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.

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!!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How Body Aware are You? [Posture]

Dancing kizomba has been a journey for me on so many levels: as teacher, promoter, student and dancer. I remember the words of  DC Kizomba instructor Oscar B. A. telling our class that kizomba should not be the only dance we dance and not to limit ourselves to just one dance as dancers.

Many of you who know me will know that I am predisposed to dancing almost anything so it is no surprise that his words resonated with me. I could never really give you a good explanation why at the time because I love learning new things and I love dancing so it was a no-brainer for me that dancing several dances would be a good thing. I can explain it better now.

As a dancer, my body is my instrument and I use it to express what I feel in the music and to respond to my dance partner's lead. I dance for many reasons and one of them is to continue to improve and evolve as a dancer. To do this, I need to be aware about how my body naturally moves, the range of motion I have and the appropriate tension and relaxation that needs to be applied during the dance. This is what I refer to as body awareness. As I develop my own body awareness, then I am also able to develop my dancer's sixth sense: the awareness of what my partner is doing. As a follow, this sixth sense allows me to be open and responsive to my lead and as a lead, this sixth sense allows me to always be aware of where my follow is so that I can invite here to step in comfort and balance to move with me and be able to express the music together.

Kizomba is not the only dance that can develop body awareness. What I love about kizomba's contribution to my own body awareness is the close proximity between the lead and follow and the grounded nature of the dance. By dancing kizomba, I am able to increase awareness of how my lead moves and how I am able to respond while maintaining my own balance and body expression . The nature of our connection is softer but still sharp in that we are closer and so that communication between lead and follow happens much faster despite the languid feel of the dance.

So how body aware are you?
Can you step in balance?
Can you tell whether your balance is off and how that feels to your partner?
Can you tell when there is too much tension?
Can you tell when you have to rely on each other to execute a move (like a lean)?
Can you tell how slow the next step is? or how fast?
Can you tell when you have the freedom to express (as a follow)?
Can you tell when your partner has suggested a movement that you can then continue to expand on?
Can you feel the absolute stillness in a step?
Can you, as a lead, tell when you can interrupt a movement to redirect it without disrupting it?
Can you tell what actions in your own body limit your next movement?
Can you feel when energy is building up in a move?
Can you match your partner's energy and enhance it?

Some of these questions may not make sense to you just yet. I know when I first heard some of these queries, I was lost myself. 

Kizomba, like any other dance, has a sweet spot. That's the time when everything just flows so naturally, so perfectly with what you hear in the music and how you respond to your partner. When I'm in the sweet spot, I'm not thinking, I'm just fully there: with my partner in the midst of the song that's playing. When you hit that sweet spot, the answers to almost all the questions about is yes and even a misstep - wait, what misstep? As a dancer, I strive to be in that sweet spot with every dance.

WHERE TO BEGIN? Posture, Balance and Tension
Body awareness starts within you. It starts with knowing how to maintain your posture, balance and step in the context of the dance. Let me elaborate on posture this time and elaborate on balance and tension in another post.

In concept, its simple and yet hard to maintain as we move. Good posture aligns your body correctly. When you have good posture, you look confident and poised. Good posture also allows your body to move and function at its best.

Good posture means standing with your chin parallel to the floor, shoulders rolled back (which opens your chest), your core muscles slightly engaged to keep you upright, head over shoulders over hips. Knees are relaxed, not locked and feet are shoulder width apart. If you've forgotten what this means, try this:

1) Stand with your feet hip width apart: remember that your hips - they are NOT that wide.
2) Arms hang relaxed at your side.
3) Shoulders roll back.
4) Knees are relaxed. If you're not sure, just straighten them out, tensing you leg muscles and then relax just a teensy bit.
5) Settle your weigh on the front half of your feet: Roll back and forth on your feet: toe to heel rocking back and forth until you settle on the front half of your feet.
6) Now, take a deep breath filling your chest with air. As you do that, raise your arms up to the ceiling, palms facing forward, shoulders down, Your face should follow the rise of the arms with the intake of breath, stretching the neck but not letting it fall back all the way.
7) At the end of your in breath, your hands are above your head, and your are looking at them.
Slowly exhale, bringing your arms back down, shoulders remain rolled back head facing forward, knees relaxed.

You should feel the muscles between your shoulders engaged and very connected to the ground. You should feel relaxed, alert, grounded and ready to move. As we move and dance its easy to loose this posture. Even as I sit and type this blog, I find my shoulders rolling in, head dropping back slouching. Its important to check in with yourself until it becomes second nature. Some of us have naturally adapted to a different baseline so it may seem strained at first. For example, for me my head was always looking downward which caused my shoulders to hunch up a bit so when I corrected this for better posture, I felt like my head pointing all the way up to the ceiling and my chest was sticking out too much. Just remember that as you realign your posture, the right way will feel odd until it becomes what your body naturally remembers again.

1) Shoulders rolled back (not pulled back)
2) Chin parallel to the floor
3) Shoulder line level to the floor and  parallel to your partner
4) Knees relaxed
5) Head over shoulders over hips over feet

When you connect with your partner, drawing a line between your shoulders, that shoulder line should be parallel with your partner's shoulder line. There is compression in the torso (full contact) when you meet with your partner. Some teach a slight lean into each other. I prefer to teach compression with balance: when one of you steps away, the other one does not wobble.

When you stand with your partner, your feet are not toe to toe. The lead's right foot is in between the follow's feet, just left of the follow's left foot. You are not offset from your partner by half a body width but rather by a foot width.

There is a sense of enveloping within the embrace which sometimes results in the lead's chest caving in ever so slightly and the shoulders forward a little bit. Just remember, less is more.

If you're like me, your face will fall squarely into the lead's chest. I simply rotate to the right (or left, your preference) so that my cheek is facing his chest. If you are the same height, you won't exactly be staring eye to eye but close. If you are much taller then don't bend too far down or hunch over too much. Still keep the integrity of your posture.

Head to head connection is OPTIONAL. Same height can also (but is not always required) result in a head to head connection that can be very sweet: follow's right temple to lead's left temple. There are times when the lead's chin is just above the follow's head, and there can be a small connection there as well: lead's just don't make the follow's head your head rest!

Being aware of your posture also helps to make you sensitive to when weight is being transferred and how good your balance (and your partner's balance) is. This is critical to developing that sixth sense that I mentioned and will make it easier for you to synchronize with your partner as you dance. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Looking Back at 2013

Long overdue, better late than never. Here is a reflection of 2013 from one person's perspective in the midst of all the Kizomba Seattle love. I also tried to keep the bites short with links to other references - enjoy the 2013 Kizomba Seattle year retrospective. Note also that pictures are in facebook, so apologies to those of you that aren't on facebook.

We were a little quiet in January but things started to kick up with a triple header weekend in February starting with our First Friday dance weekend, Ivo Vieira and Shani Mayer's first visit to Seattle (more pictures) and Kenny Davis Ntolla's visit. We were also featured in Seattle Magazine (who-hoo!) what a surprise that was.  The weekends with visiting instructors are always fun because we get to dance three nights in a row - joy! By this time in 2013, we had different venues to dance in; Century Ballroom, Limelight and Salsa Con Todo.

March had a ton of events at home and nearby. Kwenda Lima returned to teach a special class that pushed dancers to another level. He share much about the music and culture that held many of us captive. After his visit, it was off to the Vancouver Salsa Festival: the last one but one that had a strong kizomba presence with Kwenda, Sara and Albir. Dancing was wonderful - for me, I got to dance three of my favorite dances with tons of wonderful dancers and instructors - what's not to like? It was bittersweet since it was the last of the Vancouver Salsa Festival but I am thankful for having been a part of it.

The highlight for March tho, was Seattle Kizomba Semba Camp: my hair brained idea for a total immersion in the dance with some brilliant instructors: Eddy Vents, Oscar BA and Riquita Alta. I have said many thanks and am witness to the continued camaraderie and kizomba activity from the folks that came to this event. You can read my post on facebook just to give a shout out to the folks that were there. There were so many great memories but here are a few that stick out: it was Riquita's first time in Seattle and we were so lucky she could make it. Rick came in from SF to spin. We had a surprise visit from DJ Guelas thanks to Eddy Vents. There were dancers from all over the US: San Francisco, LA, Sedona, Atlanta, Alaska, DC, Houston, San Diego and Tennessee along with Seattle, Vancouver BC and Victoria. I was overwhelmed by my crew who helped to make the event as smooth and welcoming as it could be. I saw the start of some wonderful friendships and family-ties being built. All these folks from all over the US have continue their kizomba journey even now: my facebook feed has ample evidence of this. Many have become teachers in their local communities. Many have traveled to Europe and even to Angola to share their love of kizomba. Some have become DJ's and promoters and all of us continue to dance and expand our kizomba circles: how cool it that?

The weekend was EPIC! More can be said but that would take too long so enjoy the weekend through pictures if you care to relive it one more time.

 In April we welcomed Iris DiBrito and had a blast with her. She opened my eyes more to the possibilities of how a follow could express beyond just following. I remember seeing the video of Iris and Kwenda dancing kizomba and how I thought - I wonder if I will ever meet them? Well, yes, I did and what a pleasure. Here is more of that weekend in pictures.

May brought the return of Mafalda and with her DJ Adon. We were happy to have her back and DJ Adon even played for us on a week night. It was a first to bring someone in during the week and while attendance wasn't the same as a weekend, I got to spend more time with her and this time, she even got to try glassblowing :)

We also had our first ever Kizomba Seattle Flashmob at Westlake - whohooo! That was a blast. A bit hairy in the beginning because a parks and recreations representative tried to shoo us away because we had speakers with us. Upon learning it was a flash mob, he happily gave his approval. We had all levels represented. Here are some other pictures, a video of the actual flash mob and my blog post after it was over. There's also a lot more on the Kizomba Seattle Flashmob group on facebook.

June was a little quiet and there was a surge of Salsa - Bachata - Kizomba nights. More kizomba means good things. Its an interesting mix of music genres with so few of us that actually dance all three dances. I can say that it did increase awareness for kizomba which is always a plus.

July brought us a visit from Gosia and Olek. We had so much fun with her workshops, including a kuduru one which, well, there is no video to show it but it was quite something. Thanks so much to Maurycy and Sheena for making the event possible.

August brought back Albir and Sara for another stellar weekend. Albir even taught us a hip hop class which was a blast. Here are pictures from day one and day two of the weekend. You know what's great about bringing instructors back again? All the love and hugs and new adventures to share with someone you haven't seen in a long time. Promoters privilege: I even got to sit down to home made breakfast and learned about making chai.

Things were a little quiet in September and then in October Jay and I had the privilege of teaching kizomba to the fusion dance community at the Seattle Fusion Festival. We had a such a great time showing other dancers how to dance kizomba and how they could use it in their fusion dancing. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of video or pictures from the weekend. Suffice it to say that kizomba can be fused with almost any dance form to the right music. Its like micro dancing for you fusion dancers our there and its also like tango with more oo-ey, goo-ey-ness. To find out more about Seattle Fusion, check out the web page and the facebook page.

Jay and I were also invited to teach in Nicaragua at their 5th annual Salsa Congress. Now THAT was another milestone that was HUGE in so many ways. So many new things: teaching with an interpreter, teaching to new dancers, and being on stage with world class bachata and salsa performers. YIKES! I felt blessed to be part of this budding dance community, I wrote about it on my personal blog. It was my first time in Nicaragua as well. Thanks to Isaias and Ariel and everyone that was a part of that experience. Here are my pictures from that trip.

Then the final event: November's Kizomba Seattle Exchange with Oscar BA and DJ Guelas with us to spice up the DJ lineup. We also welcome DJ Shiv from San Francisco join in. Seven dances all weekend long with visitors from Vancouver, Victoria, Alaska and San Francisco. We even welcomed some brand new dancers it our fold: they got wind of kizomba and came out to dance with us all weekend long AND are still dancing today. That's the power of kizomba. I don't have a lot of pictures, I was too busy dancing! I did share my thoughts on it tho, so feel free to reminisce with me.

In December I had to leave for home to help with family. For me, my connections were through facebook and email. I had the pleasure of meeting someone in the Philippines who knew about kizomba and sharing a little bit with her and her dance partner. What I did see tho, was how one visitor from another country was able to stir up so much action in our small community. I got inquiries from lots of people wanting to learn and spent a lot of time setting up the opportunities for 2014 that I am looking forward to and have had the pleasure to experience already.

2014 has gotten off to a great start. I'm looking forward to more travel to dance and see my extended kizomba family outside Seattle. It looks like there will be just as many memorable moments in 2014 to share. I'm looking forward to it already.

Happy Dancing!