About Brazilian Zouk

About Brazilian Zouk

History of Zouk and its connection to Renata Pecanha

Brazilian zouk evolved from a Brazilian dance called lambada, which I started dancing in 1991. Lambada grew fast; it was a fever especially in Brazil,  However, at the beginning of the 90’s it started to lose its popularity. While it was popular, lambada was a dance that took over most night clubs in Brazil, especially Rio de Janeiro. Nightclubs played only lambada. One day the DJ’s started to feel uncomfortable about all that success and decided to get together to deflate the music. This initiative from the DJ’s contributed to lambada’s fall. Another important reason was the fact it was a fast dance style, which made it harder for people of all ages to learn. Dance classes that taught lambada started with a large number and then got smaller due to its intense body movements and fast speed.

In Rio de Janeiro, there were many lambada lovers who wanted to continue dancing this style. This is when the history of zouk begins. Brazilians discovered zouk music. The reason why the “Lambadeiros” began to dance lambada to zouk music was due to its similarity in rhythm. Lambada music had many influences from Caribbean rhythms, including cumbia and merengue. Soon lambada the dance began to adapt to zouk music. However, zouk music was slower than lambada, so it was necessary to make alterations to the dance, including to its basic steps. This transformation happened in many states in Brazil,  but I will talk especially about Rio de Janeiro, which is where I am from.


In 1993 I joined Jaime de Aroxa’s dance school where I learned dança de salão, which includes dance styles such as samba de gafieira and bolero, and began to work with Adilio Porto, who became my partner for twelve years. We got married and had one daughter together. I started giving bolero and samba de gafieira classes at Jaime Aroxa’s school, and at the same time, we started creating a new, different way of dancing zouk. In 1994 and 1995, the songs were changing, they were not dancing the fast lambada songs any more, they were zouk songs, but still not as slow as the zouk songs we know today. As zouk music has the possibility  of taking advantage of more musicality, using stops and breaking to make the dance more dynamic, we decided to change the way of dancing a little bit. The first thing we decided to do was change the basic. We realised that in class it was difficult to teach lambada basics in place with so much hip movement. For the students to execute it properly was very challenging. Therefore, with the influence from other Brazilian dances such as samba de gafieira, bolero, and forró, whose basic steps go forward and backward, we decided to use the same technique to help the students learn. Linear salsa also influenced us to create linear movements like “lateral” and “bonus”, because they were lacking in lambada which consisted solely of circular movements. Following that, we created other movements such as the “raul” and “bonus”, which today are the foundations of what you learn in any beginner zouk class.  


At Jaime Aroxa’s school we had many teachers and students who contributed to the development of this dance style. It would have been impossible to do on our own; Jaime Aroxa also incentivised and supported us. With this support we were able to spread this new teaching methodology to other schools, other cities and also around the world. In other states such as São Paulo and Minas Gerais, the transformation of lambada to zouk originated in different ways creating different styles of Brazilian zouk. In the beginning, in São Paulo and Belo Horizonte, they danced lambazouk which is a style that maintained strong influences from lambada. While in Rio de Janeiro, we worked with what we call traditional zouk, which has a different dynamic timing, with influences of jazz and contemporary. There is also a line of zouk which has influences from different dance styles such as hip hop and contemporary.


The reference I used for developing traditional zouk was my background in the classical dances. Every time I danced zouk, i felt like projecting longer, farther and really stretching my movements more. This comes from my background in classical ballet and jazz,  and can be seen when using more full body movements and more long movements. Little by little, Adilio and I started developing this and we choreographed a piece in 1996 called “Spiritual” that made use of floor movements. In this choreography, I started on the floor, lying down and I used a lot of ballet movements such as pirouettes. So we combined these things together with zouk and the reaction from the “lambadeiros” was very critical. They said that it was not lambada and it was not zouk, but now for shows, everybody uses these things. This was inspired by my master Jaime Aroxa because he used to do this in other rhythms, like samba and salsa. We struggled a lot because many people react strongly to something different, but different is not bad. It is strange at first, but different is not synonymous with bad. The most important thing is to keep the essence of the dance, because sometimes people want to change, but they lose the original meaning of the dance.With zouk, we added some new movements, but we didn’t change the identity. It’s still a progeny of lambada, not another kind of dance we created: it developed directly from lambada.