Brazilian Zouk spices up Beirut’s dance scene

BEIRUT: Upon returning to her native Lebanon after working in Dubai, and frustrated with the lack of dance options available, Rouba Zebian, a PR consultant by day, has begun teaching classes in Brazilian Zouk, a more contemporary alternative to the regular salsa and tango on offer in Beirut. Already an advanced salsa dancer, Zebian, who is 28, fell in love with the dance – known in full as Zouk-Lambada – after coming across a Singaporean teacher while in the United Arab Emirates.

“I love dancing salsa, but if I’m not dancing it, I can’t listen to the music. For Zouk it’s the opposite. I enjoy it a lot more and I feel it a lot more,” she says.

Zouk music originated in the Caribbean, and drew from the diverse communities living there, she explains, and includes European strings, African percussion and French and Creole influences.

This common Zouk beat can then be added to any song, making it very versatile. “You could put the Zouk beat on Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds,’ and you can dance Zouk,” Zebian explains.

In Brazil, dancers then combined the Zouk dance with the Brazilian Lambada to create a new, more fluid style.

More of a street than ballroom dance, Zouk can take many forms. Once the key steps are learned, the dance can be adapted and shaped by the dancer.

“I feel I can express myself a lot more than with salsa, it’s very theatrical. Your body moves in different ways and you have to move your waist a lot.”

Known as the “dance of love,” Zouk is perhaps not for the prudish. Where salsa is led by the hands, this couples’ dance is led by other parts of the body, generally the hips, and involves a lot of eye contact, making it rather sensual.

At times it can be very fast and adopt almost R&B or hip-hop moves – an hour dancing Zouk burns around 600 calories – but it can then slow down and appear as a different dance, one very slow and gentle.

Having been dancing Zouk for a year in the UAE, Zebian was then disappointed to realize there was no outlet for her new passion in Lebanon.

While there are now vibrant salsa and tango communities in Beirut, she could not find a single Zouk class on offer, or any venue in which to practice it.

“I started attending salsa and Latino nights and I asked people about Zouk nights, but I had to actually explain what the dance was.

“I felt so frustrated that nobody dances Zouk,” she adds.

But Zebian refused to let the lack of existing classes end her relationship with Zouk – the first dance she had decided to stay faithful to.

“I don’t consider myself professional. I don’t perform, but my goal is just to dance: I love dancing and I just wanted to share the dance with other people.

“With the humble experience that I have, I just want to teach people the dance so that we will all improve together and we can start dancing Zouk in other venues.”

Rouba Rizk, also 28, is one of Zebian’s students, and is optimistic that a Zouk community will soon emerge in Beirut, as with the salsa and tango styles before it.

“I want it to spread and I think people will love it here,” Rizk says. Herself drawn to the dance exactly because it is so new to the region, Rizk now loves it for the music and the rhythms.

“It’s sensual, and rhythmic, and I was just so impressed with how the woman and the man move together.”

It has the added bonus of being easy to learn, insists Rizk, who has in the past studied oriental, ballet, salsa and tango.

Another student, Zouheir Tamim, learned of the Zouk classes at just the right time, as he was considering trying out a different dance.

“I was planning to learn salsa, but then I thought I’d try this instead and I’m really enjoying it so far. You learn the moves and then you can apply your own style – it’s not bound by steps, and feels much more freestyle.

Zebian, who started giving the classes last month, now plans to learn Portuguese, attend more international workshops and visit Brazil for the first time, on top of adding more classes, should demand require it. Eventually she hopes to organize a Zouk conference in Beirut – for a weekend of intensive workshops.

As Zebian says, “I just want people to try, they might like it, they might not, but I just want them to try it.”

Contact Rouba Zebian on 70-636-468 or on Each class, which is held on a Wednesday evening, costs $10 and takes place at the Clifford Learning Center in Hamra’s Cairo Street.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 14, 2013, on page 2.




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