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, 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.

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.

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

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.

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]