Flying and Sofia is a Shanghai-based dance studio, offering international, instructor-led classes in everything from Brazilian zouk and kizomba to salsa, bachata, urban hip hop and jazz funk.
As choreographed dance studio classes become more and more common all over China – whether for exercise or for Douyin fodder – Brazilian Fly and his Russian wife Sofia are on the cutting edge here in Shanghai. , with one of the fastest growing studios offering the widest selection of dance style options, appealing to both expats and Chinese alike.
We sat down with them to learn more about how they got started and what they see as the dance scene in China.
What is the difference between salsa, bachata, zouk and kizomba?
Flight and Sofia: Salsa is an energetic form of social dance that originated in New York City, heavily influenced by Latin America, particularly Cuba and Puerto Rico. The movements have their origins in the Cuban cha-cha and mambo, but have evolved over time and in different places to incorporate elements of swing and Afro-Cuban, among others.
Bachata is simpler and more sultry, with roots from both the Dominican Republic and Spain. Romantic moves showcase a passionate dance form that is typically conducted with partners using a four-step pattern.
Literally meaning “party” in Creole, zouk is both a style of Latin music and dance, originating in the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. The slow-fast-fast pace paired with the loud beats makes it especially popular in Brazil.
Kizomba dates back to the late 1970s in Africa, with the strongest influence attributed to Angola. This dance form is slower, romantic and sultry, with most of the kizomba songs sung in Portuguese.
How did you come to dance?
Sofia: I started Latin ballroom dancing at the age of five and continued even after moving to China in 2010 to study Chinese. In 2012, I moved to Shanghai as a member of a band, where I sang, danced and performed.
However, I didn’t start dancing socially until 2017, when I met my husband Fly after he invited me countless times to a bachata class with him, and I finally agreed. We had actually known each other for years in touring dance circles in China before that time.
Steal: I didn’t dance until I was 17, when I started with the ax, a Brazilian dance style similar to zouk. I first came to China in 2004 to take part in a nationwide tour of 160 cities in six months. I came back for the same kind of tour in 2006, and in 2009 I moved permanently to start a business bringing Brazilian dance artists to China for a tour.
When did you create Fly & Sofia Studio?
Steal: I started my company, then known as Top Talent Future Entertainment, in 2015, as well as a dance studio in my apartment. Later in 2017, when Sofia and I started dating, we moved the studio to a bigger location so that we could teach even more classes. Now we are in the process of expanding again so that we can offer two courses simultaneously.
What is your favorite dance form?
Steal: brazilian zouk
Sofia: Brazilian zouk too! It was my first performance with Fly, and it changed my life. Together, we have traveled to nearly 200 cities across China to produce.
What is the difference between your dance studio and any other studio in Shanghai?
Steal: Now there are 11 teachers in our studio, who teach everything from funk and heels to modern jazz, afro, contemporary, vogue and house. While most of the teachers are Brazilian, our biggest difference is that all of our teachers are international.
Each teacher has their own style, and they connect with their students in their own way. Many of our teachers also speak Chinese, among other languages, so they can help break down movements into a common language.
Sofia: Also, we don’t want to just teach people about choreography and movement; we focus on how to follow, lead and dance with a partner and have fun while doing it.
Most people come to dance class tired or stressed after work, but they leave energized and motivated. You can feel the energy change in the room as people leave the worries of the day at the door and just connect with the other students, the instructor, and the dance.
What do you say to people who think they can’t dance?
Sofia: Sometimes people are slow and have trouble remembering the steps. On the other hand, some people learn very quickly, but they also quickly forget. We work with people of all skill levels, breaking them down in a way that works for them.
We use the same dance style every week so that students can track their progress, and we send videos of class dances to a WeChat group so that students can practice at home as well. With practice, anyone can dance.
Attract more international students or chinese students?
Steal: Before COVID, it was decidedly more international, but afterwards, it’s more Chinese than before, but still probably 60/40. Foreign teachers teach differently from Chinese, so many Chinese dance students are drawn to the styles of international teachers.
How do you see the dance scene in Shanghai and China evolving in the future?
Sofia: The dance scene has changed so much over the past 10 years and will continue to change. In Shanghai there are so many more studios than before and more and more people want to dance and are ready to accept new forms of dance.
Before, people were more shy, especially with dances that heavily involve touching and moving with a partner, like zouk or kizomba, which require a lot of physical connection. But now the connection aspect is becoming more mainstream and students are actually enjoying it, welcoming the change of pace and style.
Shanghai sensual festival
In addition to running a successful dance studio, Fly & Sofia are also the organizers of one of the biggest dance festivals in China, the Shanghai Sensual Fest. The first edition took place in 2019, where they brought together more than 30 international artists from abroad and presented more than 350 people dancing and assisting 24 hours a day for three and a half days, with dance workshops, performances and parties 24 hours a day.
The second edition of the festival will take place from November 26 to 28 at the Rayfont hotel in Zhaojiabang Lu. There are already 43 confirmed local artists performing (a mix of expats living in China and Chinese artists), all coming support and show their love for the dancing community. It is the only festival of its kind in China; for more information and to register, scan the QR code.
To learn more about Fly & Sofia Studio and to register for a course, you can also scan the QR above.
See a listing for Fly & Sofia dance studio.
[All images provided by Fly & Sofia]
Do you have a gym, dance or fitness room that you would like to promote? Contact Christy by email at christycai @ t
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