, it’s just this very deep inner love and friendship.’ It’s really hard to explain, but it does make me so happy,” Zacco said.
Every dancer referenced the richness of the community as one of the reasons for their dedication.
“You travel anywhere, and you have a built-in community, so I could go to a city and send out a Facebook post to a bunch of random people I don’t know and someone will house me," Pehlman said. "You’d be shocked at the number of people that just go straight nomadic, leave reality behind."
Still, Zacco said she feels that Triangle Zouk is different from other zouk communities in how welcoming it is.
“I tell people when I travel that something really special is here, so you should really take advantage of this area in particular,” Zacco said. “All of the hosts in Latin dancing try really hard to support each other, and I feel like that’s really special. You see the same friendly faces and the same organizers, so it’s just comforting to know that certain people will be there. You don’t have to ask your friend. ‘Hey are you going?’ because you know everyone’s gonna be there.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.