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Why I Compete in Brazilian Zouk Jack and Jill Competitions (by Sydney Charisse)

Over the last few years, Jack and Jill competitions have become a regular part of Brazilian Zouk congresses. Usually organized by the Brazilian Zouk Dance Council, they are a part of the congress experience that zoukers love, love to hate, or passionately claim to care nothing about. Needless to say, they have been a hot discussion topic in the international community for a while now and I’d like to share my perspective both for my fellow Zoukers and others who might like a peek into the Zouk world.

Why I love competing

There’s something so special about meeting or dancing for the first time with someone in a competition, especially when you place. It might be only a few minutes, but it’s something really cool that motivates me to participate in JnJ competitions.

When I placed, I felt really validated in my work.

Admittedly, there was a month while I was still in the Novice division of the BZDC competition circuit when I trained basics obsessively. I hadn’t made finals after placing 2nd in the previous competition and was pretty crushed by the experience. A friend told me “don’t let Jack and Jill ruin your beautiful dancing.” Yes, I did quiet my creative voice in pursuit of a better basic step, but I’m grateful this was a part of my dance journey as it helped me have a stronger foundation upon which to be more creative. When I placed, I felt really validated in my work, especially as I was teaching fundamentals classes in a local community at the time. As it turned out, this competition was particularly meaningful for my partner too, whom I met in finals, so this is a moment of triumph we got to share and bond over. How cool is that?

Competitions are not social dances

Why? Because in Zouk while it often looks flashy, we tend to (or should…) prioritize the experience of the participants over aesthetics. A social dance by Zouk pros might be mesmerizing, but it (usually) feels different from a show or even a demo. The energy folds in on itself within the universe of the dancers, it is not projected out of that bubble and not designed to include a spectator. Competitions are mini improvised performances in which participants draw on their social dancing skills and try to play the best game with the hand they’re dealt. Why? Because 10% of the score is presentation! It’s literally written into the scoring rules that this is not just a social dance.

The best dancer doesn’t always win

I think Intermediate spotlight rounds are the best example of how these competitions are not a reflection on how good we are in social dancing. Two weeks after placing first in a large star-studded division, the second place lead and I placed 11th. We didn’t suddenly become horrible dancers in two weeks. The best dancer doesn’t always win, the best player of the game on that day does. Lose timing and you lose points, execute difficult moves cleanly and you gain points. Everyone has a messy dance except you? You might win even if there are better dancers than you.

Recently, the judges have started expecting more of the Intermediates in terms of musicality, so on top of trying to get technically better there is pressure to be more creative. Want to inspire experienced dancers to grow and push the genre forward in a public space? This should do it!

Competitions are not a reflection on how good we are in social dancing.

It’s not all about winning

No matter the outcome, the Intermediates always give each other standing ovations and cheer each other on during comps. Taking a step back, I see these comps having a significant impact on community building in a uniquely decentralized dance. For example, even if you won every single comp you participate in, it would still take a while to point out of Intermediate. You might as well enjoy the journey!


Photo credit: Kevin Sue Chue Lam

I’m sad that some dancers think the status of advanced dancers or teachers relies on JnJ comps. Does me doing well one week and poorly a few later mean I’m suddenly less valuable to the community?

My value is in my social dancing, my teaching, my performing, and my writing. I invest in my education and am paid for what I give back to the community, that’s the definition of a professional. JnJ is not paid, it is something I pay for. It is by default not a platform for professionals but for everyone, and although many Intermediate competitors are teachers, amateurs can and do win. Is this because they have excelled beyond their teachers? No, it is because on that day they played their cards better than their co-competitors.

Judging is hard!

If you have a bunch of competitors scoring close together someone still must win and someone still must lose. That’s the way competitions work. BZDC JnJs aren’t like syllabus ballroom comps. There isn’t a book that tells you where to put your feet. We as a community need to be more forgiving and generous toward each other and the judges, all of whom are still learning themselves as there are more comps and more people are asked to step up to bat. Speaking of which…

BZDC and me

After a year of competing in Intermediate, I finally made it to Advanced! As I need to wait for more of my peers to graduate so we can have Advanced finals in North America, I followed the encouragement of a mentor and applied to be a judge. I recently completed the training and have a whole new perspective on and respect for the council and the people who have been judging me and my peers these past few years. There may not be an illustrated guide to Brazilian Zouk footwork but there is a list of fundamental zouk movements most people who have taken a beginner series should recognize, clear definitions and expectations for the timing, technique, and teamwork we are being evaluated on. The system is designed to help people succeed and gives Novice dancers the benefit of the doubt. It’s both nerve-wracking and exciting to be behind the clipboard and have the chance to celebrate people for their passion, hard work, and accomplishments.

Photo credit: Dan Yamamoto

Sydney Charisse is a Brazilian Zouk dancer (Advanced division), instructor, and choreographer from Chicago travelling with classes in North America, Europe, Australia.