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.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Etiquette On the Dance Floor

I've been remiss on a post lately so here is one. Please don't forget to check out the sections to the right for information about upcoming events, regular recurring events and classes. In the meantime, enjoy this post about etiquette and share your stories and questions.

People often ask me these questions and so I'm sharing some general rules of thumb and then some questions with answers that may help shed some light on etiquette. Some of the questions are specific to Kizomba and most are applicable to any social partner dance.


Treat each other with respect and courtesy. 

We all dance for different reasons. When I'm social dancing, I dance to get joy from the music and expressing that with my dance partner. The other important reason I dance is because I get to meet and spend time with some great folks who enjoy dancing as much as I do. I do my best to treat everyone with respect and courtesy and apply common sense to dealing with potentially difficult (or uncomfortable) situations.

Own you choices and remember, one dance is only about 4-5 minutes long. 
We are all adults and we can choose how we respond to certain situations. There are times when you realize the choice you made wasn't the best one. That's cool. Just accept it and move on. A song is on average about 4 minutes long so don't sweat a bad dance: find a good friend to vent out all the negativity and consternation, find a rescue dance if that works for you and then refocus on what gives you joy in dancing.

Nothing personal. 
When they say its not about you, most of the time, when you're dealing with another person's actions, that is true. A wise friend once shared with me that a person's actions are a reflection of them and not you.

Assume nothing.
Your assumptions are yours; your interpretation of events based on your beliefs. Since partner dancing usually involves other people, its best to assume nothing about others. Just focus on enjoying the dance itself.

Now, the Q & A

Let's face it. This is a total buzz kill and its very hard to let someone know that they have body odor. As far as taking action, you have two choices: say something or say nothing.

I will say something to my friends. Its usually something like this: "Do you have another shirt or deodorant? You may want to freshen up." The few times I have had to tell a friend, I know that they appreciated that I did . I mean, if it were me, I'd like to know. I'd be mortified, but its better to know so I can try to do something about it. I always carry some sort of deodorant, cologne to freshen up and have offered it to people sometimes.

Most people I know will just bear it for one dance and then not dance again with the same person.

Kizomba is an intimate and close dance but it is not 'that grindy dance'. If you connect correctly with your partner, there is torso and leg contact and absolutely no contact in the lower pelvic region.

In general, softer, flowier movement are much more enjoyable to harsh, bumpy and sharp movements.

Leads, it IS the follow's prerogative to decide how close is close, especially when dancing to those heavy bass beats of Tarraxinha. The key: LESS IS MORE and remember that its FOLLOW'S CHOICE on how much to enhance their body movement in response to your lead. You are suggesting a movement with your own or gently with your arms on the follow's hips or back. It is the follow's choice to respond according to how she feels about the music and the dance. If there is a follow whose movement is going overboard, then I would suggest a firmer hold on the hips, and take a deep breath and hope that she follows you on that breath to reset and listen. If that doesn't work, then you can create a little bit more distance by adjusting your hold and just remember, a song is at most 5 minutes long.

Follow's you have the choice to complete the move based on what's comfortable for you. You listen to your lead and complete the movement and when it comes to Tarraxinha, you decide how much you respond to what the lead is suggesting (keeping the music in mind). If at any point you feel uncomfortable, then try to just hold still and walk normally in pace with the music. If the lead still doesn't pick up on it, try to create some distance by changing your connection. Instead of draping your right arm around the lead's back or shoulder, using the palm of our hand on his chest, push away and create some distance.

No matter the situation, you should not dance with someone if you feel compromised or threatened. It can be difficult but if the non-verbal signals don't work, then let your partner know of your discomfort in a respectful way and if that still doesn't work, then politely decline to finish the dance.

Social dancing is not a class or practice or coaching session. I teach so I make it a policy that when I social dance, I am not instructing. The only exceptions I make to this are when my students ask for some tips or when there is a total beginner that just wants to get started. By default, I assume the the person I'm dancing with is there for the social dancing and so I don't volunteer anything about how they are dancing, unless they ask me. Just relax and enjoy the night!

Never assume that your dance partner wants to know what they are doing wrong (or right) unless they say so. Providing criticism in a social situation is usually a no-no, unless it is asked for.

I am always surprised at the number of people that ask me to dance and then say "you're an instructor right? Can you teach me now?" It works both ways for me. At a social dance, I'm not a teacher, I'm a dancer just like everyone else.

On occasion I will spend a few minutes helping someone get started. Most of the time that takes the form of back leading the walking and side basic. As a lead, its easier to try to lead a beginner follow. As a follow, its a bit more challenging to back lead a beginning lead but not impossible. When I do offer help, its not for a long period of time. I do my best to get someone started and then focus dancing and not instructing.

Everyone is entitled to whatever answer they wish to give you when you ask them for a dance. Assigning a judgement value on the rejection is simply a waste of your energy when the reason you're out dancing is to enjoy and have fun. Never assume anything about the rejection and if the person is impolite about it, you don't want to dance with them anyway.

Rejection is tough regardless of how confident you are. Just remember that the response people have to you is more about them then you and since you don't know what could possibly be going on with the other person, just let the negative reactions go.

I do have one small plug to make. A dance community can be welcoming or not. It is my belief that dance is universal and should be accessible to everyone. In that spirit, I personally say yes to at least dance one dance with anyone who asks. The only exception there is if the lead is visibly drunk or if I get the creepy, dangerous vibe (different from the "I'm not sure what I'm doing" vibe). Otherwise, when I'm on the dance floor, I dance with everyone that asks and if it wasn't the best dance, I don't dance with the lead again.

As a follow, I have a difficult time asking a lead to dance. I know that in this modern day and age, its not taboo for a follow to ask a lead to dance. I do encourage leads to be more proactive about doing the asking.

If you're new and have no idea who to ask, spend a few songs observing before jumping in. Watch the people as they interact with other dancers on the floor. Are they smiling a lot? Are they sociable? Are they moving to the music instead of just standing while waiting for a dance? All these are indicators of a highly probably yes when you ask that person to dance.

I love this one experience I had. I was at a new club, didn't really now anyone besides the friends I came with. They were all on the floor dancing and a beautiful song came on and I started bopping to it while looking around for a potential dance partner. A lead turned around and caught my eye and saw me dancing and said "You look like you want to dance." I said "Yes I do!" and he said "Well, let's dance then!" and it tuned out to be a lovely dance.

There is no set convention when dancing kizomba. When the music is mixed so that there is no tangible pause between songs then its either dance partner's choice whether to continue after the first dance. Basically, just edge away and the other person will step away as well.

Yes if you really feel like your dance partner has been rude and crossed a line as far as you being comfortable dancing with them.

That being said, I have only ever walked away from a dance once in my life and that was more because it was so hot and crowded that I literally had to step outside to cool off. This incident was while I was dancing with a friend and he was totally patient with me and did not take it personally at all.

You have a choice on how generous you wish to be under circumstances where you are made to feel uncomfortable. Let's just say that someone crossed your line, please do not feel obliged to continue the dance.

I would suggest politely informing your dance partner that you feel uncomfortable with what they are doing, perhaps suggest a change. If you're request was ignored, then pull away and leave.

Its important to remember that most establishments that host dancing do not want to have dancers who make other dancers feel ill at ease. If you are at a loss, you can always talk to the hostess/host about your experience and they can help you. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Just a Few Updates

Well May has been and exciting month! Just wanted to highlight some updates, celebrate what's happened and look ahead.

UPCOMING CLASSES [check out WHERE TO LEARN to the right]

  • Kizomba Fundamentals and Kizomba 2 series are starting at the Century Ballroom on Thursday, May 22, 2014. Its not too late to join! Classes start at 7:30 pm and 8:30 pm respectively. 
  • Kizomba is also being taught at Salsa Con Todo on Tuesday evenings.
  • Kizomba Intensive Workshops with Dennis Richards, Oriel Siu, Shannon Urza and Frances Tee on May 31, 2014
  • Seattle Bachata Kizomba Festival from May 9-11 was a great success. We had a ton of fun partying it up with Oscar BA, Kenny Davis, Gosia Pe and DJ Nick, Metrix and Jamal alongside some great bachata artists and instructors (Carlos Cinta, Vince and Jo, Javier and Erica and Roberto and Tamara). 
  • Lots of new dancers were introduced to kizomba with the Mini Boot Camp at Century Ballroom and the Boot Camp at the Seattle Bachata Kizomba Festival. 
  • Gosia and Olek came back to Seattle and gave us another wonderful weekend of kizomba and semba classes. 

COMING UP: [check out EVENTS to the right]

Kizomba love to all of you!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Body Awareness: Posture Part 2

Good posture is the foundation for all or our movement so I wanted to dedicate another post about how our posture impacts our balance.

When our posture is aligned well, our body is at the optimum configuration. Even as you look at yourself in the mirror, you will see openness and confidence. Taking a look at figure on the left, with the Good Posture figure: lines 1, 2, and 4. are parallel to the floor. Line 3 is the vertical line that essentially lines up with our spine through our body's center. You will notice just from looking that there is a mirror on either side of the vertical axis: a balance. From there, once you start to walk, it will be easier to achieve a grounded, even and smooth gait which is essential in dancing kizomba.

When our body is not aligned properly you will see that the parallel lines go away. In one example of Poor Posture, line 5 show a tilted head which will put more weight on the side the head is tilted towards. This can cause you to have an uneven walk, especially when you are moving towards the side you are tilted to. Its like when you're rolling a grocery cart that has one wheel slightly off center: the art pulls towards that side and some work is required to steer it straight.  Line 6 show knees that are not aligned and line 7 shows ankles that are tilted downward. This creates different stresses on the hips and feet, again contributing to an uneven gait.

Now, let's look at the side view and check the alignment for good posture (far right in the diagram to the right). Notice, the head, shoulder and hip alignment: head over the shoulders which are over the hips. Also notice that the vertical line where your spine would be drops somewhere to close to the center of the foot.

When the head is titled too far forward, it creates strain on the neck and back that will stress you neck and shoulders over time. The head is also heavy so having it off your upright axis will throw your balance off when you start to move. The impact that has on the gait of your walk will also make it hard for you to walk smoothly.

Take the Sway Back figure as another example. It will be possible for you to adapt to this posture and hold your balance on both feet. Leading and following with this posture will have challenges. When holding your partner, you will have to create some distance in the torso area which will take away a key way to signal your lead. You would also be putting your follow in a forward lean which may result in you bearing the weight of your partner as you walk. That's a lot of work for a chill kind of dance.

You will also be 'invading' your dance partner's space with your knees which will not be comfortable at all. When walking backwards, you will also have to manage the momentum you create and as a lead you will also have to worry about your partner's weight forward as you walk back: you are more likely to walk faster and faster over time, to keep from falling backward.

I pay attention to the posture of my students and how they hold themselves when they walk. For some, due to chronic stress, body mechanics that were developed to support or compensate for injuries, their natural posture is not ideal. The human body is wonderful at adapting and because of this, when our bodies have been in the wrong posture for a long time, resetting it back to an optimal place can be difficult. What is "normal" in bad posture will feel more comfortable at first and what is optimal will feel so out of place.

This is where I highly recommend doing basic foundation steps in front of the mirror so you can see how aligned your body is as you move and make the adjustments that are needed based on what you see so that when you connect with a partner, you are aligned well.

I also recommend just doing breathing exercises with arms to engage the whole body in resetting to an ideal position while standing. Its also a great way to wake up your body to movement.

When you stand in your base position, also pay attention to how the weight is spread on your feet.

Are you too far forward? or are you too far back? Having your weight more on the heels makes it hard to move in general and you will have a tendency to walk backwards faster than you walk forward. Ideally your whole foot should be on the floor with more weight evenly distributed across that front half of the foot. This allows you the most grounded contact with the ability to move easily.

Is the weight more to the outside of your foot? on the inside? This awareness helps with your balance. It is easier to balance with the weight is more on the inside (near the ball of the foot).

Are your feet pointed the way your hips are facing? This one helps one we start to move. Have your toes over rotated outside ( like a ballerina) or inside will affect the way you connect to your partner and how smoothly you can walk together. To start, its best to have feet and hips pointed in the same direction.

NEXT UP: Balance!!