The Hug

Views on the hug

by Sérgio Viana (instructor at escola NoPé)

Quick context, recently I registered to the Zouk Dance Camp with the incredible teachers Anderson and Brenda and a few questions were asked in the registration form. It just so happen that on that same day I had taken 2h of private classes with Anderson in Geneva and (I guess) was feeling inspired, so I took all those questions very seriously. Before submitting I wanted to have some external feedback so I sent my answers to my Zouk teacher and friend Joana Rodrigues and to my friend and also Forró teacher Camila Alves. Their reaction was somewhat unexpected to me, in a positive way... so positive that Camila asked me to write an article about it ☺️

So here it is, the article of my views on the hug in these two dances I'm familiar with (I guess the Kizomba hug, as well as other social dances, also share a lot of similarities...)

Why is the hug so important in Brazilian Zouk and Forró?

The hug establishes a framework of communication between the partners. Apart from being crucial for the closed frontal base and its variations, both dances can explore a lot body isolations, body rolls and for Zouk there are the famous head movements. Many of these movements have their starting point from the hug (closed position).

Furthermore, the hug allows you to recenter your awareness and tune in the "now" moment while connecting with your partner's energy.

How to initiate a hug?

The "hug" starts in the way you invite/are invited to dance, the way both find a place on the dance floor, the way you connect visually before touching and, finally, it culminates in the physical manifestation of contact.

I'm just writing this down because, for me, if we think that the physical act of hugging your partner is the first thing we do when we start a dance, then we are missing the bigger picture. Of course individual mindset, fatigue or injuries, personal history between two partners, looks, higiene, reputation,... can also influence the whole energy that goes into a hug, but that will be another discussion.

I start by approaching my potential dance partner with respect and ask in a way that a "no" could also be a valid accepted answer. When being asked to dance, I appreciate greatly when the other person comes with the same mindset.

I would then try to understand where my partner is comfortable dancing and either follow him/her or propose a space.

After these very important stages, we have two partners who want to dance with one another and have an agreed physical space to perform the dance.

As I get ready to dance with someone I like to make myself available and show that I'm present by engaging in visual contact first, then create or accept a point of contact and make it grow gradually from there to the rest of the body.

As we literally embrace our partner, we are also embracing the vulnerability of a true human connection between both partners.

What makes a comfortable hug?

Basic technique says that a comfortable hug is one where both partners are in control of their own balance and they meet in a place where there is the amount and type of upper and lower body contact that both can agree upon without using too much pressure. A comfortable hug is also one that adapts to the heights and body shapes of both partners however different they may be.

More advanced technique can bring to the table the notions of body presence and active listening. We should strive for a balance (and it's a quite delicate one) on both dimensions.

In terms of body presence we can think that we shouldn't be neither floppy nor tense relating to arm weight and muscle engagement.

With regards to the active listening, we should try to reduce the response time while refraining from anticipating/predicting the movement.

However, a truly comfortable hug goes beyond basic and advanced body techniques.

This third layer for a comfortable hug relates to the mental and energetic sides.

Your mood, mental state and awareness, albeit invisible, go a long way to create a comfortable hug. Again, there would be too much to write down here and this would be a topic that stands on its own. It's one of the most complex topics and at the same time is one of the most important and impactful ones since it relates not only to dance, but to life itself and our attitude towards ourselves and others.

What to do if the hug fells uncomfortable?

I define several stages of action here that also depend on the discomfort type.

The first stage happens when you realise the discomfort. I immediately try to identify in my body where this is taking place, and then I perform the "check-up" to assess the root cause on my partner's body.

I will start proposing a position that would be slightly more comfortable for me and feel my partner's response. if it's accepted I might linger there for a while before making another proposal, otherwise I get back to stage one and perhaps try another type of proposal.

I'm gonna repeat these stages until both find a new definition of comfortable hug.

In the extreme and very rare case that I feel it's too painful or can lead to injury I will then use words to share the discomfort without necessarily stoping the dance.

When the discomfort is an energetic one, synchronising energies by either raising or lowering my levels to match my partner's. Then, either by using breathing if I want to lower the energy or engaging more the energetic center to bring it up, I would slowly make a proposal towards my comfort. Throughout this process that doesn't need to be linear, I listen to my partner's energy all the way paying special attention not to force my way nor cause other discomforts on both sides.

What to do to ensure a comfortable for your partner?

I must listen for the natural tendencies of the relaxed yet present body of my partner. Just like water, firstly I adapt to my partners comfortable body. I then feel if there's any discomfort in my own body. If I'm also comfortable then we reached the happy state together, otherwise I try to put my body in a different way without interfering with my partner's body and recheck.