The female Kizomba artist.
Who is she?
Let me give you a hint...
She is not just a follower, or even ‘a very good follow’, and for the purposes of this blog, let’s not even use the word ‘follower’ to describe her.
Because I feel that even within this tiny little word, lies a microcosm of problems which have ultimately led to a pervasive lack of respect for the female kizomba artist.
Now I am sure your mind may quickly race to the likes of Vanessa, Susana, Paula, Lucia, Sara Lopez, Sara Panero, Anais, Adeleine, Mickaela, Isabelle, and many more queens of Kizomba and Urban Kiz. And surely these artists enjoy an abundance of respect? I dare say they do. But I certainly won’t pretend to know. However, I am sure that they worked extremely hard to get to their current position as a respected female kizomba artist, and I am going to hedge my bets that each and every one of them has experienced several of the hallmarks of disrespect for female kizomba artists.
The subtle, and often times overt undermining of the female kizomba artist shows its head in many ways. Often it is behind closed doors, leaving the casual onlooker oblivious to the actual shape of the Kizomba scene.
Let’s break it down.
Male artist as point of contact
This is the classic problem of organisers and promoters only contacting the male kizomba artist when intending to book a kizomba partnership. It happens all too often that an organiser, intending to book both artists only makes contact with the male in order to sort out important details such as dates, fees, collaborations and contracts etc. This gives the impression that;
A) It is the male who is the artist, and the female who is the ‘demo girl.’
B) That the female artist is not in charge of her own professional life, nor does she have an equal say over the aforementioned details.
This places the female kizomba artist in a frustrating position of feeling patronised, undervalued and in practical terms, out of the loop.
When we look at a few contributing factors in the scene it is unsurprising that the female kizomba artist is often misrepresented, undervalued and disrespected. Here are a few scenarios to ponder on.
The lover/ romantic partner turned teacher.
The prevalence of the ‘girlfriend/lover/demo girl’, turned ‘dance partner/teacher’ cannot be ignored. There is a common trend in the Kizomba world of male kizomba artists choosing a teaching partner based on their romantic partner at the time (who is not a dancer or teacher), as opposed to a trained professional/dance artist. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that dancing kizomba with your romantic partner is awesome, and of course it may feel natural to teach with this person, but consider how this in turn affects your students, and the wider kizomba scene.
(Note, I am not talking about travelling solo artists who chose to work and travel independently and work with different dancers depending on the city they are in. I also acknowledge that this phenomenon happens with female kizomba artists choosing to teach with their lovers/ partners instead of trained professionals.)
The flow on affect
Non trained teachers do not have technical knowledge and skills necessary to ensure that students are learning and dancing in a safe and healthy way for their bodies.
Female students in class are paying the same amount of money as the male students, and deserve the same respect. I.e. A professional teacher, to be taught correct technique, and to be inspired.
Delegitimizing and compromising professional female teachers and dance artists. These women have spent years, hours, and a lot of money investing in their own training. The same as with any career path, it is disrespectful for a non professional to take on this job when they are not qualified. (Obviously being qualified in dance world is far less linear than in other professions, but you get the idea.)All of this just leads us to problem number two;
2) The myth that women just follow
This very swayed perception suggests that the female role in kizomba is easy and passive. By this logic, if the woman ‘just follows’, and the vast majority of the dance hangs upon the skill level of the man, no wonder female artists are easily replaceable, not contacted by organizers, often unacknowledged, and generally cast to the side.
3) The teacher / assistant confusion
Making the distinction between a female kizomba teacher, and a female kizomba assistant, or demo partner is important. For the sake of the students and for the teacher or assistant, the teaching or assisting parameters should be made clear. For example a female teacher is a trained professional who has invested in their own dance AND teacher training, and is expected to contribute 50/50 in the class. As such she should expect to be paid accordingly. A demo partner or assistant is there to assist the artist, and may not have the same training etc as a teacher. Or they may have the same training, however in that particular situation their role is to demonstrate movement, and help the teaching artist. They will usually be paid less, or sometimes not at all. Each situation is unique, and should be expressed accordingly.
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.
With this in mind looking again to the Kizomba queens I mentioned before, we should be in awe of their talent. They have to have the sensitivity and presence of mind to read and respond to their partner at a moment's notice, whilst controlling and expressing their own artistry at the same time, whilst connecting to the music, and often times while being watched by large crowds of people. They have to perform without performing.
Dancing the female role in kizomba takes enormous skill, one that should be learned by male kizomba dancers as well. In the same way that many women now chose to learn to lead, and actively attend classes and workshops as a lead, it would be helpful if more men made this choice to learn following skills as well.
If you are a leader, why not take some classes as a follower, develop these skills, and learn more about your partner by stepping into their shoes.
Make conscious choices about who you teach and perform with based on professionalism instead of personal life circumstances.
As an organiser wishing to book a pair of artists, always contact both of the artists from the get go.
Don’t shy away from booking solo female artists if you feel they will bring value to your event.
Ladies, keep going to class, don’t assume that you can learn only on the social floor.
As a student support your local artists and chose wisely where you invest your time and money.
It would be amazing to see a kizomba scene which reflected the love, beauty and respect of the dance in the faces and treatment of its artists and students alike.
~Genevieve Rogan May 2017 ~
~ Photography - David Bonnell ~