Meet the man who’s bringing Zouk to Berlin

After our Zouk intro class we sat down with the founder of Modern Zouk, Jan Lachenmayer. Non-profit director by day and Zouk teacher by night, meet the man who’s championing the German Zouk scene one body roll at a time…  

USC: Tell us a bit about Modern Zouk and how it came to be…

Jan: Modern Zouk is the brand and Brazilian Zouk is the dance. It’s historically French Caribbean music paired with Lambada dance. Brazilian Zouk started a dance evolution around the world in the ‘90s and came to Europe about 15 years ago – first London and then Holland – some famous teachers from Brazil came to the Netherlands and suddenly everyone was dancing Zouk there.

And then it got a life of its own. It is a very open dance, so it’s attractive to lots of people in many respects. We dance to all sorts of music – pop, R&B, hip hop, electro. However the most essential component is the interaction between you and your partner and the communication between you, as well as how you connect and move within your own body.

USC: And that’s the concept behind Modern Zouk itself?

Jan: Exactly. I prefer to describe Modern Zouk as a philosophy. It’s about partner communication, the dialogue you enter as you dance and creating a moment of oneness with all the barriers torn down.  

USC: What’s your dancing background?

Jan: I come from a solo dance background and came very late to partner dancing. They say a solo dancer doesn’t like partner dances, because they don’t want anyone telling you what to do; but for me Zouk was an epiphany. Sometimes you dance with someone and you have the feeling that you deeply know this person even though you haven’t spoken. And I was really fascinated by that.

Before Zouk I never thought of having a dance career. I studied Political Science and Economics and I currently work in that field.

This oneness you feel in Zouk has cross-cultural and cross-boundary elements that connects people. If I can make that happen with other people through teaching Zouk then I’m the happiest person in the world.  

USC: What’s your day job?

I work for a non-profit organisation supporting start-up founders in the Middle East, Africa and Asia with mentoring, spaces, network access and contacts. I lead the research department, where we measure what we call start-up ecosystems. We gather data and statistics to support start-ups and advise policy-makers to improve the conditions for entrepreneurs.  

USC: And in the evenings you teach Zouk?

Jan: Exactly. I started learning Zouk in 2008, and went straight into organising festivals here in Berlin – that was before it was even big here. We had people from all over the world coming to Berlin for an international Zouk festival, with 40 to 50 international artists and 500+ participants.

I stopped the festivals in 2014 and decided to focus on evolving a scene here. Festivals are amazing, the energy is high and everyone comes and says how great it is. But then they leave and you’re left on your own or in a small group. So I said okay, I will focus on creating the scene in Berlin.  

USC: So you’re working on building a Zouk scene here in Berlin?

Jan: Yes. We founded our dance association Danca Alegria four or five years ago and we now have roughly 80 members. Through this we create a communuty of supporters and are able to invite international teachers to give classes. Currently we have a regular beginners class and party every Sunday at Soda Club. We use that class as an entry point for people to experience Zouk first-hand, and if they want to learn the dance they can take my regular classes on Wednesday here at Lotus Loft.  

USC: What’s your advice or philosophy for people who want to begin Zouk? Perhaps if they feel intimidated or shy?

We create a trusting environment in a protected space. You don’t have to bring a partner; everyone dances with everyone. In fact even if couples come I highly recommend they change partners. You need to dance with as many people as possible as this is how you learn fastest.

I guide people through opening up in a physical way – not only towards your partner but towards yourself. So you might have your personal boundaries and blockages and it’s about releasing that, both physically and mentally.

For me, dance is life and life is dance. You learn so much about yourself and you develop so much through dance and vice versa. What you gain through dance changes how you are in your life. So I don’t draw a distinction.  

USC: What moments have stood out for you since you started Modern Zouk?

There are many moments but it’s the friendships I’ve built through the dance. I have a circle of extended friends and very close friends that come from all over the world. Zouk connected us, but it’s almost like we found each other. These are people I love and I know I can count on. So that is the biggest gift that the Zouk community has given me.  

USC: Do you have any workshops or events coming up?

Yes – we have our regular dance parties at Soda Club on Sundays where I DJ and we also have a party called Intimacy – a collaboration with Tango – which is at the famous Kit Kat Klub. The next one being held on Friday 18 May. [Laughing] It’s not as extreme as the regular Kit Kat Klub but it gives it an interesting twist.

And of course our weekly classes and party held on Wednesdays at Lotus Loft.  

USC: You mention you DJ – what kind of stuff do you play?

The music creates the energy of the space and this is crucial for partner-dance parties. So I like to select the music. I have a lot of respect for the art of DJing so I wouldn’t call myself a DJ… but I play music.  

USC: What are your plans for Modern Zouk – what’s the dream?

To create a substantial scene in Berlin so I can recreate that same bliss I’ve found through Zouk when travelling. That is my ongoing wish and ambition. And beyond that, let’s see.  

For regular updates on workshops and events, follow Modern Zouk on Facebook.

Urban Sports Club partners with many studios that offer dance classes in Germany and France. Check our website to see what’s on offer in your area.  


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