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Get To Know: YiJie & Karen

YiJie & Karen are Zouk instructors at CWDS. They teach our day-to-day syllabus like levelled classes, various Zouk projects (such as their 4 Week 4 Genre series) and more recently, they’re embarking on their most ambitious project yet - The Carlos & Fernanda World Team Project. From their different personalities to different Zouk interests, YiJie and Karen have found common ground in working together and achieving success in their dance partnership. Get to know them in this intimate interview, where we will discuss their teaching philosophy, their dance backgrounds as well as their mission in putting Brazilian Zouk on the Singapore Street Latin Dance pedestal.

Q1: Introduce yourself and how will you describe yourself as a dance teacher? Outside of dancing, what do you do?

Yi Jie: I started Brazilian Zouk around the same time as CWDS started, 4 years ago. I know I want to learn that dance after looking at how graceful and “flowy” the dance is. I consider myself as a light-hearted instructor that tries to make difficult concepts as easy to understand as possible.

I’m a software engineer and I enjoy building stuff, so feel free to chat with me about it if you are also into it!

Karen: I’ve been performing and competing since I was 13 years old, starting from Figure Skating to Ballroom dancing and then Cheerleading, finally becoming a Brazilian Zouk Addict and have been involved in this dance for the last 7 years!

Outside of dance, I’m a fashion entrepreneur running a small local business designing and producing fashion apparels for petite ladies!

Q2: On a scale of 1-10, how similar are the both of you in terms of personality traits, dealing with each other in your dance partnership as well as how the differences have bridged your journey to embarking on your Zouk teaching journey?

Yi Jie: I would say 9/10. We joke a lot in trainings and when we were choreographing for the 4 Week 4 Genre series. I would say we would sit down and hear each other’s opinion and find a common ground when faced with differences. We want the best for our students so that is easy to achieve.

Karen: I would rate an 8.5 for our partnership. I don’t think we’ve ever argued, and we are able to complement each other’s teaching style pretty well. A 7 for similar personality traits. We are both goofy, and our training and classes are always filled with laughter! We are different because Yi Jie is the calm and logical person, so he balances out my crazy ideas.

Q3: What is your dance pedagogy & philosophy?

Yi Jie: I believe students learn new things better by doing it step by step. That is active learning and I strongly believe in it.

When planning for lessons, I do not teach exactly the same as I do 1 month ago. I tend to tweak it a little because I find that a certain concept can be taught in a different way, etc. It also gives me an opportunity to learn something new, for example, a different variation of that particular concept.

Karen: As a student, I approach each lesson with passion and a readiness to explore new moves and connect musically with my partner. I am a visual learner which translates in my teaching where I visualise the moves for my students with demonstrations and coming up with creative analogies. As a teacher, I strive to have my students experience the subtle beauty of connection and trusting of one’s partner. Learning fundamentals and technique may be very dry and stressful for some students, so a little bit of fun and humour in class helps to lighten the mood.

Q4: Were there any times when you faced issues when working together? How did you overcome them and what did you learn?

Yi Jie: When we were choreographing for the Zouk Mini Choreo Series, we often re-choreograph certain parts because it either does not fit the music, or it can be done better. It is not an easy task and we will find another day after taking a break to choreograph it again. We watched our favourite artists for inspiration when choreographing.

Karen: There were moments where we met with dancer blocks (like writer's block!) while choreographing. I tend to keep replaying the music while we continue to churn out different options for the choreography. Yi Jie and I are not afraid to throw out ideas all the time and we always listen to each other with an open mind. This helped us out a lot when deciding on the final choreography and even for planning our lessons. Also, we are both pretty forgetful so we help remind each other all the time!

Q5: What drives and motivates you to keep improving in this creative field?

Yi Jie: Improvement in my own dancing, and also from your favourite artists.

Karen: Competitions and performances motivate me. I love learning and creating choreographies, preparing for competitions and the adrenaline of dancing in front of an audience. The difficult yet elegant movements of Zouk intrigues me to nail every one of them.

Q6: Are there any tips for dancers who wish to take their Brazilian Zouk practices to the next level? How do you turn adversity into opportunity?

Yi Jie: I always tell my students that learning something new is difficult. That is perfectly fine. The more times you fail, the easier it gets when you try to teach or replicate someone’s mistakes.

Karen: I would say, dance as much as you can, with as many people as you can, and in as many cities as you can. (after social distancing measures are lifted!) Dancing with different partners amplifies what you lack in certain skills, and also confirms what you are good at. Once borders are opened again, traveling to dance exposes you to different styles which you can add to your dance vocabulary and also brings the opportunity to learn from teachers who may not be available to teach in your city. Q7: What has been the most rewarding event that has happened in your Zouk life?

Yi Jie: I would say Bruno and Raiza are the best when it comes to explaining concepts. I learned a lot from them when they are here in Singapore. I would say Alex and Mathilde are a close second when it comes to teaching.

Karen: My most memorable event was the 2014 ZoukEx hosted by Mazouka Dance in Toronto. They held a social dance competition which changed my mindset and the way I social dance completely! After which I learnt to make every dance a great time for my partner instead of just dancing for my own gratification. This improvement was the most rewarding along with winning the competition!

Q8: Looking forward, are there any exciting upcoming projects?

Yi Jie: International Zouk Day (IZD) Flashmob is also happening on the 18th October. I remember being exposed to Zouk due to IZD. Fun memories.

Carlos & Fernanda World Team Project Singapore is happening on the 22nd October! This is the first time I am leading a performance team, and I am really excited about it.

Karen: Definitely the Carlos & Fernanda World Team Project! I am looking forward to being involved in this project! Also the International Zouk Flashmob where I’ll be teaching as a leader for the first time!

Q9: Who do you love as Zouk teachers and artists? Why?

Yi Jie: I will consider Randy, Karen and Cheryl as amazing! They are after all, in the JnJ Intermediate category, and it's enjoyable to see them dance. I also like the way many of the artists dance but I think what is truly outstanding is the way they teach. I prefer Bruno & Raiza because they make difficult concepts simple. I love Alex & Mathilde too when it comes to the clarity in their explanation.

Karen: Ry’el & Jessica is my number 1! I found Zouk when I attended Ry’el’s Latin jazz class when I lived in New York City. And Jessica is one of my closest friends and idols in the Zouk community. I love their ZenZouk philosophy and dance style! Aline Cleto is another amazing dancer who helped me out so so much when I was training in Brazil. She is so technically perfect and her energy and passion are limitless despite her tiny frame! The Ramalhos are a unique dance family who exuberates warmth and are well versed in traditional Zouk. Social dancing with all 3 of them is just mind blowing!

Q10: Is there a dichotomy between being a Zouk student and Zouk teacher?

Yi Jie: As an instructor, I am always learning every day. I learn, relearn, and build on top of what I know. Planning for a lesson on a certain topic, will give me more opportunity to explore different possibilities or variations of the same or similar concepts. I would say no.

Karen: No. I am learning every time I teach. From my mistakes, from my partner, from my students, from feedback and questions. To teach, you have to learn. Teaching is applying what you have learnt and transferring the knowledge to new and curious minds. When I teach, I’m improving my dancing as well, so it comes in a full circle.

Interviewed by Cheryl.

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