Kizomba was first described to me as an African Tango with the feel of blues and bachata. I understand why this description was made - most of the people that introduced the dance to me know those dances and in that context, I can see why the description is accurate. This comparison between tango and kizomba is inevitable as both dances are danced in such close embrace. Tango as a dance has been around much longer than kizomba. Experts on each side passionately declare with certainty "this is Kizomba" or "this is Tango". However, when the question is asked, "Why is this tango and not kizomba?", aside from the obvious differences in the music and the dances' origins, the answers are not enough for me to understand the difference. Simply watching videos is not enough to explain it. I need someone to be able to concretely say: “there, that move, that’s not in the spirit of kizomba because….”.
Though I have never thought the two dances the same, articulating the differences is difficult because the response always came down to "the feel is totally different'. That statement is simply not enough for me. When you listen to tango and kizomba music, the difference is as clear as day. Since the dance is an expression of the music, it stands to reason that the movement will differ as well. This post is my attempt at articulating the differences in the movements of these two dances. Often times the same words will be used by teachers in both dances but the execution and interpretation are not the same.
When I learn a dance, I need information to feed both my analytic and visceral minds. I can follow by seeing but that is not enough. I can also mimic through feeling. I need both these aspects to learn the movement. I need to also be able to articulate how the movement is done: what drives it as well as the spirit or intention behind the movement. This is ability to differentiate is important for me as a dancer because I know how easy it is to misinterpret movement just by looking. To someone that’s learning, a hip circle and a knee circle might actually look the same but its not. When you ask a classroom full of people to "take a step", the end result is not uniform. This post my attempt to articulate my observations of the similarities and differences between Kizomba and Tango.
Both these dances are danced in close embrace. In Tango, there are varying degrees of closeness. In Kizomba, the embrace is like a hug (you know what I mean if you've danced it). There are varying degrees of closeness in kizomba as well but the kizomba embrace is more intimate because it conveys the comfort of a hug. The tango embrace feels more formal, as if you were embracing an acquaintance, not a dear friend.
Both dances are characterized as walking dances and require a closeness in connection so that when one watches the partners dance, it is as if lead and follow are moving as one.
Both dances require grounding, balance and flow in the movement through the music. Each partner in the dance, Kizomba or tango, has to be responsible for their part in the dance. [This set of similarities if often used to describe good partner dancing: balance and grounded movement are key components for any dance.]
Both dances have steps that have the following tempos: slow (more than 2 beats), quick (taking 1 beat), syncopation or shuffle or cha-cha (taking 1/2 a beat).
Both dances are fluid and when the connection is not present, there is a resistance in the movement, as if I were dragging or fighting instead of going with the flow.
Here's an obvious one: Tango has a line of dance and kizomba does not.
In Tango, one's steps propel forward with purpose, gliding across the floor. The movement is driven from the body's center - that midsection between the chest and the hips. Tango walks travel down the line of dance and most of the time, the follow is walking backwards.
In kizomba, one's steps undulate from the floor. The feet never leave the floor and movement from the ground travels up through the legs and the body in a wave. Its like walking through sand. The walk is meandering, as if in slow motion, not having to travel a line. The moves tend to be circular instead of back and forth in a linear fashion.
CROSS VERSUS PARALLEL SYSTEMS
This is tango terminology. In the context of walking, parallel system (or I think of this as mirroring) means that the leads feet when stepping, mirror the follows feet. When the lead takes a step forward with their left, the follow is stepping back with their right. In contrast, the cross (or I think of it this as stepping with the same foot) system means that when the lead takes a step with their left foot, the follow is also stepping with their left foot.
This distinction of systems of walking is not made in kizomba. In kizomba, leads and follows will be facing each other and their walk is mirrored, which when using tango terms, would correspond to the parallel system. As far as I know, there is no such thing as a cross system (in the tango context) when dancing kizomba.
Can the follow and lead step on the same foot in kizomba? Yes, but this starts to happen in the more "advanced" movements where people that have already mastered the foundations start to "break the rules". Except for leads that apply their tango expertise to kizomba, the cross system in kizomba is more of a playful accent and is not really used when travelling or walking together.
When pausing in tango, there is a pronounced stillness that is accented by what I would call foot play with the floor or your partner's leg. I see the leads and follows drawing small circles with their feet on the floor. I see tapping with the top of the foot or heel.
In kizomba, there is really no moment of stillness. Instead, what happens is that the undulation from the floor slows down or the undulation translates to the body in waves and circles.
Kizomba also has a pause that is punctuated by the foot pressing down on the ground without transferring weight or traveling.
The tango embrace feels more formal than the kizomba embrace. There is more body contact in the kizomba embrace than there is in a tango embrace. The connection between partners is probably one of the closest connections in the world of social partner dancing. The close embrace in kizomba has more physical touch point between partners. There is chest contact and leg contact as dancers walk: the inside of the follow's left leg has contact with the outside of the lead's right leg and vice versa.
TANGO IN KIZOMBA:
There are no gancho/boleo/volcado moves in kizomba. These are all things that dancers with tango influence have added to kizomba.
Tango is more upright while kizomba is wavy and has a pulse that can be felt through the body like a wave from the floor. There is very little hip movement during the walk in tango where as in kizomba, there is a backward roll of the hips. Ladies can also provide additional accents to the dance by using their hips to move in circles or small square.
Kizomba, compared to tango, allows for more body movement which in turn 'softens' the dance.
In Tango, as one steps, their posture is "zipped up" from the navel up through the chest and one's foot "digs in" to the ground and then twist up around the spine and/or propels forward. The movements are smooth but have more edginess to them. The twisting of the torso also provides the energy to move and disassociate the upper body to keep that chest to chest connection with your partner during the dance. In kizomba, this twist around the spine does not usually happen.
As one takes a step in kizomba, the feet do not leave the floor and the knees bend, as if sinking into sand. As the weight changes from one leg to the other, there is continual movement through the leg as the knees bend and straighten (never locking) to move.
Step patterns in kizomba are very similar to the step patterns in milonga: the differences are in how the steps are made and the similarity is in the rhythm and the cadence of the steps.
When I dance tango, it feels like gliding on ice, with the feet "caressing the floor". There is a gathering of energy and then push and slide to get from one point to the next. There is also the occasional twist and pivot , that creates an illusion of stillness this effect of stillness followed by a burst of energy - much like when you tighten the coils in a spring and then release to twirl. The dance is precise but allows for moments of stillness and playfulness as the music runs its course.
When I dance kizomba, I feel like I'm in one long hug, walking in gooo, trying to pick up my feet but being unable to do so. The music has a pulse like a heartbeat and in that relaxed and secure embrace, I move with my partner. Our movements fill up even the spaces between the pulse in the song and we are in no particular hurry to get anywhere, just chilling out and enjoying the music together. Kizomba at its best, is a dance where I can relax into my partners embrace, feel the music through his lead and simply dance.