Do you speak Kizomba?

Do you speak Kizomba?


Are you fluent? Do you scream it? Do you whisper ? Or do you speak with your own voice, and breathe deeply in the pauses? Do you speak with your silence? Or do you retreat?


Who dances Kizomba ?


Is it a man and a woman ?


A lead and a follow?


Or could it be a speaker and an interpreter?


The more I dance Kizomba, Semba, Urban kiz, and Tarraxinha, the more I realise each dance style is completely unique, and that within each style every single individual dance is 100% unique. Even if you dance with the same person every day of your life to the same song, the dance will never be the same twice. Not even if it is a choreography. Each dance captures a different energy, mood and moment in time that cannot be replicated.


Kizomba is a mirror, to ourselves and to the person we are connecting with. A simple Kizomba embrace, and 3 minutes of hugging and dancing can show us all kinds of things about ourselves. We could realise we were actually really stressed before we had that dance. We may feel on top of the world and have a special buzzy energy. We may be really emotional and suddenly feel the urge to cry. Or we may drift off into that Kizomba bubble and think of nothing, and feel only the music and our Kizomba connection. And we receive all of these messages from our partner as well. Kizomba can be the mirror we don’t want to see, or it can be a beautiful gift. The key is that Kizomba is made up of TWO reflective surfaces, not just one.


A lot of the time within partner dance classes we are taught under the paradigm of ‘man leads woman’, or’ leader leads follower’, or ‘man creates frame and lady makes it look nice.’ The more I dance, the more I can’t seem to gel with this paradigm. Regardless of which part of the dance I am dancing, I can’t help but feel limited by this idea.


I had a light bulb moment recently when I was travelling with my boyfriend in Colombia. We were staying with three beautiful wise Colombian women who had a lot of knowledge to share with us. I was translating for my boyfriend, and as I did so I realised I wasn’t just converting Spanish words into English, there was a whole in depth process going on. This wasn’t the same as translating a breakfast order. I first had to listen and absorb the information in Spanish. Then, I had to understand the concept that she was trying to explain to us, (and sometimes that was not easy.) Then I had to translate it in a way that would suit my boyfriend, i.e proper English (actually Australian English) and not just a direct word translation. Then I had to convey the emotion, the tone and the intention of what these women were trying to express. It was a fascinating process, and the more I did it, the faster it became. I realised it was easier if I just let the words wash over me, keep calm and then the words would wash out of me more easily, but hopefully in English.  And as I did so I realised, this is exactly what the ‘follower’ does in Kizomba.


When we are ‘following’, we first have to connect to ourselves, and then to our partner. We have to listen. When we hear the message he or she is giving us, we have to translate it in our bodies, understand it, and then respond. Then, we need to convey an emotion, or an idea, or play with the musicality, we need to make it look beautiful, and like it makes sense with the shapes of our bodies, and the flow of the dance. We could propose something if there is space, or we could continue with the idea given by the ‘leader’. And all of this has to happen in a split second. An unsuspecting onlooker would think we were dancing a pre rehearsed story that both of us had written. So maybe Kizomba interpreters would be a better name for what we do.


And as the leader the process is not dissimilar. The leader has to connect with himself or herself, the music and their partner. They need to interpret the music in their own bodies, and then translate it into a sequence of messages for their partner to receive, whilst still keeping their steps flowing. They need to be listening to their partner the whole time, waiting to receive her responses, seeing if she understands the message in the way that he intended? Did she create something new? Is she proposing something else? And then the leader becomes the interpreter of his partner's messages, the game continues, and a beautiful conversational dance is woven.


So then are we actually speaker and interpreter? Each swapping roles throughout the dance; caught in a fluid exchange of ideas,messages, and responses, which are dictated by each other, and reactive to the music? If we are an interpreter, then we loose the passive nature implied in the word ‘follower.’ And if the leader too is an interpreter, then they are freed from the pressure of having to ‘lead’ in the traditional sense of the word. I hear some of you saying ‘they are just words, why does it matter?’  Well words are very important, they are weighted with a thousand invisible meanings we can’t even pin down, but we will feel them in our actions and in our dance. Even in the world of dancing the language we use informs the kind of community we create, and the kind of dancer we become.


When we are truly in a state of dancing TOGETHER, we are both listening to one another. We are both adapting to each other, finding our rhythm together. It is not about the leader deciding the style, the tone, the pace, the steps, the frame and the velocity of the dance, and the follower doing exactly what is mapped out for her. It is about interpretation. Each of us hears the same song, but because we are both unique we will never hear it in the exactly same way, and that is a beautiful part. When we are both allowed space to explore, listen, interpret, ask questions, experiment and find our flow together, a really amazing conversation is taking place between two bodies. If we can enter that state in our dancing there won’t be any judgement because we know there is no such thing as a mistake, only new possibilities. If our roles are as fluid as the music, a whole new level of creativity and connection can spring from your dance.


The next time you go for a dance try and remove your ‘ leader’ or ‘follower’ label from your head, and most importantly remove it from your heart. Take time to listen, breathe, and just dance, and enjoy what comes out when we move outside the leader/follower paradigm, and into the world of interpretation.


~Genevieve Rogan 2017 ~