An interview with Willem: International Teaching

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We thought it would be great to hear a bit more of you! You are doing a lot of things next to teaching in your studio. You are also teaching internationally, you are a dancer and performer and of course entrepreneur. Let us zoom in on the teaching on an international level. Every month you travel to a special zouk place in the world!

I’m very fortunate that so many people want to learn the Dutch or the DA way. Once, sometimes twice a month I travel around the world. I work with a local partner and sometimes I bring a partner from Holland Mainly these events are about intensive weekends, a bit like the Embodying Weekend -2 /3 days of intensive workshops- but of course nothing is like the real thing.. Leaving the dance studio is of course a difficult thing; my studio is a bit like my baby. So I decided to travel maximum once a month.

What kind of events do you invest on going and why?
I mostly go to intensive workshop weekends, where I am the only teacher or with one other teacher and you are teaching back to back. Sometimes up to six hours a day, which is quite intense for both students and teachers as well. I feel I can really make a difference and give them a taste of the method we use, which is quite unique in partner dance – in solo dance you see it more often. What we do is we teach from a method at DA based on six pillars: body control, connection, patterns, musicality, creativity and dynamics. Apart from that we have a specific aspect in our classes and that is the personal point of improvement. We really zoom in on each student, also in group lessons. This is almost impossible to do at a festival where constantly the groups change, the groups are way to big, there are lots of different levels between students or there is an imbalance leader/ follower- wise. I think this is almost impossible to do you when you only have three hours, in which you can give them a flavour but not the content of everything. That’s why I prefer to do these intensive weekends because I feel you can achieve much more as a teacher both as a student.

Next to the intensive weekends there are the festivals from long term acquaintances or people I trained in the past. In September we go to Barcelona, to Xavi & Laura who I’ve known for 14 years. They were one of the first organisers of the Zouk festivals in Europe so it will be nice to see that event again today. After that we will visit Ludek & Pavla from Brno, who are one of the best festival organisers in my eyes. Next, in October we fly to New York to the festival of Henry & Jessica. All these three couples have a special place in my heart. They have been working with a lot of energy for a lot of years, trying to make it a gathering of kindert spirits. What I really like about their festivals is that they are able to make the group of teachers to a team and to create a certain kind of harmony. They do this for example by organising a volleybal tournament before the start of the festival, or a Jack and Jill contest group-wise, so that you connect as teachers and spend time together, get to know each other and work together. The effect of that trickles down on the whole festival and therefore on the students.Also important of course is to have good food and good drinks. To try to really get the teachers in a good atmosphere and a good vibe by taking away everything they could worry about and make sure that they have fun. In that way they can focus on the teaching and the students. I think this is the example of how it should be. There are a lot of things we can’t do on a festival, as mentioned before, but the highlight of these international festivals is that it brings people from all over the world to celebrate life in that sense, through zouk dancing. Every festival has it’s flavour, I clearly have my preferences. What I think as a teacher and as an artist, our main job is to bring people together. To let them celebrate, to share our passion with them, to give them something to develop themselves and to be able to connect with other people. All these goals are not so much about us as artists but much more about the people who share our passion and who actually make it possible for us to live our lives the way we do.

What do you think are the benefits of international exchange?
It’s nice to work with people who organise the festival. Also to dance with people from outside of Holland. Every continent has its own flavour, even every city does. For me the most added value is inspiration. Sometimes you really get inspired by dancing with a student from another country without the student even knowing it. Sometimes it just makes a click and you get a new idea for your teaching. Or when you teach with another partner: suddenly you have to adapt your lesson plan so that you can both teach it. It can be inspiring because you have to challenge your own method and system and it normally gets better from doing that. I am also being a representitive of my school and the system we handle. This brings in people who want to know more, that come to Rotterdam and study wiht us and do a lot of privates or the Embodying Weekend.

Where do you see the strenghts and weaknesses of the international zouk community when it comes to working together in teaching?
The strenght definitely is that it’s really the feeling of a community. If you dance zouk, then you are welcome! The weakness in my opinion is in the unstructured way of both teaching and organising. There is no roadmap and almost no agreement about even the names of certain moves, or the way we should teach or the music we should use. When I compare it to other scenes this is something we lack. But it also is very experimental and there is a lot of development going on in the scene: every benefit has it’s disadvantage! But in general the lack of structure in the dance, the teaching and organising makes it difficult for the scene to grow. People like the vibe that the scene has. If they are not directly attracted by that vibe, they will probably be turned down by the chaos.

What is the event you are most looking forward to and why?
Next month I will be going to Hawaï! I have something with islands, especially when they are tropical islands and they have mountains and vulcanos. Hawaï has many similarities with the Canary Islands and that I love. It’s a place I always wanted to visit and thanks to zouk I will be visiting it. Of course I will be mostly teaching but I also have a few days to look around and get a view of the surroundings. It will be an intensive weekend with three days of teaching workshops with Gigi: a local teacher and the organiser of the event. I am looking forward to meet new people and see how she does it there.

Where should we all follow you?????
The best event for that would be the week of 2-9th of february to the Canary Islands. We originally planned it this summer and then decided to postpone it: In february the wheather in the mainland will be very cold, but at the Canaries it will be around 23 degrees. That gives a huge advantage for people who want to catch some sun in the winter. Also the ticket prices from the flights and hotels will be cheaper. I think it’s the best time to give the people a great deal, a lot of fun and a lot of zouk! The week will be mainly focused on zouk, but we will have time to do some tracking, surfing, yoga etc. It will be a healthy week! We have lessons but not nearly as many as we do in the Embodying Weekend for this is a holiday, although it will be an active holiday. So book it in your agenda!