Kizomba is...

"An embrace means I don't feel threatened by you, I'm not afraid to be this close, I can relax, feel at home, feel protected and in the presence of someone who understands me. It is said that each time we embrace someone warmly, we gain an extra day of life."

A quote from Paul Coelho (one of my favorite authors) that describes for me what dancing kizomba is like.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Starting a Dance Community: Stage 2 - Spreading the Love

This stage is where the action happens and is my favorite stage because here is where the rubber meets the road and lots of things happen. This is the stage where you meet lots of people, coordinate events, and spread the word about something you love. [Just in case, here's the Overview and Stage One.]

STAGE 2: Spreading the Love 
  • Education: Workshops or Series Classes or Small Group Practise for learning
  • Dance opportunities outside of class 
  • Demonstrations: showing off the dance and music
  • A Blog, a Facebook Page, a Video Channel, a Podcast
In order to create and sustain community, people need a way to learn, to practise, to dance and socialize. In addition, there's still continuing outreach to demonstrate the dance and show off the music.

Not only for yourself but also for the people you're going to hook or have hooked for the dance. There are many ways to do this:
  • Find a local expert
  • Find a small group of people to learn with
  • Find resource online
  • Find other experts to talk to and learn from [fly them in OR fly to see them]
I did all of the above when I started Kizomba. In this day and age, I believe you can also work with people over Skype or a similar type of application that allows you to see and hear each other in real time.

After you educate yourself, there are 2 things to start shooting for:
1) Demonstrations the dance
2) Teaching the dance

They both go hand in hand because in order for the scene to grow, people have to know about the dance and someone has to offer to teach it.

Finding an expert and mentor is also highly recommended. Its hard to start something new and having that guidance and sounding board is important so you don't loose your drive, or get discouraged or get thrown off course.

It helps to know what your own scene supports as far as class: drop-ins before a dance? regular classes weekly? Progressive classes? All of the above?

In Seattle for example, its the norm for dance studios to have a series of weekly classes anywhere from 4-6 weeks. Weekend workshops and congresses are other ways to teach. Drop-in lessons are also offered before dances. For Kizomba, we started  with weekend workshops and then once demand picked up, offered weekly classes and then developed a series progression (ex: Level 1, 2, 3) to keep students moving through the content. I also brought in more experienced instructors from out of town to teach and designed different kinds of classes (musicality, role switching (leads learn to follow and follows learn to lead), dance camps, dance exchanges, etc) to keep people interested.

Here are options for classes:

  • Weekly, right before a dance/social/practica
  • Weekly in groups of 4 or 5 for series
  • Bootcamp over one day (2-3 hours)
  • Bootcamp over several days (weekend or more)
  • Monthly workshops
Whatever it is you do, it has to be done with some level of consistency and regularity.


To get people excited about something, you have to show it off: both the dance and the music. Think of it as running a campaign to educate people AND invite them to learn the dance. Use existing dance channels to start demonstrations and then get creative with other ways to increase awareness of the dance.

Here in Seattle, we demonstrated at salsa dances, fusion dances, bachata dances and clubs that hosted salsa dances. We did this in conjunction with a class that was about to happen so that if there were people interested, we could follow-up and let them know how they could learn the dance.

I was also lucky enough to get cooperation from other DJ's to play occasional kizomba music.

I also organized a flash mob to get people excited about it and have something out in the general public.

Once you built up the excitement and have students, they need a place to dance outside of class. The frequency of the social/dance party will depend on how many people will come. All I gotta say is PATIENCE. It takes time for a dance to grow and become something that people go to regularly so don't expect immediate success and celebrate every time you have a chance to dance. Also, be consistent about time and location: regularity and consistency will be key to having the event become more established and more popular.

You can start dances anywhere:
  • At someone's home
  • At a club/restaurant
  • At a dance studio
  • Any rental space that has open space and allows amplified music to be played.
We do all of the above in Seattle. The weekly dances are at a dance studio because these are the venues that dancers go to dance. In other cities, opportunities to dance are in clubs/bars/restaurants. You need to know where dancers go to dance and decide what works best where you are.

It might also be easier to partner with an established dance in the beginning, just to get the word out and then establish an independent dance venue as soon as you can.

Some community members are generous enough to host dances at their homes impromptu and / or organize pop-up events at parks and other places that are fun to dance in. 

Recommended frequency for the dance always depends on the number of people that are coming out to dance. Here is the progression I recommend:
  • Once a month to start
  • Once a week once your numbers can support it
  • Multiple times a week once the numbers can support it
Remember to make it easy for people to remember when the dance is by picking a regular time every month / week.

Here's specifically how I got things started in Seattle:
  1. Monthly Dance at Century Ballroom: thanks to some people who took a chance and others who believed, there's a dance every 1st Friday of the month which is the oldest running Kizomba social in Seattle. We call is First Fly Friday and its a ton of fun and still one of the best parties I have the pleasure to attend. I am a little biased, but ask anyone here, I'm pretty proud of how this one has turned out.
  2. Weekly Practise: this one has morphed quite a bit since it started. I intended to provide another night to help students practise so it started with a very small group at a dance studio. It has since moved several times and changed hands with hosting and purpose. What started out as just practise became a place to welcome new people into the dance and community and its now a full blow social of its own where people bring food and beverage and enjoy the dance. This event started out with a small fee and is now a free event.
After these two things, other socials and parties got started. You can see a full list on the right side of the Kizomba Seattle blog page or on the pinned post on the facebook group page.  

I firmly believe that people place more value on things that they have to pay for. 

I also believe that dance should be accessible to everyone and understand that money can be a scarce resource for some people.

There's no good answer to everything so you have to gauge what will work where you are: for your audience and for you as the person who is likely the source for the capital for these events in the beginning.

Seattle has a mix healthy mix of events that you have to pay a cover to enter and events that are free. Other communities just have paid events. Its really what the market can bear and you don't have to have a hand in everything. In fact, you DON'T want that level of control or responsibility anyway.

Parties need music so don't forget this one. Luckily, when people get excited about music, there no shortage of playlists out there for you to use and share.

When we started here in Seattle, volunteers would just pull a playlist together to get things started. Then, as things started to grow, different people stepped up to become DJs and are not getting paid to play their music at dances and festivals (how cool is that?!)

Seattle now boasts about three or four homegrown DJs that continue to perfect their craft and even get hired outside Seattle.

Parties need GOOD music.

As your audience grows, information needs to be provided as well as a place for the community to communicate and share information. Luckily, this day and age is perfect for all kinds of sharing:

  • Blog
  • Facebook Page
  • Website
  • Meetup
  • Mailing List
  • Video Channel
  • Podcast
Kizomba Seattle has a facebook presence, this blog and a Meetup. Use your channel wisely depending on your audience. Facebook by far has the furthest reach here in Seattle along with the blog. 

While there's a lot of excitement and wonderful energy at this stage, a word of caution that there can also be not-so-fun things to deal. Make sure you remember to trust yourself: keep your purpose clear and have a good support group close by. Always be your genuine self. 

The FUN parts are soooo much fun because when you experience first times, the shared energy that this brings is so unique. I've been part of first times in other context and its definitely I'm grateful for.

I didn't set out to build a community by saying I was going to be a leader or a money maker or a famous artist. I simply wanted more people to dance with, teach people about the dance and make myself a better dancer. I also wanted to find a way to make a living out of doing all these things and found that this part of my "wish list" I still have to work on. I do caution that if you DO want to make this financially viable, you do need to think BIG and scale up to accommodate that goal.

NEXT UP: STAGE THREE - Continuity (Coming Soon!)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Starting a Dance Community: Stage 1 - Passion and Goals

This is where it starts: falling in love with a dance and wanting to do something about it.

STAGE 1: Passion and Goals
  • Love the dance 
  • Learn the dance
  • Talk as many people as you can: People who have started communities, teachers, promoters, other dancers, local businesses.
  • Envision what you would like to see in your community and your place in it.
  • Don't forget to create your own support
  • What's your Goal?
Often times these bullet points happen in conjunction with each other but I'm highlighting them because its important for you to really understand the extent to which you're willing to build something. Some people start small, some people go big, everyone's different. 

Me - I was somewhere in between. I started with a small group and then starting thinking bigger and bigger as I experienced more and more success. 

This one is obvious but really important because its about falling in love: which isn't dipping your toe in the waters or waiting to see what happens. Its "Truly, Madly, Deeply" falling in love.

Sure, you can start something even if you're not TOTALLY in love with the dance but you'll find that if you want to do anything sustainable, then you gotta just fall into it (or at least find someone who is who can work with you).

For myself, I dance a lot of different partner dances and when I encountered Kizomba, the music and the connection in the dance just took me. Every dance that I love has a connection that I enjoy but this dance just felt so natural and comforting. The quote that I posted on the top of this blog really does express how I feel about the dance. 

"An embrace means I don't feel threatened by you, I'm not afraid to be this close, I can relax, feel at home, feel protected and in the presence of someone who understands me. It is said that each time we embrace someone warmly, we gain an extra day of life."
-Paul Coelho

Love doesn't mean you're an expert. Love just means that this is something that you want to invest in  and have it be a part of your life. If you just want to enjoy it, then perhaps building a community isn't something you want to start doing just yet.

Love also implies commitment, patience and a leap of faith because things do take some time to unfold.

I have to stress this one because I've seen people try to start something before they really know about what it is they are trying to share. In some cases this is easy, in some cases this can be a challenge. What I know about starting something and getting other people to follow you is that these two factors are really key to getting other people to join you:

1) Love it SOOOO much that its contagious, and 
2) Know enough about it to be able to grab people's attention

Learning the dance isn't just about the movement but also the music and the culture. You also don't have to be the expert unless you plan to teach it.

DO find the right teacher and find people that you can share the learning with if possible. I was very lucky to have access to someone locally who grew up with the dance and wanted to share her knowledge and had very similar dreams of spreading kizomba. I was also tied in to other dance communities and had good friends in those communities who I knew would also fall in love with the dance. In my case, I found a group of 8 people and for about a year, we met every week for 2+ hours to dance and share what we knew about the dance from youtube and other instructors we met on our travels. It was my Kizomba incubator and while all of these people are not as active as they used to be, they all became staunch supporters and advocates for the dance when I started to create a community around it.

Starting dance communities isn't an original idea because there are dance communities everywhere so why reinvent the wheel?

Dance is not something to keep to yourself because its something that you find joy in with someone else or by sharing it. It will come as no surprise that people who are active or have stature in their communities will be happy to share their stories with you. If not, no big deal, move on and talk to someone else. Don't limit yourself to the dance you specifically want to spread, talk to members of other dance communities and get their perspective on how their dance has grown.

Why talk to people? Well, unless you already have experience starting a dance community, then you need to build that experience somehow, or at least get more data on experiences of others and get fuel for your own ideas.

In this mode you are like an investigative reporter or a researcher. Start anywhere: talk to the dancers, talk to the teachers, talk to the DJ's, talk to the promoters, talk to the club and studio owners. As you start to talk to people, you'll hear their side of how things unfolded and you'll find out who the reliable sources are and who the ego-driven sources are and you'll be able to get what you need which is a sense for how other folks got things started and what to expect.

What's the goal for talking to people? 
  • To get information and help you figure out what it is you want to do. 
  • Understand the scene you're in because each scene is different.
  • Understand some of the challenges you might face in getting your dance adopted by others
Don't shortcut the step and keep your goals reasonable. I didn't start out by saying "I want to create a Kizomba Community here in Seattle." There are lots of tools to help you with setting goals and having a vision. They don't have to be grand, just something to start and keep asking: "What do I want?" and "Wouldn't it be awesome if.... " and "who do I want to be?"

I think its sometimes easier to give examples rather than to explain how so I'll share how I got started.

Within a few months of discovering Kizomba my goals were:
  • I want to have more people to dance with.
  • I want to get better at the dance.
  • I want to teach other people about the dance as a way to hook the into dancing.
Wanting to get better drove me to bring instructors to Seattle that I wanted to learn from and opening that up to the other people in the community that were hungry to learn. This also unexpectedly made me a promoter or event organizer as well as teacher. It also created opportunities for people to learn and come together to dance. 

I didn't really understand the part about being a leader in the community yet since things were so new. In fact, the larger vision become short team event related goals that I felt would be fun and help educate people and build a strong community. So in the interim my goals/ wishes evolved to:
  • Bring world class instructors in Seattle
  • Run a Seattle Kizomba Semba Camp
  • Start a Kizomba Seattle Exchange
  • Monthly Kizomba Dance to eventually have a Weekly Dance
  • Practica for students to practice, socialize and for new students to get to know each other and run by members of the community
  • Teacher Conference 
I didn't want to be the one responsible for doing all of these things and some of what I wished for was to have other members of the community get involved with these events. I looked for people who would also want to help and keep that spirit alive so that the community could sustain and feed itself.

In all the roles that I have, I have not been most vocal about being a community leader because I am very sensitive about acknowledging everyone's contributions and grew up with a culture that one does not announce one's own accomplishments. So, its important for me to recognize contributions and for others to do the same. I am very happy to have a community I can be a part of that shares the love of the dance, has a thirst for knowledge, embodies a sense of family and mutual respect and  welcomes new people. I am very happy to have been instrumental in helping others get their start in their own journey to share Kizomba. 

If you are starting a community, then your way of operating and your personal values will inevitably bleed into the community that you create and how you operate. Don't try to set too many rules and let you actions set an example instead. A friend and mentor once told me to remember to remain true to who I am and what I want to represent and not get dragged into other people's realities and baggage. Another mentor also said to make sure to understand the value that I bring and the role that I play in the interactions I have with the different people I come in contact with. This is helps you to focus on your role and goals as you move forward and it will also attract to you, people who have similar values. 

On your path to building community, you will no doubt encounter people of all kinds. Some who think just like you and some who don't. I've encountered some pretty crazy behavior when I least expected it and some hurt that has taken time to heal.

My point here is not to forget to take care of yourself. In any endeavor, you will need to have some help and a way to energize yourself that is not so tightly entwined with what you are trying to accomplish. So, don't forget to invest time to find keep close to you:
  • Like minded people
  • Mentors who are willing to work with you
  • Something that will help you to reset and balance yourself 
Back to the Overview
Next Stage: Spreading The Love - Coming soon!

Starting a Dance Community: Overview

I've had this conversation many times over with different people who have wanted to introduce Kizomba into their communities. I figured, why not share my story and step by step plan. I'm starting with and overview and will elaborate on each stage separately.

In this step by step plan, there is room for interpretation and adaptation. I do not say this to "hedge my bets" or sound wish-washy. Often when I read a step by step plan, I realize that there are things that might be missing or different for me because of my circumstances. My experience as a project manager has taught me this truth: changes in the plan are ALWAYS inevitable. Think about it, in a venture like this one as you are also learning and growing, how could there not be changes? What's important is having a plan that allows for the changes and adaptations. The plan should also point out unknowns and risks so that you can tackle them as you see fit. Part of the change that the goals you set will also change as results and events unfold. Make sure to check-in with yourself from time to time because its easy to forget who you are and what you want out of your venture into starting a dance community.

STAGE 1: Passion and Goals
  • Love the dance 
  • Learn the dance
  • Talk as many people as you can: People who have started communities, teachers, promoters, other dancers, local businesses.
  • Envision what you would like to see in your community and your place in it.
  • Don't forget to create your own support
  • What's your Goal?
STAGE 2: Spreading the Love
  • Classes for learning
  • A Place to Dance regularly 
  • Getting the dance and music out there: showing off what the dance is like and getting more people interested.
  • A Blog, a Facebook Page, a Video Channel, a Podcast ...
STAGE 3: Continuity
  • How to Sustain the Dance
  • What is Your Role
  • Stay in Touch and Check-in
SUPPORTS: Finances and Other Things

NEXT UP: STAGE ONE - Passion and Goals