I know you through Zouk, but did you start out in Salsa like many of the Zouk dancers? What is your dance background?
Bellydance is my first dance. Before any social dances, I used to train and perform with “Leilan”, a Tribal Fusion Bellydance Troupe at Stanford University. I was first introduced to Zouk by some Bachata friends. I couldn’t get it out of my mind after a glimpse of it.
Oh wow! I didn’t know you started with Bellydance. Now it makes sense why your hip movements look so fluid and effortless.
What is it about Zouk, and/or Lambazouk, that draws you to it?
In the beginning it was the connection, the music, the free-flowing movement and the seemingly infinite possibilities of things you can do in Zouk that drew me to it. Later, as I went on to perform and teach Zouk, I liked that it makes me reflect upon body awareness, breathing, mindfulness and spirituality. It’s like an area in life where I can observe my own growth and my blind spots.
Lambazouk is similar but it has more of a wild, happy and uplifting energy that I really enjoy.
I love that, especially about helping you observe your own growth and blind spots.
That makes me think of a belief or blind spot I have had about dance that held me back sometimes: that I had to have a big, outgoing or aggressive personality to really dance and perform. And then I see a beautiful female dancer like you- who is petite and has a more gentle and quiet demeanor- get up and perform with such great energy. And I think wow! Now THAT is inspiring!
Do you feel like dance, especially in performances, brings out different parts of your personality that you wouldn’t normally be sharing off the dance floor?
I love this question.
Dance is so important to my personal development. Ever since I was little, I’ve loved performing and being on the stage. I used to be a show host in in my high school in Shanghai.
That’s amazing! Now I’m really glad I asked this question too.
But when I moved to the US about 10 years ago, I couldn’t express myself well in English. I started to grow quieter and quieter. I even started to feel inferior to my English-speaking friends.
When I found dancing, though, I knew I was given a chance to find my voice and confidence again. I felt free and alive. It’s like my blocked Qi is allowed to flow again. If I can’t use words, then let me use my body movement to tell you who I am.
Ahhh! You just gave me goosebumps. That was so poetically put. And then mentioning Qi and confidence really got my attention.
You always look so confident and fluid on the stage. Do you get nervous when you’re performing?
Stage fright still happens, but what is more joyful than having a stage to share with the world who you really are? To me this joy overcomes any fears or discomfort that may come with dancing or performing. Today, I am still a quiet and shy person off the dance floor. I tend to see this as part of my culture and I embrace it.
You recently shared a beautifully vulnerable Facebook post about some of the cultural beliefs you grew up with. In particular, you revealed that the pandemic gives you an excuse to not allow people to get too into your personal space, as you came from a culture where affection and closeness wasn’t common.
I was surprised when you expressed that even in dancing, you felt uncomfortable with that closeness. I guess I always think that most people who choose a dance like Zouk love that closeness and are cuddle crazy. Haha.
I actually felt quite comfortable with the closeness in Zouk dancing. It was how some people in the Zouk community hang out and interact off of the dance floor that made me feel uncomfortable at times. It often appeared to me as physically close but in a not so meaningful way.
In my culture, affection and closeness is not expressed through physical touch. To me, that is a deeper form of love and devotion, and something that I just started to acknowledge and appreciate in my relationship with my family.
Do you find that Zouk has made you feel more comfortable connecting in that close way? I am curious how you navigate those feelings while dancing this close dance.
Yes, Zouk has made me feel more comfortable connecting in a close way. It has taught me to listen more and judge less too. I’ve learned that in that moment when we are dancing, to fully accept another person and their body no matter who he/she is, is the only way to build connection together.
What I had a hard time dealing with is that when the social were over, people assumed that my comfort level with physical touch was the same off the dance floor as it was in the dance.
Oh, that makes so much sense. I can totally relate to that. That’s a great point.
But I also didn’t say no firmly to people getting closer than I was comfortable with, because I was more eager to be cool and blend in, than to be clear with my boundaries. It is this pandemic that got me thinking how I had been interacting with people in Zouk – what I don’t miss and what I truly cherish.
I love how open you were about this and how powerful it is that you can come to this deeper awareness, and see the positive lessons in your experiences, even through something like a pandemic.
I know before the pandemic, you were traveling a lot for Zouk. You were in Brazil not long ago, right?
Yes, Brazil!!!! I keep telling people that if you want to treat yourself, go to Brazil! 🙂
Haha. That is amazing. Did you go for a festival with a group or just for travel?
I went there for two dance festivals, but there were also many days I was just on a road trip or hanging out on the beach. I was also lucky that Gilson, my Brazilian teacher and friend was there too. He planned the road trip and took us to see the “real Brazil”. I am still very grateful for that.
What stood out to you about the dancing in Brazil?
Dancing in Brazil, you really get to connect with the root of the dance. Rio has this magic, softening power. I remember I was watching the sunset at Ipanema Beach and thinking, how can one not feel romantic and beautiful while bathed in the beauty of this city?
Wow! Magical sounds right. What do you think you will miss most about Brazil?
The people and dances in Brazil are hard to forget, and the food and juices are just so soul-nourishing. After I came back, I told all my friends that I would skip all the dance festivals in the US and just go to Brazil every year.
And then the pandemic started (laughs).
Aww… (laughs). At least you know exactly where you are heading when travel opens up again. And I’m sure Brazil will welcome you back with open arms.
Great news! Val is teaching a new online Lambada class starting on Wednesday, September 16th at 7:30pm Pacific Time It is a followers’ solo class, focusing on footwork and styling, and will run for four weeks.
Check out the video below to see this girl move, and to get a taste of the fun, flirty style you can learn from her. And all of this in the comfort of your own home!
For more details, and to register, please email Val at email@example.com