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.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How Body Aware are You? Balance [Your Own]

I started a series on body awareness and how important it is for Kizomba (and any dance really). I started with good posture as one of the keys to body awareness. Balance is another.

There are many aspects to balance: balance in stillness, balance in motion, your own balance and the balance of the person you are dancing with. I'll address balance in stillness and motion on your own in this post and talk about balance while dancing with another in the next installment.

Balance in Stillness
Posture has a direct impact on any aspect of balance but its most apparent in stillness. What is interesting to note is that you do not need to have good posture to have good balance. Our bodies have this wonderful ability to adapt and so sometimes, we've adapted our balance to non-optimal posture. Because of this, it can be challenging to readjust to having better alignment when you have become accustomed to bad posture. What I have observed is that as you exercise different types of movement, you then start to uncover what needs to be corrected in your posture and what is needed to maintain balance.

To correct, improve or maintain posture, I highly recommend movements that are slow and deliberate, that allow you to focus on balance in stillness. Movements from Tai Chi and yoga where you have to hold poses for long period are examples of disciplines that will help you to focus on your awareness of balance while keeping good posture and alignment. You might find some movement to be painful and difficult at first - that's likely caused by your body having grown accustomed to one configuration and having to re-adapt to another.

For example: I have an old injury on my right shoulder that I am still recovering from. It has made my right shoulder rotate forward so exercises where I have to roll my shoulder back cause some strain because I have to retrain the muscles around my shoulder to hold it in the right place.

For Kizomba it is important for you to know how you can control and affect your balance. Slow movements allow you to strengthen your control of balance which will allow you more control as you start to move.

Here are some questions that might help you discover how good your balance is: Can you balance when there is a twist in your frame? Can you balance on one foot with your weight on the front half of the foot? while one foot is lifted off the ground? Is it easier to balance with your leg straight? relaxed? bent knee?

An exercise that I recommend to my students is borrowed from Tango:
1) Stand with feet hip width apart head up, shoulders rolled back, head over hips over feet. Start rocking back and forth on your feet, shifting weight from toe to heel until you settle on the front half of you foot. This should be base position.
2) Shift weight to one foot and balance. Test your balance by lifting the other foot.
3) Take a step forward with the free foot and gradually balance onto that foot. Take your time and collect feet before taking the next step.
Keep going for a full song if you can or for however long you wish.
Don't forget to do the same going backwards.

Balance in Motion
As I mentioned above, movement can test how good your balance is.

A simple example of this is the person that has learned to balance with their weight on their heels. When this person starts to move backwards while dancing with another he/she will likely find themselves having difficulty. For the lead, it may manifest itself as feeling like they are not as connected with their follows or that they have to support their follow's weight because the follow is leaning on them. Another common occurrence will be that they loose their timing as they walk backwards because it is difficult to maintain your balance with the heel as you walk. There will likely be a tendency to speed up and difficulty stepping in a smooth and even cadence. For the follow it might feel like forward steps make you lurch and wobble.

Walking with the balance over the mid to front half of the foot gives you more control over your balance in motion and more mobility in general.

I've also observed that there are small things that are telling about how well you can control your balance in various movements and poses. You have to develop awareness of balance when you are in motion and when your body is in different positions. Until you exercise a full range of motion, its hard to know what your balance is like and that's another reason I recommend cross-training: it builds awareness for what your body can do as far as range of motion and what it takes to be balanced with every step you take.

Here are things that affect your balance in motion:

1) Are you stepping big steps, small steps or just the right sized steps? The size of your steps will affect how smooth you dance and how much balance and control you maintain while you move. If you take too big a step for example, the movement of standing on to the foot to balance after stepping can cause you to wobble because there is simply too much momentum to control with your legs and core as you step. If you steps are too small, you may end up stumbling and tripping over yourself. There is a range in the size of steps you can take and still maintain your balance and keep your movements smooth. Evenly spaced steps will ensure a smoother more controlled walk.

You will also find that if you walk sideways or in a grape vine, your balance changes too.

Its hard to see yourself walking so it is helpful to video tape and check you stride as you walk in different directions.

2) Are your toes and hips facing in the same direction the direction of your intended movement?
Some of this will not apply when you do tricks or change the orientation between you and your partner in base position (like when you end up perpendicular to each other). For the most part tho, making sure that as you step, your hips and torso are aligned with your feet will make it much easier to lead and follow. It prevents you from getting twisted in a way that will prevent and restrict your movement.

3) What helps you maintain your balance?
Certainly there are obvious things like a strong core, strong leg muscles that help you maintain your balance. What I'm referring to with this question tho is more about the things you can actively use to help you while you're moving.

Case in point: locking your knees will immediately make you feel like you're about to topple unless you engage your core. If you bend your knees slightly and really use your feet to feel the floor underneath, you become less wobbly.

Having you toes "grip the floor" is another mechanism to help maintain balance if you feel as if you're about to loose your balance.

Using your arms and body in counter motion is another way to help with balance while you move. Obviously in a closed embrace you can't really control this as a follow but small things for the lead like where along the back the right arm is placed and where the left arm is relative to you and your dance partner will have small effects on balance.

In general you don't want your limbs too far away from you center as you move. If you do, then there is additional tension and work you need to apply to continue movements in balance.

CONCLUSION:
Building an awareness of your balance while you move and when you're standing still will help you become a better dancer. This is true in any dance and in Kizomba it becomes important because you will be moving in close connection with your dance partner so maintaining responsibility for your own balance while moving together is essential.

Next I talk about ways you become aware of your partner's balance as you dance. Leads need to be able to know what their movements translate to when communicating with their follow so that the follow stays balanced and comfortable. Follows need to be able to read signals that tell them where to step, how big a step and when.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

How to Recognize Tarraxinha, Kizomba and Semba Music

NOTE:  I am not native to the cultures that gave us these musical genres and dance styles but I love the dance and how it enables me to connect to the music and my partner a lot faster than any of the other dances that I know. This article is designed to help those that are starting out, providing the key differences that have helped me identify the music with some examples. Music evolves, just like dance and so tracing its origins and evolution can be very convoluted and be a lifetime study all on its own.  This is just the tip of the iceberg: there is so much to know about this music and the cultures they come from that the discovery of this is a journey in itself. 

As a dancer, you cannot ignore the music because it is the lifeline of  your dance. SO, even if you don't know what music is playing and you don't care to know, if you really listen to it, it will tell you how to move.  Updated this article again on June 17, 2016. 


A BRIEF SWEEPING HISTORY
Kizomba is a dance that comes from Angola and is danced to Kizomba music. The music is essentially a marriage of Zouk (from the Caribbean) and Semba (native to Angola). The "marriage" of Zouk and African music was not just limited to Angola as Kizomba became popular in Cape Verde, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau.

What most consider Kizomba can often be confused with Tarraxinha and GhettoZouk. Here in the US, it is likely that the first Kizomba song you heard will be a GhettoZouk. GhettoZouk songs have a strong R&B influence compared to the Kizomba songs that retain more of their African roots.  Another sub-genre is Tarraxinha which typically has a heavy electronic base.

As the dance and music gain popularity, the fusion of music styles also occurs and it can be difficult to identify exactly what style of music is being played. Many songs will have elements from multiple genres.

With this article I focus on how you can identify Tarraxinha, Kizomba, and Semba. I've also added another section to explain the music that Urban Kiz dancers would be drawn to.

In the beginning, most people described these genres by the speed of the music. As you will see from the descriptions, the speed of the music is NOT an indication of the type of music. I do provide the music speed as a reference and example to show the overlap between the different musical genres. What is more important AND what then translates to differences in movements for dancers is the characteristics in the sounds of the instruments and vocals within the music, the beats that drive the music and the feeling evoked but the music.

TARRAXINHA
This music is characterized by a very strong electronic sound and a heavy electronic bass. The music is produced entirely synthetically: drum machine, keyboards and vocals. The resulting music has a very heavy and pumping feel to it and is typically danced with more emphasis on isolated hip movements, undulation and steps that do not travel a lot. For some folks, this heavy base does drive movement but it is more punctuated and less melodic. Tarraxinha music ranges from 80 - 100 bpms (beats per minute).

This is also a dance where the ladies express the music more through their hip movements. Oftentimes mistaken for grinding, the body movements are initiated with the lead's leg, hip or arm  (on the ladies lower back/hips) movements. Less is more and this dance is very much about the connection between the dancers: the energy is very much focused internally. From the outside, it might sometimes look like two people standing very still while the music is playing.

Examples of Music:
Tarraxinha set courtesy of DJ Adon on Soundcloud
Lukeny and Dj Callas - Isso Doi on Youtube

KIZOMBA
Is a blend of zouk and semba music. It is more melodic than tarraxinha. The dance is characterized by a smooth yet grounded walk in close embrace between lead and follow: torso's are touching with incidental contact between the legs when walking (if you've attended my classes, I refer to these touch points as the three magnets). The energy of the dance is also focused on the inside: between the lead and follow. The range of speed for kizomba music is 80 - 120 bpms. There is a wide range of music in this genre that can be confusing to the untrained ear because they may sound very different and evoke a different movement from the dancers.

Here is an example of the base beat that is characteristic of kizomba music.
Source: Kizombadance.com created by Kizomba Dance by Benjamin Nande and DJ Hugo Leite


Here are some of the sub-genres:

GHETTOZOUK songs are a blend of Zouk and R&B. Like Tarraxinha, it is often produced with electronic instrumentation but the vocals are more melodic. Many GhettoZouk songs will also have Tarraxinha elements within the song and sometimes sounds like tarraxinha.

Examples of Music:
Mika Mendes and Saaphy - Bonnie and Clyde
Nelson Freitas and C4 Pedo - Bo Tem Mel
Kaysha - Diamonds

KIZOMBA (also referred to sometimes as Old School Kizomba - which is a misnomer because music is still produced this way in present times) is also produced with live instrumentation: along with the singer, you will hear drums and other percussion along with guitar and horns.

Because this music contains many of the elements of the root dance, dancers often dance to this much like they dance Semba without the showiness or tricks that are more characteristic of semba dancing.

Examples of Music:
Tabanka Djaz - Silencio
Kyaku Kyadaff - Entre Sete Sete & Rosa
Eduardo Paim - A Minha Vizinha
Matias Damásio - Saudades de Nós Dois
Puto Portugues - Minha Passada

And, as is true of how musicians fuse their music with other sounds that they hear, this example is like a fusion of GhettoZouk and Kizomba: DJ Prata and Twenty Fingers - Podem Falar

INSTRUMENTAL KIZOMBA: There is also another style of music that has no vocals and is purely instrumental with a much more slow and languid feel. I'm not sure what to call this style but I refer to is as a Purely Instrumental Kizomba. Tied to this music is a style of dance call Urban Kiz (also referred to as French Kizomba).

Here are examples of that style of music:
Remix by DJ Ghost Face - Bamboo Flute Kizomba
Cinematic Orchestra - Arrival Of Kizomba by DJ C.C.Ron Symphonic

SEMBA
Semba is the root dance for Kizomba. The music style has an upbeat quality to it and does NOT contain the zouk beat. The syncopation (beats that are not on the base beat)  beats in a Semba rhythm will often give the music a feeling like you're about to gallop (as a friend said, its a giddy up feeling). On average, music speeds range from 90 to 150 bpms.

Semba music is produced with a variety of instruments: drums, reco reco, piano, horns, string along with vocals. The dance itself has an outward energy unlike Kizomba and Tarraxinha. In spirit, the movements and playfulness are much like merengue and casino where the lead can be seen as playing and "showing off" while the follow walks to the base beat strutting her stuff. The dance may have more separation between lead and follow (compared to kizomba and tarraxinha) and requires a firmer frame than kizomba.

Remember that this is a dance that is danced with family and friends and so the nature of the dance is very social (which is a lot like the spirit of casino dancing or even bachata in the Dominican). There is the social aspect of the dance and then the showy aspect of the dance with lots of tricks like drops, leans, and "checking out the shoes". When you watch dancers dancing semba you can see their energy because of its outward flow.

Examples of Music:
Carlos Burity - Tia Joaquina
Tropical Band - Vagabundo
Leo featuring Yuri De Cunha - E Bumbar
Yuri De Cunha - Kuma

OTHER MUSICAL INFLUENCES:
As I said this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other music styles from the Carribean (Kompa, Kassav) and Cape Verde (Coladera, Morna, Funana, Mazurka) that have influenced what we now know as kizomba.

REFERENCES and ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I believe in constantly learning and growing and in this particular area, I would never be able to write or teach if I didn't have some great teachers and fellow learners (aka geeks) to work with.

Here are some of the few links that I can share to help get you going if you want to know more about the general differences:

A highly entertaining introduction to Semba by Hernury Jamba Jamba (Angola/Czech Rep) and Liliana Barnó (Spain/Czech Republic) at the 2013 Sawa Sawa Kizomba Festival in Washington DC. [Thanks to Oscar BA for sharing.]

Another brief primer on the differences between Tarraxa, Kizomba and Semba by Joao Rocha and Giedre.

I've also found some great percussion snippets and semba rhythms from this facebook page: Yasmane Santos Percussion

For you dancers out there that are still confused by all the music and are unsure about how to dance to what you hear. This is my advice: just DANCE TO THE MUSIC. I tell my students all the time, pay attention to the music playing, it will tell you how to move.

I would also like to publicly say THANKS to these folks who have in some form or another influenced the content for this post and have helped me beef up my music knowledge
Eddy, Yair, Philippe, Eric, Guelas, Ana, and Petchu

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Falling into September - Update on Classes

So this post is a little late .. but better that than never!

In case you missed the updates on opportunities to learn:
  • Kizomba 1a and 2b are now in session at the Century Ballroom on Thursdays from 7:30 - 8:30 and then 8:30 - 9:30 with Jay and Frances. We'll be on week two of a five week series so its not too late to join the fun. 
  • Registration for Kizomba 1b, 2c, Choreography class AND Semba Foundations Bootcamp starting in October are now available on the Century Ballroom website. 
    • Semba Foundations Bootcamp is a 3 hours long session on 10/18/14
    • Choreography class is new and on Sundays start 10/19/14
    • Kizomba 1b and 2c are 5-week series on Thursdays 7:30 - 8:30 and 8:30 - 9:30 starting on 10/23 through 11/20

And don't forget your opportunities to dance:

  • Monday Weekly Practica
  • 4th Thursday at Century Ballroon in West Hall (9/25/14)
  • Last Saturday at Belltown Dance Studio (9/27/14)
Happy dancing!!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Kizomba and Semba Weekend with Vasco November 7-9, 2014

Vasco
Visiting Seattle for the first time, Vasco will be coming to share his energy and love for Kizomba and Semba from November 7 - 9, 2014.

We will be kicking off the weekend with First Friday Kizomba at West Hall in the Century Ballroom. Join us for two days of workshops and three nights of dancing! Let's welcome and get to know this wonderful dancer and instructor from Paris.

WEEKEND SCHEDULE

FRIDAY NOVEMBER 7

First Friday Kizomba at West Hall in the Century Ballroom
9:00 pm - 10:00 pm Beginner Drop in with Frances
10:00 pm - 1:00 am Dance with DJ Mary Lyons Cover $13 Drop in (dance included); $8 Dance Only



SATURDAY NOVEMBER 8
Workshops in West Hall
12:30 pm  - 1:00 pm Registration
1:00 pm - 2:30 pm Kizomba - Get to know Vasco's style of Kizomba
2:30 pm - 2:45 pm Break
2:45 pm - 4:15 pm Semba - Learn a fun Semba pattern that uses Semba Foundations
4:15 pm - 5:00 pm Wrap-up (Practice, pictures, etc.)

11:00 pm - 1:30 am Late Night Kizomba Dance at West Hall in the Century Ballroom. Cover $7

SUNDAY NOVEMBER 9
Workshops in West Hall
12:30 pm  - 12:45 pm Registration
12:45 pm - 2:00 pm Kizomba Part 2 - Continue with more Kizomba patterns
2:00 pm - 2:15 pm Break
2:15 pm - 3:45 pm Semba Part 2 - More Semba pattern and tricks
3:45 pm - 4:00 pm Wrap-up (Practice, pictures, etc.)

Update as of 10-28-14: There will not be a dance on Sunday evening. Watch out for possible potluck somewhere.

ONLINE REGISTRATION  CLOSED
There is still room for more people.
You can pay with credit card or cash at the door:

Full Weekend $90 cash / $93 with credit card
Saturday Only $50 cash / $52 with credit card
Sunday Only $50 cash / $52 with credit card
One Class $25 cash / $27 with credit card

PRIVATES
Vasco is available for privates. His rate is $110 an hour for one person and $160 an hour for a couple. There is a separate for studio rental fee as needed ($5 - $10). Please email kizombaseattle@gmail.com for scheduling.


ABOUT VASCO:

Djks Vasco is a Kizomba/Semba dancer, instructor and deejay. He was also Africadançar’s Champion in France in 2011 and a finalist in 2012 at Lisbon’s Africadancar contest. Being of Guadeloupan origin, Vasco appreciate the music and dance of Kizomba and Semba and believes an excellent dancer carries sensuality, sweetness, precision, efficiency and especially sharing sensations.

Through his dancing and instruction, Vasco has traveled internationally to countries such as Switzerland, Belgium, France, England, USA, Canada, Portugal and Brazil.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Celebrations and Thanks and a Weekend with Petchu and Vanessa

Its August first AND a First Friday Kizomba Night. DJ Guelas will be in the house!!! What a great way to start August. Its summer in full force here in Seattle and the weekend starts with an awesome party. Then on Saturday August 2, I'll be teaching Kizomba at the Olympia Dance Convergence and on Sunday August 3, I'll be teaching a Semba Workshop with Tien-Ju Yu.

In the meantime, I wanted to share a recap of July.

July was the second month with a record number of event for our growing Kizomba community. Since June, we've had a burst of regular events that now allow options for dancing at least once a week. We've even had the rare occurrence of a choice between two events in one night (much thanks to the people that came to both events show their support).

The highlight for July tho was a visit from Petchu and Vanessa coupled with the 5 year celebration of Kizomba Seattle.

I met Mestre Petchu on my first trip out of Seattle in search of Kizomba teachers to help me learn more about the dance. I had already been learning and practicing the dance with a small group and was ready for more. Ana had gotten us off to a great start but I needed to find out more: to learn enough to be able to teach and share it so I could have more people to dance with. I also discovered that it was Mestre Petchu who also inspired Ana to spread her knowledge and love for kizomba. It is very appropriate then that the timing of his and Vanessa's visit coincided.

We have had the pleasure of hosting so many wonderful instructors here in Seattle and each one had enriched and enhanced our community in their own way. With Petchu and Vanessa we were able to share in their joy and love for the dance from its roots all the way up to the present.

I've danced African Tribal dances in the past but this time, experiencing it with and through Petchu and Vanessa, I am struck by the playfulness, sense of abandon and spirit embodied in the dance. Vanessa spoke and encouraged us to just dance for ourselves and I think that is sometimes lost in our interaction with our partners when it comes to social dancing. When I watched Vanessa and Petchu dance, I saw joy, I saw humility and thanks and I saw a celebration with all of us that were there to dance. Sure, some of us were tired and unsure in our movements but as the dancing went on, I could see people loosen up as well.

Mestre Petchu and Vanessa shared their surprise and gratitude at the spirit and sense of community they found here in Seattle. They were touched to tears. I know that in reality our busy lives have a way of taking over and it may be a while before Vanessa and Petchu come back to visit but I will share for sure that as a community we have definitely touched their hearts. Thanks again to everyone that came to share in the weekend.

On a personal note, I am touched by the thanks that was shown with the huge card that Neph and a few others orchestrated for me. Yes, some of you brought me to tears when I read what was written. I cannot say enough about the few people that showed their support for me in the early stages of growing kizomba in Seattle. Including Ana, Dennis and Jay, there are so many of you that have been there from the beginning. Alison and Hallie allowed us a home; a place to teach and a place to have a dance when our numbers were so small. I still remember when our First Friday socials had less than 20 people dancing and I was sooo happy to see every single person there. Thank you all again: I've been able to do all these things because the support from the early believers and because of everyone that now shares in the love for this dance and this community.

The weekend touched us all in different ways and I have the pleasure of being here to see some of its lasting effects. I'm looking forward to seeing what's in store. I know we'll have some growing pains (what family doesn't?) and I know that in the spirit of what this dance can bring out in us, we'll be able to work through them to keep the beauty and spirit of this community alive.

HUGS, Multo Obrigado, Champagne for all of you! Fixe? 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Etiquette On the Dance Floor

I've been remiss on a post lately so here is one. Please don't forget to check out the sections to the right for information about upcoming events, regular recurring events and classes. In the meantime, enjoy this post about etiquette and share your stories and questions.

People often ask me these questions and so I'm sharing some general rules of thumb and then some questions with answers that may help shed some light on etiquette. Some of the questions are specific to Kizomba and most are applicable to any social partner dance.

GENERAL RULES

Treat each other with respect and courtesy. 

We all dance for different reasons. When I'm social dancing, I dance to get joy from the music and expressing that with my dance partner. The other important reason I dance is because I get to meet and spend time with some great folks who enjoy dancing as much as I do. I do my best to treat everyone with respect and courtesy and apply common sense to dealing with potentially difficult (or uncomfortable) situations.

Own you choices and remember, one dance is only about 4-5 minutes long. 
We are all adults and we can choose how we respond to certain situations. There are times when you realize the choice you made wasn't the best one. That's cool. Just accept it and move on. A song is on average about 4 minutes long so don't sweat a bad dance: find a good friend to vent out all the negativity and consternation, find a rescue dance if that works for you and then refocus on what gives you joy in dancing.

Nothing personal. 
When they say its not about you, most of the time, when you're dealing with another person's actions, that is true. A wise friend once shared with me that a person's actions are a reflection of them and not you.

Assume nothing.
Your assumptions are yours; your interpretation of events based on your beliefs. Since partner dancing usually involves other people, its best to assume nothing about others. Just focus on enjoying the dance itself.

Now, the Q & A

WHAT DO I DO IF THE PERSON I'M DANCING WITH SMELLS KIND OF FUNKY?
Let's face it. This is a total buzz kill and its very hard to let someone know that they have body odor. As far as taking action, you have two choices: say something or say nothing.

I will say something to my friends. Its usually something like this: "Do you have another shirt or deodorant? You may want to freshen up." The few times I have had to tell a friend, I know that they appreciated that I did . I mean, if it were me, I'd like to know. I'd be mortified, but its better to know so I can try to do something about it. I always carry some sort of deodorant, cologne to freshen up and have offered it to people sometimes.

Most people I know will just bear it for one dance and then not dance again with the same person.

WHEN IS CLOSE TOO CLOSE?
Kizomba is an intimate and close dance but it is not 'that grindy dance'. If you connect correctly with your partner, there is torso and leg contact and absolutely no contact in the lower pelvic region.

In general, softer, flowier movement are much more enjoyable to harsh, bumpy and sharp movements.

Leads, it IS the follow's prerogative to decide how close is close, especially when dancing to those heavy bass beats of Tarraxinha. The key: LESS IS MORE and remember that its FOLLOW'S CHOICE on how much to enhance their body movement in response to your lead. You are suggesting a movement with your own or gently with your arms on the follow's hips or back. It is the follow's choice to respond according to how she feels about the music and the dance. If there is a follow whose movement is going overboard, then I would suggest a firmer hold on the hips, and take a deep breath and hope that she follows you on that breath to reset and listen. If that doesn't work, then you can create a little bit more distance by adjusting your hold and just remember, a song is at most 5 minutes long.

Follow's you have the choice to complete the move based on what's comfortable for you. You listen to your lead and complete the movement and when it comes to Tarraxinha, you decide how much you respond to what the lead is suggesting (keeping the music in mind). If at any point you feel uncomfortable, then try to just hold still and walk normally in pace with the music. If the lead still doesn't pick up on it, try to create some distance by changing your connection. Instead of draping your right arm around the lead's back or shoulder, using the palm of our hand on his chest, push away and create some distance.

No matter the situation, you should not dance with someone if you feel compromised or threatened. It can be difficult but if the non-verbal signals don't work, then let your partner know of your discomfort in a respectful way and if that still doesn't work, then politely decline to finish the dance.

DID I ASK OR YOU HELP OR INSTRUCTION?
Social dancing is not a class or practice or coaching session. I teach so I make it a policy that when I social dance, I am not instructing. The only exceptions I make to this are when my students ask for some tips or when there is a total beginner that just wants to get started. By default, I assume the the person I'm dancing with is there for the social dancing and so I don't volunteer anything about how they are dancing, unless they ask me. Just relax and enjoy the night!

Never assume that your dance partner wants to know what they are doing wrong (or right) unless they say so. Providing criticism in a social situation is usually a no-no, unless it is asked for.

CAN YOU TEACH ME TO DANCE?
I am always surprised at the number of people that ask me to dance and then say "you're an instructor right? Can you teach me now?" It works both ways for me. At a social dance, I'm not a teacher, I'm a dancer just like everyone else.

On occasion I will spend a few minutes helping someone get started. Most of the time that takes the form of back leading the walking and side basic. As a lead, its easier to try to lead a beginner follow. As a follow, its a bit more challenging to back lead a beginning lead but not impossible. When I do offer help, its not for a long period of time. I do my best to get someone started and then focus dancing and not instructing.

WHAT IF THEY SAY NO?
Everyone is entitled to whatever answer they wish to give you when you ask them for a dance. Assigning a judgement value on the rejection is simply a waste of your energy when the reason you're out dancing is to enjoy and have fun. Never assume anything about the rejection and if the person is impolite about it, you don't want to dance with them anyway.

Rejection is tough regardless of how confident you are. Just remember that the response people have to you is more about them then you and since you don't know what could possibly be going on with the other person, just let the negative reactions go.

I do have one small plug to make. A dance community can be welcoming or not. It is my belief that dance is universal and should be accessible to everyone. In that spirit, I personally say yes to at least dance one dance with anyone who asks. The only exception there is if the lead is visibly drunk or if I get the creepy, dangerous vibe (different from the "I'm not sure what I'm doing" vibe). Otherwise, when I'm on the dance floor, I dance with everyone that asks and if it wasn't the best dance, I don't dance with the lead again.

DON'T JUST STAND THERE: ASK THEM TO DANCE!
As a follow, I have a difficult time asking a lead to dance. I know that in this modern day and age, its not taboo for a follow to ask a lead to dance. I do encourage leads to be more proactive about doing the asking.

If you're new and have no idea who to ask, spend a few songs observing before jumping in. Watch the people as they interact with other dancers on the floor. Are they smiling a lot? Are they sociable? Are they moving to the music instead of just standing while waiting for a dance? All these are indicators of a highly probably yes when you ask that person to dance.

I love this one experience I had. I was at a new club, didn't really now anyone besides the friends I came with. They were all on the floor dancing and a beautiful song came on and I started bopping to it while looking around for a potential dance partner. A lead turned around and caught my eye and saw me dancing and said "You look like you want to dance." I said "Yes I do!" and he said "Well, let's dance then!" and it tuned out to be a lovely dance.

HOW MANY DANCES DO I DANCE?
There is no set convention when dancing kizomba. When the music is mixed so that there is no tangible pause between songs then its either dance partner's choice whether to continue after the first dance. Basically, just edge away and the other person will step away as well.

CAN I JUST WALK AWAY?
Yes if you really feel like your dance partner has been rude and crossed a line as far as you being comfortable dancing with them.

That being said, I have only ever walked away from a dance once in my life and that was more because it was so hot and crowded that I literally had to step outside to cool off. This incident was while I was dancing with a friend and he was totally patient with me and did not take it personally at all.

You have a choice on how generous you wish to be under circumstances where you are made to feel uncomfortable. Let's just say that someone crossed your line, please do not feel obliged to continue the dance.

I would suggest politely informing your dance partner that you feel uncomfortable with what they are doing, perhaps suggest a change. If you're request was ignored, then pull away and leave.

Its important to remember that most establishments that host dancing do not want to have dancers who make other dancers feel ill at ease. If you are at a loss, you can always talk to the hostess/host about your experience and they can help you. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Just a Few Updates

Well May has been and exciting month! Just wanted to highlight some updates, celebrate what's happened and look ahead.

MORE WEEKLY OPTIONS TO DANCE! [check out WHERE TO DANCE on the right]
UPCOMING CLASSES [check out WHERE TO LEARN to the right]

  • Kizomba Fundamentals and Kizomba 2 series are starting at the Century Ballroom on Thursday, May 22, 2014. Its not too late to join! Classes start at 7:30 pm and 8:30 pm respectively. 
  • Kizomba is also being taught at Salsa Con Todo on Tuesday evenings.
  • Kizomba Intensive Workshops with Dennis Richards, Oriel Siu, Shannon Urza and Frances Tee on May 31, 2014
HIGHLIGHTS FROM MAY SO FAR
  • Seattle Bachata Kizomba Festival from May 9-11 was a great success. We had a ton of fun partying it up with Oscar BA, Kenny Davis, Gosia Pe and DJ Nick, Metrix and Jamal alongside some great bachata artists and instructors (Carlos Cinta, Vince and Jo, Javier and Erica and Roberto and Tamara). 
  • Lots of new dancers were introduced to kizomba with the Mini Boot Camp at Century Ballroom and the Boot Camp at the Seattle Bachata Kizomba Festival. 
  • Gosia and Olek came back to Seattle and gave us another wonderful weekend of kizomba and semba classes. 

COMING UP: [check out EVENTS to the right]


Kizomba love to all of you!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Body Awareness: Posture Part 2

Good posture is the foundation for all or our movement so I wanted to dedicate another post about how our posture impacts our balance.

When our posture is aligned well, our body is at the optimum configuration. Even as you look at yourself in the mirror, you will see openness and confidence. Taking a look at figure on the left, with the Good Posture figure: lines 1, 2, and 4. are parallel to the floor. Line 3 is the vertical line that essentially lines up with our spine through our body's center. You will notice just from looking that there is a mirror on either side of the vertical axis: a balance. From there, once you start to walk, it will be easier to achieve a grounded, even and smooth gait which is essential in dancing kizomba.

When our body is not aligned properly you will see that the parallel lines go away. In one example of Poor Posture, line 5 show a tilted head which will put more weight on the side the head is tilted towards. This can cause you to have an uneven walk, especially when you are moving towards the side you are tilted to. Its like when you're rolling a grocery cart that has one wheel slightly off center: the art pulls towards that side and some work is required to steer it straight.  Line 6 show knees that are not aligned and line 7 shows ankles that are tilted downward. This creates different stresses on the hips and feet, again contributing to an uneven gait.

Now, let's look at the side view and check the alignment for good posture (far right in the diagram to the right). Notice, the head, shoulder and hip alignment: head over the shoulders which are over the hips. Also notice that the vertical line where your spine would be drops somewhere to close to the center of the foot.

When the head is titled too far forward, it creates strain on the neck and back that will stress you neck and shoulders over time. The head is also heavy so having it off your upright axis will throw your balance off when you start to move. The impact that has on the gait of your walk will also make it hard for you to walk smoothly.

Take the Sway Back figure as another example. It will be possible for you to adapt to this posture and hold your balance on both feet. Leading and following with this posture will have challenges. When holding your partner, you will have to create some distance in the torso area which will take away a key way to signal your lead. You would also be putting your follow in a forward lean which may result in you bearing the weight of your partner as you walk. That's a lot of work for a chill kind of dance.

You will also be 'invading' your dance partner's space with your knees which will not be comfortable at all. When walking backwards, you will also have to manage the momentum you create and as a lead you will also have to worry about your partner's weight forward as you walk back: you are more likely to walk faster and faster over time, to keep from falling backward.

I pay attention to the posture of my students and how they hold themselves when they walk. For some, due to chronic stress, body mechanics that were developed to support or compensate for injuries, their natural posture is not ideal. The human body is wonderful at adapting and because of this, when our bodies have been in the wrong posture for a long time, resetting it back to an optimal place can be difficult. What is "normal" in bad posture will feel more comfortable at first and what is optimal will feel so out of place.

This is where I highly recommend doing basic foundation steps in front of the mirror so you can see how aligned your body is as you move and make the adjustments that are needed based on what you see so that when you connect with a partner, you are aligned well.

I also recommend just doing breathing exercises with arms to engage the whole body in resetting to an ideal position while standing. Its also a great way to wake up your body to movement.

When you stand in your base position, also pay attention to how the weight is spread on your feet.

Are you too far forward? or are you too far back? Having your weight more on the heels makes it hard to move in general and you will have a tendency to walk backwards faster than you walk forward. Ideally your whole foot should be on the floor with more weight evenly distributed across that front half of the foot. This allows you the most grounded contact with the ability to move easily.

Is the weight more to the outside of your foot? on the inside? This awareness helps with your balance. It is easier to balance with the weight is more on the inside (near the ball of the foot).

Are your feet pointed the way your hips are facing? This one helps one we start to move. Have your toes over rotated outside ( like a ballerina) or inside will affect the way you connect to your partner and how smoothly you can walk together. To start, its best to have feet and hips pointed in the same direction.

NEXT UP: Balance!!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How Body Aware are You? Posture

Dancing kizomba has been a journey for me on so many levels: as teacher, promoter, student and dancer. I remember the words of  DC Kizomba instructor Oscar B. A. telling our class that kizomba should not be the only dance we dance and not to limit ourselves to just one dance as dancers.

Many of you who know me will know that I am predisposed to dancing almost anything so it is no surprise that his words resonated with me. I could never really give you a good explanation why at the time because I love learning new things and I love dancing so it was a no-brainer for me that dancing several dances would be a good thing. I can explain it better now.

As a dancer, my body is my instrument and I use it to express what I feel in the music and to respond to my dance partner's lead. I dance for many reasons and one of them is to continue to improve and evolve as a dancer. To do this, I need to be aware about how my body naturally moves, the range of motion I have and the appropriate tension and relaxation that needs to be applied during the dance. This is what I refer to as body awareness. As I develop my own body awareness, then I am also able to develop my dancer's sixth sense: the awareness of what my partner is doing. As a follow, this sixth sense allows me to be open and responsive to my lead and as a lead, this sixth sense allows me to always be aware of where my follow is so that I can invite here to step in comfort and balance to move with me and be able to express the music together.

Kizomba is not the only dance that can develop body awareness. What I love about kizomba's contribution to my own body awareness is the close proximity between the lead and follow and the grounded nature of the dance. By dancing kizomba, I am able to increase awareness of how my lead moves and how I am able to respond while maintaining my own balance and body expression . The nature of our connection is softer but still sharp in that we are closer and so that communication between lead and follow happens much faster despite the languid feel of the dance.

So how body aware are you?
Can you step in balance?
Can you tell whether your balance is off and how that feels to your partner?
Can you tell when there is too much tension?
Can you tell when you have to rely on each other to execute a move (like a lean)?
Can you tell how slow the next step is? or how fast?
Can you tell when you have the freedom to express (as a follow)?
Can you tell when your partner has suggested a movement that you can then continue to expand on?
Can you feel the absolute stillness in a step?
Can you, as a lead, tell when you can interrupt a movement to redirect it without disrupting it?
Can you tell what actions in your own body limit your next movement?
Can you feel when energy is building up in a move?
Can you match your partner's energy and enhance it?

Some of these questions may not make sense to you just yet. I know when I first heard some of these queries, I was lost myself. 

Kizomba, like any other dance, has a sweet spot. That's the time when everything just flows so naturally, so perfectly with what you hear in the music and how you respond to your partner. When I'm in the sweet spot, I'm not thinking, I'm just fully there: with my partner in the midst of the song that's playing. When you hit that sweet spot, the answers to almost all the questions about is yes and even a misstep - wait, what misstep? As a dancer, I strive to be in that sweet spot with every dance.

WHERE TO BEGIN? Posture, Balance and Tension
Body awareness starts within you. It starts with knowing how to maintain your posture, balance and step in the context of the dance. Let me elaborate on posture this time and elaborate on balance and tension in another post.

POSTURE
In concept, its simple and yet hard to maintain as we move. Good posture aligns your body correctly. When you have good posture, you look confident and poised. Good posture also allows your body to move and function at its best.

Good posture means standing with your chin parallel to the floor, shoulders rolled back (which opens your chest), your core muscles slightly engaged to keep you upright, head over shoulders over hips. Knees are relaxed, not locked and feet are shoulder width apart. If you've forgotten what this means, try this:

1) Stand with your feet hip width apart: remember that your hips - they are NOT that wide.
2) Arms hang relaxed at your side.
3) Shoulders roll back.
4) Knees are relaxed. If you're not sure, just straighten them out, tensing you leg muscles and then relax just a teensy bit.
5) Settle your weigh on the front half of your feet: Roll back and forth on your feet: toe to heel rocking back and forth until you settle on the front half of your feet.
6) Now, take a deep breath filling your chest with air. As you do that, raise your arms up to the ceiling, palms facing forward, shoulders down, Your face should follow the rise of the arms with the intake of breath, stretching the neck but not letting it fall back all the way.
7) At the end of your in breath, your hands are above your head, and your are looking at them.
Slowly exhale, bringing your arms back down, shoulders remain rolled back head facing forward, knees relaxed.

You should feel the muscles between your shoulders engaged and very connected to the ground. You should feel relaxed, alert, grounded and ready to move. As we move and dance its easy to loose this posture. Even as I sit and type this blog, I find my shoulders rolling in, head dropping back slouching. Its important to check in with yourself until it becomes second nature. Some of us have naturally adapted to a different baseline so it may seem strained at first. For example, for me my head was always looking downward which caused my shoulders to hunch up a bit so when I corrected this for better posture, I felt like my head pointing all the way up to the ceiling and my chest was sticking out too much. Just remember that as you realign your posture, the right way will feel odd until it becomes what your body naturally remembers again.

Checks:
1) Shoulders rolled back (not pulled back)
2) Chin parallel to the floor
3) Shoulder line level to the floor and  parallel to your partner
4) Knees relaxed
5) Head over shoulders over hips over feet

POSTURE IN PARTNER CONNECTION:
When you connect with your partner, drawing a line between your shoulders, that shoulder line should be parallel with your partner's shoulder line. There is compression in the torso (full contact) when you meet with your partner. Some teach a slight lean into each other. I prefer to teach compression with balance: when one of you steps away, the other one does not wobble.

When you stand with your partner, your feet are not toe to toe. The lead's right foot is in between the follow's feet, just left of the follow's left foot. You are not offset from your partner by half a body width but rather by a foot width.

There is a sense of enveloping within the embrace which sometimes results in the lead's chest caving in ever so slightly and the shoulders forward a little bit. Just remember, less is more.

WHERE DO I PUT MY FACE?
If you're like me, your face will fall squarely into the lead's chest. I simply rotate to the right (or left, your preference) so that my cheek is facing his chest. If you are the same height, you won't exactly be staring eye to eye but close. If you are much taller then don't bend too far down or hunch over too much. Still keep the integrity of your posture.

Head to head connection is OPTIONAL. Same height can also (but is not always required) result in a head to head connection that can be very sweet: follow's right temple to lead's left temple. There are times when the lead's chin is just above the follow's head, and there can be a small connection there as well: lead's just don't make the follow's head your head rest!

Being aware of your posture also helps to make you sensitive to when weight is being transferred and how good your balance (and your partner's balance) is. This is critical to developing that sixth sense that I mentioned and will make it easier for you to synchronize with your partner as you dance.

[more in Part 2]

Monday, January 27, 2014

Looking Back at 2013

Long overdue, better late than never. Here is a reflection of 2013 from one person's perspective in the midst of all the Kizomba Seattle love. I also tried to keep the bites short with links to other references - enjoy the 2013 Kizomba Seattle year retrospective. Note also that pictures are in facebook, so apologies to those of you that aren't on facebook.

We were a little quiet in January but things started to kick up with a triple header weekend in February starting with our First Friday dance weekend, Ivo Vieira and Shani Mayer's first visit to Seattle (more pictures) and Kenny Davis Ntolla's visit. We were also featured in Seattle Magazine (who-hoo!) what a surprise that was.  The weekends with visiting instructors are always fun because we get to dance three nights in a row - joy! By this time in 2013, we had different venues to dance in; Century Ballroom, Limelight and Salsa Con Todo.

March had a ton of events at home and nearby. Kwenda Lima returned to teach a special class that pushed dancers to another level. He share much about the music and culture that held many of us captive. After his visit, it was off to the Vancouver Salsa Festival: the last one but one that had a strong kizomba presence with Kwenda, Sara and Albir. Dancing was wonderful - for me, I got to dance three of my favorite dances with tons of wonderful dancers and instructors - what's not to like? It was bittersweet since it was the last of the Vancouver Salsa Festival but I am thankful for having been a part of it.

The highlight for March tho, was Seattle Kizomba Semba Camp: my hair brained idea for a total immersion in the dance with some brilliant instructors: Eddy Vents, Oscar BA and Riquita Alta. I have said many thanks and am witness to the continued camaraderie and kizomba activity from the folks that came to this event. You can read my post on facebook just to give a shout out to the folks that were there. There were so many great memories but here are a few that stick out: it was Riquita's first time in Seattle and we were so lucky she could make it. Rick came in from SF to spin. We had a surprise visit from DJ Guelas thanks to Eddy Vents. There were dancers from all over the US: San Francisco, LA, Sedona, Atlanta, Alaska, DC, Houston, San Diego and Tennessee along with Seattle, Vancouver BC and Victoria. I was overwhelmed by my crew who helped to make the event as smooth and welcoming as it could be. I saw the start of some wonderful friendships and family-ties being built. All these folks from all over the US have continue their kizomba journey even now: my facebook feed has ample evidence of this. Many have become teachers in their local communities. Many have traveled to Europe and even to Angola to share their love of kizomba. Some have become DJ's and promoters and all of us continue to dance and expand our kizomba circles: how cool it that?

The weekend was EPIC! More can be said but that would take too long so enjoy the weekend through pictures if you care to relive it one more time.

 In April we welcomed Iris DiBrito and had a blast with her. She opened my eyes more to the possibilities of how a follow could express beyond just following. I remember seeing the video of Iris and Kwenda dancing kizomba and how I thought - I wonder if I will ever meet them? Well, yes, I did and what a pleasure. Here is more of that weekend in pictures.

May brought the return of Mafalda and with her DJ Adon. We were happy to have her back and DJ Adon even played for us on a week night. It was a first to bring someone in during the week and while attendance wasn't the same as a weekend, I got to spend more time with her and this time, she even got to try glassblowing :)

We also had our first ever Kizomba Seattle Flashmob at Westlake - whohooo! That was a blast. A bit hairy in the beginning because a parks and recreations representative tried to shoo us away because we had speakers with us. Upon learning it was a flash mob, he happily gave his approval. We had all levels represented. Here are some other pictures, a video of the actual flash mob and my blog post after it was over. There's also a lot more on the Kizomba Seattle Flashmob group on facebook.

June was a little quiet and there was a surge of Salsa - Bachata - Kizomba nights. More kizomba means good things. Its an interesting mix of music genres with so few of us that actually dance all three dances. I can say that it did increase awareness for kizomba which is always a plus.

July brought us a visit from Gosia and Olek. We had so much fun with her workshops, including a kuduru one which, well, there is no video to show it but it was quite something. Thanks so much to Maurycy and Sheena for making the event possible.

August brought back Albir and Sara for another stellar weekend. Albir even taught us a hip hop class which was a blast. Here are pictures from day one and day two of the weekend. You know what's great about bringing instructors back again? All the love and hugs and new adventures to share with someone you haven't seen in a long time. Promoters privilege: I even got to sit down to home made breakfast and learned about making chai.

Things were a little quiet in September and then in October Jay and I had the privilege of teaching kizomba to the fusion dance community at the Seattle Fusion Festival. We had a such a great time showing other dancers how to dance kizomba and how they could use it in their fusion dancing. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of video or pictures from the weekend. Suffice it to say that kizomba can be fused with almost any dance form to the right music. Its like micro dancing for you fusion dancers our there and its also like tango with more oo-ey, goo-ey-ness. To find out more about Seattle Fusion, check out the web page and the facebook page.

Jay and I were also invited to teach in Nicaragua at their 5th annual Salsa Congress. Now THAT was another milestone that was HUGE in so many ways. So many new things: teaching with an interpreter, teaching to new dancers, and being on stage with world class bachata and salsa performers. YIKES! I felt blessed to be part of this budding dance community, I wrote about it on my personal blog. It was my first time in Nicaragua as well. Thanks to Isaias and Ariel and everyone that was a part of that experience. Here are my pictures from that trip.

Then the final event: November's Kizomba Seattle Exchange with Oscar BA and DJ Guelas with us to spice up the DJ lineup. We also welcome DJ Shiv from San Francisco join in. Seven dances all weekend long with visitors from Vancouver, Victoria, Alaska and San Francisco. We even welcomed some brand new dancers it our fold: they got wind of kizomba and came out to dance with us all weekend long AND are still dancing today. That's the power of kizomba. I don't have a lot of pictures, I was too busy dancing! I did share my thoughts on it tho, so feel free to reminisce with me.

In December I had to leave for home to help with family. For me, my connections were through facebook and email. I had the pleasure of meeting someone in the Philippines who knew about kizomba and sharing a little bit with her and her dance partner. What I did see tho, was how one visitor from another country was able to stir up so much action in our small community. I got inquiries from lots of people wanting to learn and spent a lot of time setting up the opportunities for 2014 that I am looking forward to and have had the pleasure to experience already.

2014 has gotten off to a great start. I'm looking forward to more travel to dance and see my extended kizomba family outside Seattle. It looks like there will be just as many memorable moments in 2014 to share. I'm looking forward to it already.

Happy Dancing!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

January Classes and Events

Its January and here are all the classe the are coming up along with some socials and things to look forward to in 2014.

CLASSES
Kizomba For Beginners (with Dennis Richards)
Kizomba 2 (with Frances Tee and Jay Senior)
Kizomba Bootcamp (with Frances Tee)
Kizomba and Semba with Mike Evens
  • Jan 18 
  • Saturday 3:30pm to 7:00pm (3 classes)
  • Registration
OPPORTUNITIES TO DANCE: (not including the Monday night practica)
  • Jan 17 at the Century Ballroom with Intro Lesson 9:00pm to 1:00am
  • Jan 18 at Salsa Con Todo from 10:00pm to 1:00a 
  • Feb 7 at the Century Ballroom (First Friday) with Intro Lesson 9:00pm to 1:00am
  • Feb 22 at the Century Ballroom (Late Night Kizomba on Third Saturday) 11:00pm to 1:30 am

COMING UP
  • Frances Tee and Jay Senior will be teaching Kizomba at the LA Bachata Festival (code: LA2014TEE) Feb 13 to 17, 2014
  • Seattle Bachata Kizomba Festival May 9-11 (First time!) at Salsa N Seattle and Frances Tee will be teaching a kizomba bootcamp. 
  • Albir Rojas will be back in Seattle August 1 - 3, 2013 (Save the Date! Details will be coming)
There's more in the works but nothing solid yet, just stay tuned :D
Happy Dancing!