NORTH MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Kendra Haynes stretches so far back that her long blonde hair touches the floor.
It is a Monday night in Miami and the hour is approaching midnight. At the C Lounge and Cigar Bar, Haynes and a small crowd dance Brazilian zouk, a partner dance with the closeness of tango, sensuality of bachata and quick turns reminiscent of salsa.
Haynes' partner dips her nearly all the way to the floor and up again. Then he spins her in circles and she rolls her neck around, hair following like a whip.
"It's really hard not to fall in love with zouk once you see it," Haynes said.
Zouk dance and music — born in the French Caribbean, adopted in Brazil and spread throughout Latin America and Europe — is now taking root in the United States.
Brazilian zouk classes and dance scenes can be found in cities stretching from Seattle to New York, and festivals featuring parties and top dancers are being held in Miami and Washington. A second annual zouk congress starting Thursday in Los Angeles is expected to draw hundreds.
"It's already huge in Europe, it's very big in Australia, all of South America," said Haynes, one of the first to give zouk classes in Miami. "The U.S. is just a little bit behind."
Zouk music began in the West Indies in the early 1980s. The band Kassav is widely credited with creating the first popular zouk songs. The group was formed in Paris and combined traditional Caribbean rhythms like gwo ka beats from Guadalupe, Haitian compas and Trinidadian calypso with synthesizers and drum machines.
The word "zouk" is Antillean French Creole and means "party." The music quickly spread throughout the Caribbean and could also be heard on radios in northern Brazil. There, another music craze was taking place: Lambada and what would become known as the "forbidden dance" for its close, sensuous twirls and hip movements. By the early 1990s, however, lambada music had begun to fade. Adapting what they heard on the radio, Brazilians began dancing lambada-style moves to the slower-paced zouk music trickling in from their neighbors to the north.