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.

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. 

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.

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

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: 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 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

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.

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