Dance Spotlight – Jessica Lamdon

Jessica Lamdon is featured in this edition of Dance Spotlight!  Jessica lives in New York City and is best known as a Brazilian Zouk instructor, performer and choreographer.  She, along with her mentor and dance partner Ry’el Velandia, form a super talented duo that teach the principles of ZenZouk Movement.  She was nominated by Jenny Geska.  Jenny said, “Jessica is such an inspiration for all Zouk dancers, both male and female, and she shines so bright with every move she makes. She inspires fellow dancers to let loose and put their own twist on their dancing.  She has done so much work and research to learn her craft inside and out!” Check out some fun and interesting facts about Jessica including her dance career goals and how she got the nickname ‘Unicorn’!

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What (or who) originally inspired you to try Zouk?

I was studying abroad in France one summer to further my knowledge of French (I love languages!) and there was a massive group of Brazilians that were part of the program too. It was my first time meeting anyone from Brazil and really hearing Portuguese. I LOVED it. I made a lot of friends and we would meet around campus in this small town. I quickly became enchanted! One day in class they did a little presentation on their culture and showed us one of the dances that they did at home: Forro! I have a ballroom dance background and was amazed to see a couple dancing and improvising.

After this trip I was so over French and so INTO Forro! I spent lots of time looking up Forro videos and I stumbled upon a dancer that completely changed my life, Natasha Terenkhina. In the video she was dancing with Adilio Porto (another living legend) and I was absolutely mesmerized. I felt insanely impassioned, inspired and devastated at the same time.  I was under the impression that if you don’t dance Forro when you’re young that you’ll never get it. But my passion for Forro was really strong and I spent HOURS looking at videos of Natasha and Gilson Demasco, Kadu and Larissa, Braz and Romina, and Solange and Berg or any videos with these couples that were available. I FINALLY took my first class with Kim Rottier, one of the pioneers of Brazilian Zouk in NYC, and my second class with Ry’el Velandia – my now mentor and dance partner.

So, the short answer is the beautiful Brazilian friends I made dancing Forro in France lead me to that INCREDIBLE dance video of my idol Natasha Terenkhina, which lead me to take classes with the brilliant Ry’el. This lead to the incredible life changing path of Brazilian Zouk Lambada.

Who gave you get the nickname ‘Unicorn’ and why?

My mentor Ry’el gave me this nice nickname. Ry is an amazing teacher and is inspired by many things. At one point he was really into mythology! After teaching a class one day he looked at me and said, “You’re a unicorn!” And I was like “….hmm” because it was really sweet but I wasn’t sure if it fit! He explained that I have this sparkly, glitter personality (I love theater), but when I’m learning I get really serious and it’s like you can see the unicorn horn coming out of my third eye! I did more research on unicorns and found how special they are. It’s a really lovely thing to be called a unicorn. He started promoting me as ‘Unicorn’ and it slowly caught on.

Describe a moment in your dance life that made you feel proud.

Ah, this is so nice. You know, I feel so lucky to have many moments on this path that made me proud. I feel grateful, more than anything, but also proud. This dance has been very generous to me and I’m proud that I even went for it when I thought I couldn’t. Honestly, I’m proud that I’m now teaching online classes by myself. It’s an honor to be by Ry’el’s side and teaching classes with him. I would get SO nervous teaching classes alone. I still get nervous, but I’m so grateful for his encouragement and I’m proud of myself that I keep trying to grow even if it can feel a bit scary!

Zouk is steadily growing in popularity within the latin dance community, but it is still new to many in the US. What separates Zouk and makes it stand out from the other popular dances in the community (Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba, etc)?

I think Brazilian Zouk Lambada is a cousin in this family of incredible Latin Dances. It shares many figures, cultural roots, evolution, etc like all the other incredible dances. I think what stands out the most is that the range of what could be classified under Brazilian Zouk Lambada is very big. Whereas I think sometimes it’s easier to point out what looks like Salsa, or identify a Bachata song. Brazilian Zouk Lambada has a base, but it is continuously evolving. You can compare three videos of dancers in the Brazilian Zouk Lambada scene and be in awe because the music and style are COMPLETELY different. These dancers can switch partners and dance the same dance in a different way!

You and Ry’el are amazing performers. Some shows done by professionals at congresses feel like mundane routines, while yours feel like true performances. I’ve seen several of your shows and I think the combination of your choreography and the music make them special. You definitely bring a unique vibe to congresses. What is your methodology for putting together a performance piece?

Thank you for this lovely compliment. I can totally understand where you’re coming from – sometimes when we stop the party and have to sit and watch shows it can drain energy and make the expectations run high. So we want these performances to be at a certain level especially if we have to stop to watch them, right? I know what you mean because if I wasn’t performing I would feel the same. BUT being on the other end, I think performers really put their heart on the line to create a story, to put movement to music, and lastly try to do their BEST in front of an audience . It’s not easy (laughs)! So with that in mind, I now bow down to any performance because that shit is hard – especially for me! Creating choreography is SO challenging. Only within these last 2 years have I been creating my own choreography, but it took some encouragement.  Ry’el, on the other hand, is a creative genius. He gets inspired by the song and I am always down and trust his vision. He has the vision for where the piece is going and I follow and support him through it. I really like this way of collaborating because performance is where I feel the most comfortable!

You’re a veteran of the dance scene as an instructor, performer and competitor. What goals do you have for your dance career?

Again, thank you for this compliment, but I still feel like a baby! I would really love to grow more as a teacher and choreographer. I am extremely inspired by Ry’el and how he is as a professional. Especially as a teacher. His break downs amaze me to this day. This dance has changed my life, but he has changed my dance. I had strong limiting beliefs (that I’m still working on) but he really helped access my body and become the dancer that I am today. My goals are to keep growing and becoming more and more creative. I would also like  to continue refining and learning more about the history of this dance. So many incredible dancers made an impact and I hope to continue telling their stories and be a part of a greater evolution with an even more solid base. This dance is like a wonderland. I’m so grateful to be a part of it and I hope to be better, so I can do better for it!

What are your current favorite songs to dance to? Top two or three…

Damn, this one is tough because the music is SO GOOD. The top 3 that come to mind are:

Favorite dance video(s) you’d like to share?

This one is a fun one from Brazouka in 2020.

This one is from 2016 but holds a special place in my heart! It’s a wild song!

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