A Love and Hate Affair

Head movements and cambrés; who doesn’t love them?

They’re one of the distinctive characteristics of Brazilian Zouk. Done well, they look very impressive and beautiful. They give us possibilities of expression, musicality and movement that other dances don’t have.

Well… I do love head movements and cambrés. I really do. But my feelings for them are conflicted; it’s one of those love and hate affairs. The problem is not with the movements themselves, but with the widespread abuse of them. By abuse, I mean people doing them badly. I mean people not respecting the situation or the level of the partner.

These movements are potentially dangerous. To be done safely, they require good technique from both partners. When done with poor technique, they place a lot of stress on the spine at neck and lower back. This can lead to injury, or long-term health issues. If a follower’s neck or lower back is sore after a dancing party, it’s a good indication that her technique still needs improvement – or that her partners need to learn moderation. In addition to spinal health issues, head movements and cambrés also pose another risk in crowded parties; there is a risk of the head colliding with another couple.

What to do to avoid abusing these beautiful movements? Besides taking lessons to do them properly, which should go without saying.

For the leaders, the main thing to remember is to respect the level of the partner. Once you have a good understanding of head movements and cambrés, it’s possible to feel whether your partner can do them well or not. If you feel she doesn’t know how to do these movements with good technique – don’t lead them. If there is no space for them – don’t lead them. If your fundamentals are in order, you should be able to dance just fine without missing head movements or cambrés at all.

Respect your partner’s limits – it is up to the follower to decide how deep a cambré she does. If she doesn’t go deep, or doesn’t do it at all, don’t take it personally. Respect your partner’s condition – if she’s been dancing the whole night she probably won’t appreciate getting a core strength workout in the form of multiple cambrés.

Screenshot 2015-10-02 01.31.44

For the followers, the main thing is to respect your health and level. If you feel your partner is trying to lead you into some movement you can’t do safely – don’t do it. I know it can be difficult, but your health is more important than the possible tender feelings of the lead, or even keeping the flow of the dance. The second thing to remember is that head movements and cambrés are led movements. If there is no leading for them – don’t do them.* If you are uncertain whether there is a leading for them – don’t do them.

Whenever my partner starts to do head movements or cambrés on her own, I tend to go to safe mode. This means I intentionally limit her options, leading only things that make it hard for her to do those movements on her own. I don’t lead head movements or cambrés. Why? Because doing them on her own means she probably won’t know how to actually follow them well. In that situation, doing those movements doesn’t feel nice. It may also be unsafe for me, her, or the people around us**.

How it feels for me as a leader when the follower starts to do head movements on her own. Also what it looks like when a leader tries to do head movements with a follower who doesn’t know how to do them.

These tips might be helpful to people who care enough to seek them out. But what about the other kind of people? We all know or have heard of guys who jerk their partners around, dip them as if trying to break their backs and are in general hazards for their partners and people around them. They are unaware they’re doing something wrong, and unwilling to hear otherwise. I think in this case it is up to the people who run the dance scene to take action. The ideal way is to prevent this before it even starts.

Recently a friend of mine who quit Zouk three years ago came to one of our socials. She said that it’s very different from what it was like before. The things happening on the floor actually looked good. There was none of that weird frightening stuff with head that was one of the reasons she stopped earlier. She said that if it was like this before, she might not have stopped. What was the reason for the difference?

Three years ago Freddy and Andressa came to Finland. In their courses, they teach the fundamentals before things like headwork and cambrés. It might take a year of lessons before the students start with them . Trying to do these movements with followers who haven’t yet learned the technique is strongly discouraged. People don’t get to skip levels, and have to take the fundamentals course first. After some time, this has led to a situation where a beginner follow doesn’t have to fear being bent in half or having her neck twisted. When people eventually start to do head movements and cambrés, they actually look and feel good.

I believe this illustrates the responsibility that the scene leaders and teachers have. It’s unrealistic to expect all dancers to have a realistic idea of what they are ready for. Many are eager to go straight for the flashy stuff. It is up to the scene leaders to let people know when they are endangering themselves or others.

* Yes, there are some specific situations where the follow can style with the head, or even suggest a head movement. They are the exceptions, not the rule.

** My teacher Freddy once injured his back, trying to save a girl who threw herself into a dip. After that particular festival trip, we added the word “suicide girl” to Zouk slang in Finland.


Jukka Guest post: Jukka Välimaa

5 Comments on “A Love and Hate Affair

  1. I strongly agree! Maybe we also should stop naming it head movements. I prefer upper body isolations, because its all about the movement of you chest. The head is just following gravity. I always tell my students: All cool movements in zouk start from the hips or from the heart 😉


    • None of the English terms used for head movements is perfect for the purpose. Like you said, “head movement” can be misleading, as the head is generally not active but following gravity. “Upper body isolations” sounds to me like it includes all the isolations of the upper body we use in Zouk, specifically the chest isolations, shoulder isolations, and the like. “Hair movements” is even more misleading than “head movements”, possibly leading people to think the movement is about throwing hair around.

      So for the moment, I’ll keep using “head movements”, as the best of a bunch imperfect choices, and the most commonly used one. I don’t think the choice of the term to use is ultimately super important. In any case, the movement has to be taught and explained in detail. If that is not done, the term choice will not help much. If it’s done, people will learn the meaning behind the term, no matter what the term itself is.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I share the same opinion! Specially that if the head moves together with the chest, it’s no longer isolation, of none of the parts! I would still keep it as “Head movement”, definitely!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks to Gaëlle and Sonja for suggestions on the article, and to Isabel da Costa for the “I just LOVE it when you push me into 3 cambrés in a row” – picture.


  3. You’re 100% right! Especially with “If there is no leading for them – don’t do them.” I know many followers who want to impress me (or themselves?) by doing headmovements which I didn’t lead. This is dangerous because if there is no leading, there is also no possibility to stop these movements without getting rude. But sometimes you have to, e.g if there is not enough space. In these situations the follower is getting angry or sad, because they know, that I do these moves with more advanced followers. They don’t understand that it’s for their own safety… 😦
    I also strongly recommend to warm up before a party. In workshops you always do this, before a party most people don’t. But why?!
    And if you have the time and possibility to do this: do another sport, one with much bodywork, like martial arts, cross fit or swimming. For an advanced level in Zouk you HAVE TO be healthy and fit. Otherwise you cannot practise all those cool moves. 😉


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