There is something about the sway of your hips, the shimmy of sequins across your body, that energy rising up from the bottom of your feet to your fingertips as you move to the music; there is undeniably something about dance that captures you and makes you feel alive.

And while you may not know it (yet), there are those on the Sunshine Coast who have made it their mission to embrace the beauty of dance, the energy of Latin culture and bring a party to our shores.

Former international Samba Queen Sasha Mazzeu is one of these people. She opened Tropicalia Latin Dance Studio in April 2018. She wanted to introduce the Coast to a culture and a style of dance she grew up loving, and living.

“I have loved Brazilian culture and dance since I was a little girl,” Sasha says. “I have always loved to move my body to music like most kids do; I would dance around the house and that passion just grew the older I got.

“When I was an early teen, I got into Brazilian dance and something special happened to me. I was so moved by the music and the culture, I developed this insatiable thirst to know more,” she says. “Probably because even in my earliest experiences with dancing, I simply felt free. It’s like a meditation – you are in the present with yourself or dance partner and the music, and it’s pure joy if you let it be.”

Sasha travelled to Brazil for the first time at the age of 19 and the Sunshine Coast mother-of-two says she can’t count the number of times she has been back since. “It has become my second home,” she says. “And it was my travels and experiences over there that inspired me to create something magical here on the Coast. I want to share everything I have learnt about Brazil, Latin dance and the Latin culture too because it has so much to teach us about community and connection.”

Tropicalia Latin Dance Studio has grown into a community of its own. “Our studio is the kind of space that you can walk into alone, and come out with a whole heap of new friends and a full social calendar,” Sasha says.

“We hold over 35 classes a week including partner dancing, individually danced styles plus classes like yoga and strength and stretch to complement dance classes and support our community to stay as mobile and healthy as they can be, which is a huge component of why dance is so incredible and important.”

And in November 2020, Sasha saw another dream come true after opening the Tropicalia Brazilian cafe bar.

“In Brazil’s bigger cities, there are juice bars open 24/7 and after dance classes or a night out, you can stop by and get a fresh juice and a snack with your friends anytime,” Sasha says. “I really felt that this was missing here on the Sunshine Coast where everything closes so early! I don’t know where you could go to find a fresh juice at 7 or 8pm at night.

“So, our cafe bar really completed our studio and every Friday night we transform the carpark just outside the cafe into a big party where people can be exposed to Latin dance in a more casual setting, have some food and a drink and dance under the stars!

“Something our students learn quickly is that we love to party and it is an important side of Latin culture,” Sasha says. “Partying is the playground where all your hard work of learning new dances in class gets to be put into action and enjoyed! It is an essential part of a dancer’s life.

“People don’t realise it until that step out on the dance floor, but dance is a reflection of how you eat, [your] language and how you live. Dance is an art and a representation of life.”
Cuban-born Pilo Selguera and his UK-born wife Ilaria agree.

The couple teaches out of Tropicalia and is bringing a slice of the Caribbean to the Sunshine Coast with their PILOXERCISE and Carnival dance classes.

“Dance brings people together; it can change lives,” says Pilo. “Growing up in Cuba, dance is in my blood. I have always been surrounded by dance and music; my family is full of dancers and musicians, and growing up in Cuba is not easy. Often people struggle to feed their families, but one thing that keeps everyone strong and positive is the music, and dance.”

Pilo and Ilaria, who started in dance via the classical route before finding her home among Caribbean and Latin styles, decided they wanted to bring Afro-Caribbean music and dance to the world.
“Our goal is to promote fun and fitness, health and wellbeing, cultural awareness and community cohesion,” Ilaria says. “We want people to leave our classes confident and glowing, living their best life.”

The PILOXERCISE dance and fitness brand was born in 2016 and exploded in the community, winning multiple prizes before the pair opened their first studio in the UK.

“By 2018 we were offering online classes across the world and in February 2020 we decided to migrate to the Sunshine Coast,” Ilaria says. “We can’t believe how welcomed we were and how much of an incredible dance community there was here already.”

Pilo says that Carnival fitness, one of their most popular dance classes, is a celebration of colour, an explosion of energy, contagious rhythms and dance, celebrated all over the Caribbean. “Afro-Caribbean music and dance is relatively new to Australia with many people never even hearing Caribbean rhythms. But the power of the music, the energy and atmosphere are unreal, taking you over; it’s magic,” Pilo says.

“It is amazing how dance can make you feel so much happiness and freedom,” he adds. “No matter what is happening, dance allows me to switch off and enter an alternative world. Even when I am exhausted and can’t move, the music revives my body and I feel energised.

“That is what we want every person on this earth to feel.” |