Kizomba. A widely misinterpreted dance. From afar perhaps it looks like we are just hugging? Or just walking? Or having a hugely sexual experience with our dance partner?
Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling...I have just found myself sucked into the facebook vortex taking a short break from my work, only to find that the vortex pulled me into an oh so familiar stream of comments about people who deciding they no longer want to take dance class because the level is not challenging enough for them.
I understand. Perhaps you have already done your beginners courses, and your intermediate courses and now you are searching for something else to sink your teeth into, only to find nothing to chew on ?
Everynight in the heart of Sydney you will find 100’s of the most unlikely people finishing up their day and getting ready for their ‘second life.’ They race from work, sit in peak hour traffic, and rush into their latin dance class still dressed as a corporate. Within the first half an hour of class their daytime persona has all but sweated off. Their hips swing wildly to the beats of salsa, bachata, kizomba and tango. Their smiles reach their ears, and the stresses of the day perspire away as the night goes on. 9.30pm hits, and they make their way back out into the city streets. Within the next half an hour many will return to their homes and families, wind down and go to bed, ready to do it all again tomorrow. Many however, will not.
Have you ever begun a dance with a total stranger, or maybe someone you know back to front and inside out, and just felt an overwhelming ‘safe’ feeling come through your body ? Have you ever started a dance with someone, and just felt awkward and clunky, sort of like you are both hearing different songs?
Kizomba is my conversion of choice. It is incomprehensible and possibly very misinterpreted by the causal bystander. It is uniquely mine and at the same time beautifully universal. It has many dialects and can be understood in almost every country in the world. It is a conversation of peace, love, fun and understanding. And most importantly it can never be the same conversation twice.
How to learn Kizomba as a follower?
For anyone who takes their first steps in Kizomba as a follower, you will probably have the quick realisation that it is not as as easy as you thought. It’s not just walking, it’s kind of weird dancing so close to someone, and even if you have a big list of dancing styles behind you, dancing Kizomba is one of those dances that will still provide you a fun challenge.
As you enter your local Kizomba scene you will probably be swamped with class options, parties to go to, different styles of music and dancing, and possibly feel unsure about the best way to go about learning Kizomba as a follower?
I know I did. It is also true that many of the classes you will attend will be leader focused, perhaps your steps won’t be broken down, the concept of following brushed over, or sold as really easy. I see so many women opt out of classes and head to the social dance floor instead of taking class, and I don’t blame them. They feel bored in class. They start to plateau quickly, and they are unsure of how best to improve their dancing?
I don't have all of the answers, but I have given it a lot of thought and this is what I’ve come to.
Learning to follow is a really abstract skill, because you CANNOT FEEL YOURSELF. You may feel confident that you know all the tricks in the book, you are going where your partner wants you to go, and your following is on point. But.. is it really?
Well it’s hard to know because as followers we cannot feel ourselves, we are also not telepathic. Perhaps our leader can only use 10% of his steps and dance techniques on us because he can tell we are not up for it? Perhaps we are actually breaking his arm, or his neck or his fingers? Maybe our weight is in our heels and we feel like a big bag of bricks being hauled around the dance floor? Maybe we can follow but we aren't really dancing? Could we have better musicality? Better body movement? Some nice styling? Do we only dance urban and not kizomba or vice versa? Can we follow close and away from the body ? Can we remain calm, but also be sensitive, active and creative in a dance? Can we adapt to all different leads and styles of dance? Can we hold ourselves through tricks?
Now when we look at this list, which is by no means the final to do list for a follower, we can see we actually have quite a job, and huge skill to work on here. Thinking about that list, I don’t think it's fair to assume we can pick all of this up by heading to one class a week, or skipping the class part all together and just going to parties.
Learning to follow is an abstract art. The art of following starts with
A clear mind. When we start following in Kizomba we are confronted with ourselves. Do we feel vulnerable? Clumsy? Uncomfortable being so close to someone? Do we trust our own skill and movement? Is it ok to surrender control? Can we still express ourselves in this space…
It’s a lot to take in. And actively working through these confrontations and lessons with yourself is the surest way to become a good follower. A good follower is calm, responsive, confident and creative. To allow ourselves to be all of these things, and then to express them in the embrace of another person in no small task, so enjoy the journey. Following in Kizomba will gift you so many lessons you could not foresee. Let them in, take time to work through them, talk to people about your experiences, ask your teacher for guidance, and most importantly be patient and loving with yourself and with those whom you are dancing with. A clear mind and body does not come overnight, nor does it stay 100% of the time. Allow yourself to have good days and bad ones. Great dances and average ones. Expressive moments and uninspired ones. Thats real, and that’s what Kizomba can give you, a place to be real and a place to be held.
Technique. Once you have begun to work with yourself and work through any blocks which may be affecting your dance, you have the art of following technique. Again this is a journey and will not happen overnight. For this you do need to go to class. Find a respectable teacher or partnership with good technique and training, and learn from them. A good Kizomba class should be equally as valuable for the follow as for the leaders. Ask as many questions as you can, dare to make mistakes and ask for feedback. Being an incredibly light follower, with good lines, body control, flavour and styling will not happen overnight. If you want to take your dancing to a new level invest time and energy. Go to class, practice on your own, take privates, go social dancing. Learn to listen to your body as you go to class, this way you will not be stuck relying on your teachers, you will come to understand what feels good and not good in your own body.
Social dancing, going social dancing is so important to improve your following level. The more different bodies and styles you can dance with the better. Your muscle memory will be in overload for a while, but practice and getting yourself out there in the social practice is the best way to feel new things in your body, figure out what you like, and try new things. You will become part of a new community, hear new music and find that just like following, leading is an abstract art, no dance will ever be the same, and that is the beauty of it.
Body movement and styling. Once you feel that you are comfortable with following your partner, have mastered some good technique, and feel that nice flowy Kizomba feeling, it’s time to really play. Mastering your body movement and finding your style is a really fun part of being a follower. It’s like a game, find the gaps, the awesome musicality, and play with your style, without interfering with the lead and flow of the dance with your partner. Again, take some classes, see someone with a style you like? Copying is a good way to start out, and then branch out and find what makes your styling unique. Classes on body movement or ladies styling are a great idea, you will find the correct technique and find new ways to move without hurting your spine, or hips.
Stay humble. Kendrick lamar is teaching us a good lesson at the moment, it rings true for Kizomba. Be humble. Kizomba is a dance of connection and love. Leave the ego at the door, and know that there is always room to reach a new level in your dance. And I am not talking about having perfect techni
que, or amazing lines. I am talking about how far you can really fall into the dance. The more you know the rules, the more you can break them. The more you can hold yourself, the more you can connect. The lighter you are, the more movement, musicality and steps you will feel. The more creative you are, the mor endless the possibilities become. Always let yourself be a beginner. Hone the fundamentals. Accept new teachings. Be kind to yourself and enjoy the never ending journey that dance can provide you.
Being a follower in Kizomba is no easy task, it is a really amazing and complex one. Don’t give up, know that your role in this dance is beautiful and important, and dare to make mistakes and watch how fast you will grow.
Happy following. :)
Based in Sydney? Looking for a dance class?
Hit up :
Adriano e Genevieve on Facebook for group classes,
and Genevieve Rogan dancer/ teacher/ writer for private classes.
Want more info?
Browse around this site, take your time and look around :)
Let me start by saying, I have nothing against Zumba! I’ve taken a few classes, and had a great time. Like everyone, when it first became popular I thought it was a great idea! And then like many people my regard for Zumba began to decline. Why? Because I saw a hugely flooded market in a short space of time. This then made me question the training/ quality of the instructors. I saw that the people at the top did not seem to care about quality or consistency of the classes. This reflected in the lack of quality and consistency in the classes I was taking. By the end I was left feeling confused as to what Zumba was actually supposed to be. And so, I left the whole thing entirely.
Now, let me also say I am not putting Kizomba and Zumba in the same category. From my understanding, Zumba is a mixture of fitness and aerobic dance moves, designed for fitness, fun and weight loss. Kizomba, and everything that falls under the Kizomba umbrella- Kizomba, Semba, Tarraxinha, Coladeira, Urban kiz, Tarraxo, Afro house. These are all art forms, dance styles and urban social dances. Kizomba is still in its baby stages, and as such, we need to treat it with care, to ensure it can grow in a healthy and sustainable way, to avoid a Zumba like crash.
I am writing to you form Sydney, Australia where the scene is small comparably to Europe, and has only really experienced some notable growth in the last 2-5 years. There are many scenes like us all over the world, including many countries in Europe. With the exception of Angola, Cabo Verde, France and Portugal, I would say we are all really in those toddler stages of development. So what does this mean?
It means if we really want to respect our dance and grow our Kizomba communities, we need all kinds of people in the community, and we need a sense of respect for the dance itself and its artists.
Every community needs the pioneers. Those are the old timers who have been there since the beginning, put in a lot of hard work you may not even recognise, and have essentially laid the groundwork for kizomba to exist.
Then you need your teachers, to spread the kizomba love and knowledge, as the dance industry is basically unregulated, the skill and experience of your teachers could vary substantially. Each teacher will bring their own flair to the scene.
You need Kizomba Artists/teachers, they are the professional dancers in your scene who dedicate their lives to growing, creating and breathing dance. They will have formal training or an extensive dance background, and spend long hours honing their dancing and teaching craft.
You need students from all walks of life, they are the lifeblood of your community, they fill the social dance floors with their amazing energy, and they fill your classes, they create friendships and relationships and a social life within the community.
You need promoters. Officially or unofficially they are the people who will always bring new members into the community and promote the dance and dance events.
Then of course you need organisers of events, festivals, etc etc, they give the community something to aspire to,and give them a space to grow and party.
We need studio owners who have dedicated their lives to creating a physical home for dance, students and artists to flourish.
And last but certainly not least, we need DJ’s, those amazing people who spend their time dedicated to music! They understand the history and the richness and diversity of Kizomba music, they understand the science of the DJ machine, and they make magic happen for you at your parties.
No wonder our communities are so incredible and keep growing. The key to nurturing your scene is to be considerate of all of these things. In small scenes, Work as a team, avoid creating unnecessary competition. Respect each others roles and skills in the community, never be afraid to learn more, collaborate, step into a new role, or step away from an old one. Avoid saturation. If you can avoid saturating your scene too quickly you will ensure it can continue to grow, saturation is the quickest way for it to collapse in on itself. Value quality, respect yourself and your teachers, artists, promoters, and DJs and be conscious in your choices. Expand the scene, always work towards inviting new potential kizomba lovers into your scene, be inclusive and proactive.
At the end of the day, each dance scene will go through its ups and downs. Nurturing a scene is the responsibility of a whole community. If you know you are a person of influence in your community, consider how your actions and attitudes will filter down. If you are an artist in your community, consider how your dance will be copied, consider how and what you teach to your students for the social floor.
Education is power. Nothing will create sustainability in your community like education. Learn about your dance, learn its history, its culture. If you have the means, travel. If you don’t, travel through your scene, learn different people’s stories and styles and see how everything is interlinked.
I love this dance more than anything, but the rate of saturation has me a little weary. Kizomba is too beautiful to face a Zumba like crash. I want it to be thriving on the streets of Sydney by the time I have kids. I want my local barista to know what Kizomba is when I mention it to her. I want to hear it played on the radio sometimes! Imagine that ?! I want so many more people to have the opportunity to learn the beauty of this incredibly magical and healing dance. Let's work together to make sure our baby communities can grow and flourish.
Invite a friend to dance, invest in your training, ask questions to your teachers, never be afraid to be a student, respect your artists and DJ’s, travel if you can, and in whatever way you can help to grow your community.
~Genevieve Rogan, 2018~
FB: Genevieve rogan dancer/ teacher/writer
The part of the deal which we often forget is the deal we have with ourselves. In many cases we do not get sick pay, annual leave, or any kind of benefit associated with more regular working contracts. ‘The show must go on’, has been tattooed into our subconscious, so usually getting sick is simply not an option. How many stories have you heard of dancers and artists performing ridiculous jobs even with serious injury or illness? Maybe we just love the drama of it? Or maybe it’s time to engage the power of our ‘no’.
Feedback is an amazing tool in our quest to improve our dancing. When we receive comments about what we’re doing well, what’s not working, or what we should try to change, it provides us with direction.
Photography: JS Almonte
Author- Rachel Cassandra
To keep up with Rachel Cassandra be sure to explore plenty more at KizombaCommunity.com, including more articles, instructional videos, and information on connecting to kizomba all over the world.
The reality is this perception of the female kizomba artist could not be further from the truth. In a truly beautiful and synchronised kizomba dance both partners are 100% invested. Each person is giving 100% of their energy, and both people are receiving the other person’s energy. They are a harmonious team, representing yin and yang, lead and follow, invitation and response, to create something that looks and feels like real kizomba connection and artistry.
Because Kizomba does not invite spectators. Infact, she discourages them. Tricking them with her supposed simplicity, she saves the subtle beauty of the dance to be shared between the dancers. Onlookers only see that bubble of calm which extends from their matching sleepy smiles, they don’t even know they share.
It’s a weeknight, you wander into your local club for your after work dance fix. Inside the dimly lit rooms the sweet sounds of salsa emerge, erasing the stories from that mid afternoon meeting. You slide into your dance shoes and let loose for a while. When you feel yourself getting into your happy dance bubble you saunter into the smaller, steamier room to get your kizomba and bachata fix for the night
The next stage is that kizomba light bulb moment! Its that moment where you are dancing and in an extremely cliche fashion the whole world seems to disappear, and you think you might be floating. This is pure connection. You are having an incredibly special conversation with someone, and it can be with anyone, and last a whole song, or many.