© May 12, 2013

Zouk Shannon and Henri

Whenever I tell someone I take Zouk classes they inevitably ask me, “What’s Zouk?” to which I become a representative embarrassment to the Zouk Nation. “It’s kind of like Salsa but not really. You seem to stand a little taller and step on ‘1’ instead of whatever they step on in Salsa. Um, and it’s Brazilian.” My explanation of Zouk is enough to have all Zouk masters currently dancing in pine boxes roll over in their graves and for the living Zouk leaders to revoke my dance card.

I started taking Zouk because Mary Jane, who used to come to my yoga classes, was an avid Zouk dancer and one sunny Saturday morning in Central Park she brought her teacher, Kammy, to my class. Kammy put me on her ZoukNY mailing list and after receiving at least one or two mailings a week for a month I wanted off, only I was too much of a pussy to say anything. But soon, in a cult-like manner similar to the time I was seduced by the Scientologists, my resistance broke down and I decided to go to class. And it was a lot of fun! (For the record, the Scientologists that seduced me were John Travolta and Tom Cruise and this involved baby oil and backrubs.)

Straight as a hairpin turn!

I took several of the Level 1 classes but then I found myself between a rock and a hard Zouk regarding time, money and priorities, and ended up choosing the rock. More recently I have gotten back into class and I now use the rock as a paperweight.

Product shot of Pet Rock, fad from mid-1
A steal at only four payments of $29.99!

My resurrection into Zouk, unlike the Christian fable, was not done to save the souls of all humanity but instead perhaps the toes of my dancing partners. I went to a Zouk Social, which is where members of the Nation gather and dance. It was so far removed from my Zouk days (where even back then I was nothing to brag about!) that I completely sucked. I danced with a couple of girls, fell in love as I’m prone to do, and ended up bolting the party about a half-hour after arriving in shame and embarrassment, missing the scheduled dance performance and committing myself to a convent.

Adam kickboxing teaching2Adam teaching kickboxing1

I never got over my nervous habit of wrapping toilet paper around my hands before a fight.

As a martial artist and instructor I am very proficient because I have several decades of study and seven years of fighting full-contact in the ring under my (black) belt. When a new student comes to my class and is embarrassed and apologetic over being a total spaz, I tell her that this is her first class and it is expected that she will not feel totally at ease with the unfamiliar techniques and new body movements and that if she sleeps with me this will facilitate her improvement.

I often end my class with what is known in the world of spirituality as a dharma talk, where the teacher mentions the name of the Buddha and then tries to pretend that because she read 50 Shades of Grey that she is somehow in the same playing field as him, when she is not even qualified to sell peanuts in the stadium where the Buddha used to knock them out of the park.

Buddha baseball
Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Buddha’s eye, a sneer curled Buddha’s lip.
-Adapted from Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer

For the benefit of the new student, and my enormous ego, I speak on one of the goals of martial arts being to reside at peace in your center even under highly stressful situations, like someone trying to punch and kick you in the ring or because you wouldn’t “leggo” of their Eggo. In yoga, instructors may utilize more and more challenging poses for those whose bodies are like a 9-year old Chinese Olympic gymnast in order to challenge the yogini to continue to stay present and connected to her peace while, in example, wrapping her leg three times around her neck and sticking her foot in her mouth.

In our lives off the mat and out of the ring, how often do we find ourselves in “uncomfortable” situations? If you’re a confrontational jackass like myself it’s thrice daily. I tell the class in a spiritually snobby “You should have seen Buddha drink. I’m telling you, the man was unstoppable!” way that being at peace with candles and incents and OMs filling an otherwise sterile environment is nice, but the true test that you are a peaceful warrior is being able to stay in touch with that same inner peace when your house is on fire, the toilets are overflowing or your little 2-year old is showering you with a symphony of screaming, banging pots and dirty diapers.

crying baby
I’m going for a vasectomy today!

I usually feel so high and mighty when I utter these words, like a motivational douche who should be living in a van down by the river, as I pat my students on their exit, which is the word I use for “backside,” and tell them, “Now go out there and face the world, my little kickboxers!” So it was quite fascinating for me to examine my own discomfort at the Zouk Social when I found myself in a situation where the only thing “in” was my competence (get it, “in-competence”? Do I need to repeat this thrice for you?) I saw firsthand that the gap between theory and practice at times is a chasm wider than the Grand Canyon.

Chris Farley
The one and only Chris Farley as motivational speaker Matt Foley

So what was I to do? I could expatriate myself from the Zouk Nation, join a nunnery and never show my face again. Or I could find a way to become more at peace with my incompetence. The first choice seemed cowardly and those nun outfits always chafe. The second seemed like way too much work. So instead I decided to immerse myself in Zouk and take 7-8 classes a week.

And it paid off, for not only did I improve from spastic to clutsy in only a month but at the next Zouk Social I danced with many more girls, stayed until they turned the lights on and shouted, “Salir ahora, inmigración!”—which meant nothing to me, as I never paid much attention in Spanish class, but resulted in the largely Hispanic crowd exiting in a rush in a similar fashion to the time on Halloween when I was dressed up as a government agent and accidentally busted into the kitchen of a Mexican restaurant when looking for the bathroom—and I actually had a good time!

immigration officer
Originally I was going to go as Hitler but a few Jewish friends told me that was tasteless and I don’t like to offend anyone. I forgot to remove the mustache!

Who knows, with another month of classes under my dance belt, maybe the next Social will find the girls I dance with having a good time as well. As they say, “Thrice is the charm.”

An early advertisement for Zouk circa 1743. According to The History of Zouk by P.J. Pajamas, originally the dance was called “Ouk” but when uttered aloud most mistook this as a proclamation that a snake had entered the vicinity and ran away. And so they added the “Z” at the beginning.

For more information on Zouk check out www.zouknewyork.com.

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