I stopped through Wrocław, Poland the other day and was able to meet a most interesting fellow. Chris Williams is a Welshman who has reinvented his life, using dance in general and Zouk in particular as his center. As someone who has also moved to Poland from a foreign land, I was very curious as to his experience.
Greg Austin Hi Chris, how’s it going?
Chris Williams Yeah, good. You?
Greg I’m doing fantastic. We’re in Wrocław, getting caught up in the Zouk scene in Poland. As we begin, you recently moved to Poland from the UK, from Wales. When you meet someone who is not a dancer and they ask you why are you in Poland, what do you tell them?
Chris Because of dance. They usually don’t quite believe it and if they really dig into the story, I basically tell them the same story I tell dancers. That in Zouk I found a way of expressing myself and of personal development and of connecting to other people and of seeing such amazing beauty in the world that it is the primary thing I spend my energy on in life.
Greg And what were you spending your energy on before?
Chris I got into dance as a result of a divorce. And that was a quite the emotionally abusive relationship where I was cut off from my friends, cut off from family, and spending all of my time, energy, and money on this one person. Then when I… after seeing a therapist for a while, got the courage to end it. I was sat at home, without any friends, without any social life, and so my brother dragged me along to a dance class.
At first I wasn’t very good at it, at the start – and this wasn’t Zouk, by the way, this was Modern Jive, which served as a gateway drug into dance as a whole – and I thought, “I’ll give this 6 weeks and see how it goes.” Then after 6 weeks I felt I was a little better than I was in the beginning, so I just decided to see what happens. And by the time 12 weeks came along, I felt like someone who was destined to be a painter, who had just discovered paint brushes and paint pots.
I live to express myself, and create something beautiful out of things I didn’t expect. I knew that… dance was one of the things I would be doing for my entire life.
Greg Like a painter finding his paintbrush.
Chris Yeah. I can talk more about why I ended up focusing on Zouk.
Greg Sure, let’s go there. When did you realize that Zouk was the brush that you liked the most?
Chris So I’ve been dancing since the beginning of 2015 and I picked up various other dances within the first year of dancing. I was dancing Modern Jive, West Coast Swing, Kizomba, a bit of Bachata, a bit of Neo Blues, and I picked up Zouk because I thought it was really pretty and it was just one dance among many, for me.
I was going to a class which was 1 hour away from where I lived and then the teacher moved away, so I started having to travel in order to continue to learn this. Later that year, 2016, I attended the Dutch Zouk Congress, I did some workshop with Xandy Liberato and in these workshops we had these what seemed to be really far out, hippyish, connection exercises involving eye contact and breathing and touch. I was open-minded… a little skeptical… but I just thought that I’m going to trust the process and see where it goes.
And at the end of this class, I danced with a girl that I had never met before, I didn’t know her name, didn’t even speak the same language as her, and during this dance, for this one song, I felt like she had known me for 20 years and was my best friend. At that point, I realized that all my life I had something on my heart that wanted to say, but didn’t have the language for it, and Zouk became that language.
Greg Fast forward and you’re in Poland, of all places. I’m going to ask a question I get asked a lot as a foreigner living in Poland… Why Poland?
Chris Because it is my favorite place in Europe to dance Zouk. I really love how focused people are on connection. As someone who primarily dances as a leader, I deeply appreciate that so many of the followers put in so much hard work into training and being really easy to dance with and connect with. And the music is so varied, and I’m able to fully express all aspects of my personality. It’s not just hours of “Woo-hoo” party time, you know, the music that is chosen is so varied and I can be dancing to R&B to Hip Hop, and then to ballads and classical piano music. There’s so much feeling that I’m able to express in dance here.
Greg Similar to that first “Ah-ha!” moment, when you felt that full connection with someone you had never met before, is Poland good at allowing for that type of connection?
Chris Yes. I would say it’s good at creating the environment in which that sort of connection can happen. I’ve had some of the most beautiful experiences of my life in Zouk dances in Poland.
The followers put so much hard into training, and many leaders do also. The music is so varied, it allows me to express whole aspects of my character. I feel like I can be myself more fully when I’m dancing than when I’m speaking.
Greg I have a question. Do you have any idea why Poland is so good at that?
Chris I feel like there’s something in the Polish soul. Maybe, and this is just a guess, but maybe it’s the oppression under the various foreign forces and regimes, then communism. That there’s this usually very polite, quiet exterior, but with so much passion and expression underneath. And that comes out in such a beautiful way.
Greg Would you say that Poland has one of the best Zouk scenes in Europe?
Chris For me, yes. I thought long and hard about where I wanted to go. I mean I left the UK because my job was coming to an end, Brexit was happening, and I felt like I had been traveling so much… I even went down to three days per week at my job at the start of 2018 as sort of a mutual agreement, out of their budget’s constraints and also my longing to spend more time learning and dancing Zouk, particularly as I was teaching at the time.
Greg And the style of Zouk that you dance is “Soul” Zouk. Explain the difference – or for someone who has never hear of Zouk or Soul Zouk, can you describe what it is?
Chris A big part of what I can express in dance is kindness. The reason why I train as a leader is to be as kind as possible to the follower that I dance with. Soul Zouk for me is the kindest way of dancing. Its emphasis on gentleness, on natural body movement, on being able to be relaxed but still structured, to use the body’s natural anatomy and ways of movement so that when you dance, it feels easy. It feels relaxing. Some people say that to dance Soul Zouk as a follower feels like a massage. For me, this kindness is key.
Greg So you were teaching and with this soft, gentle paintbrush which is Soul Zouk, do you have any idea of what kind of picture you are painting here in Poland? You personally as a dancer, as a teacher?
Chris I’m very open about the future. At the moment, there’s not been a very easy, open opportunity for me to teach. There may be one in the future. There’s been whispers of opportunities here and there. So I’m open, I’m always open to share my knowledge with others, because ultimately I think that Zouk is too good not to share. I’m not doing this to try and make a job out of it. I’m doing this because I want other people to be able to enjoy what I’ve experienced.
Greg Wonderful, I’m going to now flip it around to the side. In Poland, I have often noticed that Polish people will be very quick to say, “Yes, but!” Have you come across some “but” thing about dancing in Poland? What do you not like about dancing in Poland?
Chris I don’t know. I honestly… I don’t know if there is anything specific, any negatives about dancing in Poland that I wouldn’t find elsewhere. Ok, the positives can probably be found elsewhere too. There’s just a concentration of those positives.
Greg Lots of paint jars for your paint brush –
Chris Yes, when I connect to someone, when I dance with them, just to paraphrase an illustration by Peter Rollins, my favorite contemporary philosopher… To the outside world, we’re just bags of meat and bone in a large universe. We’re just insignificant. But if we use the illustration from Dr. Who, the Tardis, which is a time traveling machine which is bigger on the inside than the outside, the outside looks like a phone box and the inside is a massive spaceship, basically, with different rooms and a huge amount of space… That’s what I am able to experience when I dance with someone. I’m able to see this human shell, and experience that this is not just a human shell, this person is an entire universe, that’s never ending always changing, that goes on forever. And each of these people are unique and special, and irreplaceable. Everything this person has to express is valuable and is worth listening to. It is an absolute joy for me to experience.
Greg They’re also painting on you, as well –
Chris Yes, absolutely. I feel like my character has developed so much as a result of this dance. I feel that really more than anything else, Zouk makes it feel ok for me to be me. And that is the most counter-cultural, contra mundum message to give to someone. And it has freed me to become truly myself and to continue becoming myself. You know, I’ve had experiences that really changed my thinking. Like I always thought “Ok, girls want me to be a little distant”, and then sometimes when I danced as a follow, with a girl leading, and I’m getting to experience how the girl wants to be lead through how she leads me… It’s so much closer, it’s so much sweeter and kinder than I thought I was allowed to express. That’s changed how I dance. I want to continue to dance and be as recklessly sweet and recklessly kind as I can be.
Greg Fantastic. I love it! We are fortunate because right now the creator of Soul Zouk is actually in Europe, right?
Chris Yeah, so let’s start with some background… Soul Zouk isn’t so much a style of Zouk, but it’s a methodology of Zouk. It was created in 2003, preceding the rest of the “new generation” of Zouk styles, such as “Neo”, “Flow”, “Black”, etc… by a man who goes by the nickname China, with his partner at the time, Luciana. It prioritizes feeling, relaxation, and moving in harmony with the body’s anatomy and natural movement patterns. We make our focus the comfort and pleasure of the follower, and the contribution both of us can bring to the dance. Soulzouk has teachers in Brazil and in Europe, with the co-ordination of SoulZouk in Europe being headed up by Kris Łęczek, based in Warsaw. The movements within Soul Zouk can be used in any style of Zouk. It’s a way of making your movements easier and more precise and gentler and safer. Gentler. And I think that every Soul Zouk dancer dances differently. I dance differently from Kris, and I dance differently from China. Kris and China dance differently from each other, along with every other Soul Zouker. It’s about everyone finding their own style, but it’s with certain tools which are common in order to lead and follow.
China been travelling around Europe for the last few months and will be in Kraków May 10-12. If anyone is interested in courses in the future, I’d suggest you follow China SoulZouk on Facebook, and also check out the website soulzouk.com. Kris Łeczek is also a source of information for SoulZouk in Europe. And of course, I’m also available if anyone wants to message me directly.
Greg Any last words that you would like to share with the readers?
Chris I would just encourage them to explore Zouk for themselves and see what they find in it, and what they find in themselves and in others from that journey.
Interested in contacting Chris directly? Send him a message via Facebook, Chris Williams.