It was the phrase, “You know how to lambada, right?”, that should have rung the first alarm bells. Tonight I had a language exchange coffee with a very sweet if somewhat snaggle-toothed Brazilian guy – an hour spent talking in Portuguese, in which we covered such key issues as what I had done yesterday and, um, how to pronounce words in Portuguese, and an hour in English, in which, shall we say, the conversation was more wide-ranging in subject matter.
Depois de nossa aula de portugues, uma aula de Zouk. For the uninitiated – of which I am a proud if recent non-member – zouk is a lambada-based modern dance, in which music from all over the world is blended with the base 1-2-3 of lambada to create a deeply sexy, hair twirling frenzy of impressiveness. I’m still unsure how verb conjugating segued into this, but still, Sunday night at the Buena Vista club is zouk night, I now know.
Suffice to say zouk doesn’t flow naturally in my British veins. Which is doubly hard because on that side of the pond I’m an OK dancer. What I lack in ability I make up for in energy and a remarkable recall for crappy 80s songs, enabling me to look like I’m reacting well to the beat when in fact I’m simply responding to deeply entrenched cues from my otherwise-useless memory. That trick is proving less useful over ‘ere.
So I’ve been bumped from centre-of-the-floor showoff to footshuffler by the wall, and man is it a bumpy ride down. Still, I loved the Buena Vista: the dancing is so good it is half-club, half-show, and the atmosphere was brilliantly vibrant, with everyone loving the beat and there just to dance. (And maybe flirt a little.)
And all sober. Wow, that’s a difference to clubbing in England – the wonderfully patient Joao couldn’t see any logic behind my initial refusals at 9.30 to go dancing because ‘I had work in the morning’ – and indeed, I’m home sober at 11.30 and as fit for work as I otherwise would have been. Sure, many people had a beer or two, but far from everyone, and absolutely no-one seemed drunk. Joao was driving, and saw nothing strange in that.
Also, while Brazil is rightly famed for its obsession with beauty – drogerias are everywhere and packed to the ceiling with face creams and hair products and lotions and potions – that comes second to dancing. So some real specimens of unloveliness – cross-eyed, bulging belly, and such an unfortunate penchant for bandannas that he was wearing three, was my fave – could easily dance with some beauties of girls if they could produce the moves. And while it is sexy it is not sexual, something every fibre of my British being really struggles to compute. At the end, the guy kisses the girl’s hands, they both smile and say thanks, and that’s that.
However, I’m not sure I like the model that the girls who want to dance but are partner-less hang around the edge of the floor waiting to be asked. I mean, I see that the zoukers have to go in two by two, but the firm gender roles not only mean I had to bring out the no-need-to-elaborate excuse ‘obrigada, nao, sou ingles’ on a number of occasions, but also just feel wrong. That’s Latin America, I guess.
So now as well as Portuguese, I should learn samba, capoeira, and zouk. I desperately want to be able to do this stuff – standing helplessly at the side of the floor is just not my thing, even with a gentlemanly local guide – and so my only option is lessons, and perhaps a lot of praying. If only there was some way I could download all of the Bangles lyrics and fill that freed-up mental space with the magical knowledge of how to follow gracefully (yes, I know), “feel the music in my hips”, and not duck out in overwhelming embarrassment after 15 seconds. I hope they have good teachers.