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, November 22, 2015

Too Many Cliques?

According to the my grapevine, some cliques have been forming in our growing Kizomba Seattle Community and its making some people feel unwelcome.

Back when our community consisted of less than 20 people, I could say confidently that I knew everyone that fell in love with Kizomba. Today, I'm happy to report that I don't and that's because our community has grown so much over the past few years. I can't even attend all the events that we have any more and I believe this is largely a good thing.

When a community grows, the whole idea of "one big happy family" is hard to sustain without a regular presence of a "mom" or "dad" figure setting the tone so its is only natural that cliques start to form.

Just in case, I looked up the definition of clique:

a small group of people, with shared interests or other features in common, who spend time together and do not readily allow others to join them.

The key part is "do not readily allow others to join them".

I've been in and out of so many scenes and I totally get the clique thing. I've been on the side that feels unwelcome and I've been on the "cool kids" side and what I learned is that no matter what you try to do, someone will always feel unwelcome.  In other words, there's no pleasing everyone.

Everytime I start in a new dance or group activity, its easy to spot "that group": the cool kids. When I was learning how to swing dance, I always envied that group that was having so much fun in that corner of the dance floor, all chummy chummy with the instructors and DJs. I wanted to get to know those people and I wanted to be included.

Sure, I felt like they didn't want to get to know me at all and sometimes I got discouraged but mostly, I just wanted to dance like them or dance so well that they had to take notice. So I focused on learning and getting better and getting to know the peer group I was learning with and in a few months time, I was being asked to dance by the "cool kids" and they started to take notice of me. In some cases, I became a cool kid myself.

Here's the thing - you can't avoid the cliques: people will naturally gravitate to each other to form friendships and smaller groups will form within a larger community. You all know how hard it is to maintain relationships, especially as an adult with so many other things pulling and competing for your time. Most of the time, the folks in a clique just have so much fun with each other, they don't have time for other people.

SO - what to do? I submit that if you are a newbie, you should try to flip things around and not make it about the clique but make it about you. Yup, YOU getting better, feeling good about your dancing and making new friends.

It would be nice if there was always a welcome committee for new people [HINT HINT to some of our more established peeps and thanks to the ones that are consistently doing their best to welcome new people]. That being said, if you're new, and you feel a little left out, try something that will make you feel a little uncomfortable and observe the crowd to see who you could say "hi" to and make a new friend.

I know this is hard. I still succumb to this difficulty despite being able to bring large groups of people together. Here's what I look for and advise:
  • Friendly smile
  • Someone that everyone says hi to and hugs
  • Don't go after someone who's too cool for school, you're just setting yourself up
  • Observe - does this person say yes when asked to dance? Good - odds are, they will say yes to you :)
  • Be open and smiling yourself: don't be the wall flower and stand in a corner with your hands crossed or head hunched over. Sway to the music and smile like you're having a good time (cuz you are) - it works. Someone will say "hi!"
  • For you beginning leads, embrace your newness and have fun. Don't be apologizing for every little thing. People understand that beginners need time so take advantage of their understanding to just dance and have a good time. [This is true for follow's too, I just wanted to address the leads specifically because there's bit more pressure on a lead in the beginning. ]

Finally - here's the one thing I would say about you and the whole clique thing:


The clique and its energy is about the people in that clique. People in cliques are usually really good friends that have a TON of fun with each other and so when they go out, they dance with each other, laugh with each other, talk together. Its not that they don't want to get to know you, its that they want to spend time with each other. So you can choose to feel like the one that's left out OR you can choose to be the next cool kid on the block. Flip the switch and change the perspective to one that favors you.

One could argue that the cool kids should be putting something back into the community and welcoming new people into the fold. Sure - I get that and as a former cool kid myself, I try my best to do that when I can. The bottom line is that dance is about YOUR OWN personal enjoyment and expression. Part of that is who you choose to be with and dance with but most of it is about what YOU love about the dance and who you are. If you're enjoyment of dancing is limited to what other people think of you, then its not the best reason to dance. You have to dance for your own enjoyment and expression.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

What's that you say? *Insert name here* is teaching now?!

Visiting instructors to Seattle have always commented about the unity they feel in the community here that they do not feel in other places that they have visited. They view our community as being more unified than most and lacking the in-fighting that they see and sometimes experience when they visit other communities.

It's not like drama doesn't happen. There are disagreements, strong opinions that clash, all the normal things you would expect in a community filled with different kinds of people. These interactions are normal but they do not define or set the tone for what our community is.

So why is the Kizomba Seattle community different?

There is little or no back fighting or one-up'ing going on within our teaching community: we all know each other and get along. Sure, we have different opinions on things and different teaching styles and methods, but for the most part, there is very little dissension and unfriendly competition amongst us. I think this is important because it has an impact on the community itself: the community is then not divided into "camps" based on who their teacher is.

I think this is state of cooperative competition is a result of the fact that all of us who are teaching  "grew up" together as we learned to dance Kizomba/Semba. We learned together: with and from each other when it was just a budding scene. We also each took our own path to learning and continue to talk to each other and collaborate. l love it. I think its awesome.

Lately tho, I've been hearing other people talk about so-and-so starting to teach and of course, the reaction and tone that I hear make it sound like their opinion is that this person isn't ready to teach. My own first reactions might be the same as I react with my judgement and personal opinion. Whatever the case, after my initial feelings are expressed, I always try to end with this: the more people there are to spread the love of the dance, the more the community will grow and that's a good thing. Sure, some will argue that so and so is not ready to teach or doesn't know enough to teach. Bottom line is there is nothing anyone can do to prevent someone else from teaching. What right do I (or anyone else) have to say "You should not teach." If people feel like they have something to offer as an instructor and would like to be paid for that time, why not?

Sure, I have my opinions and thoughts based on my experiences and knowledge. So if you ask for my opinion and advice I'm happy to share it. You can argue that people who aren't qualified to teach are stealing from their student if they charge money for it.

Here's what I believe: students will find who their best teacher is. There are so many factors to finding the right teacher and when you are spending your own money to pay for an activity that you are doing as your hobby or for fun, I'm pretty sure you'll invest in it wisely in the long run. A truly good teacher will stand out and the ones that aren't qualified will eventually have to step up or lose their student base.

Rather than list reasons why someone shouldn't be teaching and/or  pass judgement, I'll share my thoughts on what I think makes a good dance teacher.
  • Gotta love what you do and it has to show. This is something all the teachers I respect and would always learn from have in common - they love what they do and I can feel it when they teach dance.
  • They are students too. In order to teach someone how to do something, one must also be actively doing or practicing that which they are teaching. Great teachers also evolve with their students and learn from how their students learn. If you spend all your time telling someone what to do, something gets lost in your own development. 
  • They actively dance (or are involved in dance other than just teaching). I do think for dancing this is important. A teacher should be actively engaged in dancing whatever dance they teach not just as a teacher. Do you seem them out dancing? Performing? Engaged in the community? DJing?
  • Its not just about the dance. I think great teachers take the time to learn about teaching itself, the music, the dance origins and context for the dance.  I'm not saying that someone who doesn't know the history of Kizomba will be a bad teacher. I just think that its only natural to know more about what you love. 
  • Geek out on dance I could spend hours talking about dancing - the music, how to move, what makes a good dancer, what makes a good move, what makes a move work. What's the progression of how to teach things, what will make things easier to understand. 
  • Coach, Mentor, Cheerleader all in one. A truly great teacher is many things to different people. They know when to encourage, when to push, when to engage and when to let things simmer. 
  • Knows that its not about them. Great teachers will not make it about themselves or the other teachers. It's about the students and helping them grow and love themselves in the dance. 
  • Know their strengths and limitations. I think to teach you have to also know yourself pretty well. You shouldn't make things up about what you don't know and shouldn't be afraid to say when something is not your area of expertise. 
  • Its not Wrong I hear this a lot, "well, my teacher said it was wrong do to this". I think that this one is tricky because students can hear things out of context. A good instructor recognizes that there are different methods of executing a movement and will at least talk about what works for them and what they teach and recognize that there are other ways to teach the same material. 
There are other qualities that I think are important that are more about my personal preference based on teachers that I respect and love to learn from who have influenced how I learn and teach and want to be like:
  • Down to earth
  • Respectful and Kind
  • Can laugh at themselves
  • Patient
  • Great at pacing material and recognizing how much information to give (talking time) and how much time to practice
  • Doesn't malign other peers or dancers in their profession
  • Celebrates students' success
So who does teach kizomba in Seattle? Here's a list and if you teach and are not on it let me know and I'd be happy to add you to the list. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

How Body Aware are You? Balance [You and Your Partner]

My previous post about balance focused on stillness and your own balance. This one focuses about balance in the partnership while you are dancing with your partner.

While dancing, leads and follows are each responsible for their own balance in the dance. To truly connect with your partner while dancing, one must also start to develop an awareness of your partner's balance as well. This second level of balance awareness can take dancing to the new heights. The added awareness allows you the space to express yourself as you dance in unison with another person whether you are a lead or a follow.

Balance in motion is tied to awareness of your partner as well as the forces at work when you move together.

For example, a follow, no matter what size, can easily throw a lead off balance if either party is not aware of their balance while moving. Follows have the last action in any movement since they are finishing what the lead has suggested. This means they carry with them some force from acceleration and momentum that if they do not control by maintaining their own balance OR if the lead does not prepare for, can easily cause the lead to go off balance. The need to be aware and in control are particularly important with movements that involve rotation and speed (quicker movement than usual). The reason we don't see more spills in kizomba is that the speed and distances traveled by the dancers are slower and smaller and so are easier to control. In the event there's a balance challenge, leads and follows can still compensate for momentary lapses of balance. The result of the compensation is usually some sacrifice of grace, smoothness and connection if things don't go quite as planned.

Building awareness of your own balance and your partners' comes with practice and experience. When I start to teach kizomba, I stress that despite the close connection, the lead and the follow each are responsible for their own balance.

When you start to be comfortable in that, you can start to pay attention to your partner's balance as well. When does the weight shift occur? When is the balance distributed between both legs? What causes my partner to step?

Building this awareness allows the lead to then play with their connection in a different way: to slide or life or pivot their follow as an interruption to the base walk.

1) Slow Motion Walking: can be done along then in partnership. Alone to work on your own balance and control while in partnership to learn to listed to when the weight shift occurs.
2) Leading a Step Without taking the Step: Can you move your follow to take a step while you don't? Are you aware of what foot your follow is on and when you can sync up with opposite feet or same feet? Start with walking together and pay attention to when your partner has committed to step. See if you can lead in such a way that you make your follow step without you (the lead) actually taking a step. Do this while the follow is walking forward and backward.

NEXT: Establishing an Even Cadence