It’s the giant elephant in the room at any Kizomba event, class or festival. The whirling, turning, circular argument, fueled by a few and gaining new fighters all of the time. That’s right, it’s the ‘Kizomba vs Urban Kiz’ debate. Up until now I have avoided writing about this like the plague. As with any debate that could potentially eat into my actual dance time, I would prefer to stand outside the circle and watch it whirl in front of me. Today has called for stillness so I thought I would step inside the circle for a moment and play with fire.
Let me start by saying I am an avid lover of Kizomba, Semba, Tarraxinha, fusion, zouk, and Urban kiz. In saying this I know I have immediately put myself off side with a huge amount of people including but not limited to; people who only believe in Kizomba, people who believe Urban Kiz is not a legitimate dance, people who only dance Urban Kiz, people who do not like Semba, people who refuse to learn Kizomba, people who are put off by Tarraxinha, people who think Fusion is the source of all evil, etc etc. The list goes on. And this list is one of the only things I do not like about Kizomba. Kizomba at its core is about connection, and unfortunately when I look and read around I see a whole lot of people spending more time judging and arguing than actually connecting and dancing.
There are a million and one videos, vlogs and blogs about the name kizomba and respecting the roots. I’m not going to touch on that part of the argument for now, I don’t want to add to the circle. (Sidenote; Do you think we have created a circular argument in homage to the dance itself?) Anyway, I am going to draw your attention to the second word which seems to be skipped over a lot in this argument, and that is the word ARTIST.
At any festival in the world the organisers are flying a bunch of kizomba ARTISTS to teach and perform. Following this logic, we could then say that kizomba is, as well as many other things, an ART FORM. People who dance professionally and are considered Kizomba or Urban Kiz artists are just that, they are artists. There is absolutely nothing artistic about repeating the same 5 steps, in the same way, to the same song as a million other people. Well recognised professional Kizomba artists became recognised and well known because of their creativity. Creativity thrives when artists master their tools and foundations and then break them consciously. They don’t break them to rip off a culture, they don’t break them to culturally appropriate, they break them because that's what dancing asks for. Dance is a living, breathing, ever evolving artform. In the same way that kizomba has evolved and developed outside of Africa, Kizomba, Semba and many hundreds of other dance styles have developed and evolved within Africa.
Four years ago I travelled to Yoff, Senegal for an immersive dance tour to further my understanding of Sabar dance. In the middle of this small fishing village, I have never seen so much creativity, flair and flavour within one dance style. Every person's interpretation of the style was unique and captivating. The dance had even evolved so much that now men dance Sabar, where traditionally it was a women’s only dance. This evolution took place in Senegal. This evolution took place because dancers are artists, and art means change.
Back to Kizomba, each well known Kizomba artist has touched and inspired many thousands of people, otherwise they simply would not be where they are today. Each different style offers something new. Not everyone has the same version of connection. I can feel a beautiful connection glued to someone's chest in a Kizomba. Equally, I can feel an amazing connection looking into someones eyes and hitting the same beats in an Urban Kiz dance, or I can feel a joyful connection in a playful Semba. Each person has a different flavour and that is what makes dance so beautiful.
Some of you may be thinking well Kizomba and Semba are social dances so therefore are not art. If that is your opinion you are entitled to it. I ask you to question though, if you do not think of yourself as an artist, do you at least feel that your dancing is a form of self expression? If your answer is yes, then why build a prison around your own self expression? Do not confuse disrespect for a dance with a need to be a ‘purist’. I have met many people from all sides of the debate who would rather chanell all of their energy into being ‘right’, or being an advocate for X style, and actually missing the point of connection and expression. By defending the roots of Kizomba to the bone, even if you do not have even one Angolan ancestor, beware that you may be at the same time disrespecting someone's freedom as an artist. By defending Urban Kiz to the core, beware that this is a modern dance and came from a traditional, cultural dance which needs to be acknowledged and respected. Both sides have a point, but at the same time, both sides are creating prisons for themselves. Dance is one of our fastest shortcuts to freedom, and by entrapping yourself in this circular argument, not only are you sending bad vibes into your community, you are using up precious energy you could be spending dancing.
The opposite to freedom is conformity. Conformity has no place in Kizomba. Keep in mind, there are no two people on earth with exactly the same body. Even if we could somehow mirror someone's dance style exactly it would not look the same because our body is different. In the same way, there are no two people on earth with the same dance style. So originality is not a sin, it is an inevitability, and the secret ingredient which makes the dance art form so exquisite.
I am not dismissing the importance of education and proper information. Don’t get me wrong any time someone tries to shove me through some accelerated footwork when ‘gata morena’ comes on, I have to cringe a little bit. Not because I think the person is wrong, but because I think that the person has not listened to the music, and is missing out on a very beautiful part of the puzzle, that part being Kizomba. Equally, any time some Angsoundz comes on, and I just want to pop, and lock, and extend, I am a little saddened if someone glues me to their chest and does a basic 2 on time for the whole song. Again, not because they are wrong, but because they have not yet explored the amazing musicality and new feeling Urban Kiz could bring them.
I am not condoning the misuse of the word Kizomba. I think it is extremely important to call a spade a spade. If you are a teacher and are teaching Urban Kiz, call it Urban Kiz and vice versa. However, if in reading this article you noticed you have gotten caught up on the circular debate, why not step out of the ring for a moment. Next time you go to an event, don’t go braced with judgement, and scrutining eyes, go with an open heart and the intention to connect and learn. We all have something to learn from each other. The more dancing options there are the more people will dance. This can only be a good thing. If we hold our judgements and prejudices as lightly as we hold our frame, this circular argument can disintegrate and pave way for a more harmonious and creative Kizomba scene.