Co-creative Dance & Kizomba Blog – “No Mistakes”, Playing in the Sand Box with the Grid of Possibilities: Self Expression and Sharing
Welcome to my monthly dance blog for April 2019, where I share and explore my thoughts on dance, life, social dance, co-creativity, Kizomba and teaching. The Blog also includes song and dance video recommendations for Kizomba/Tarraxa/Urban Kiz/Semba (recommendation at bottom of blog). My hope is that this blog can make you think and help you grow as a dancer and as a person. As the information I share has helped me greatly in my life and dance journey.
My favorite partnered dances (leading, following or co-creative) are when I feel comfortable and completely free the express myself while being fully connected with my partner. This usually happens when my partner feels solid and in command of their own dancing, with their own style and musicality, but at the same time are also actively listening to me, ready at all times to give me space to express myself and to share in creating the dance. While I am giving them the same in return. When dancing this way, we are constantly inspiring each other and the dance is evolving in every moment, inspired from our interactions. There are no set patterns, no planning the steps to come, only a dance being created in every moment by 2 people to one music. When I feel this complicity with my partner, like we are one, but at the same time free to express ourselves, it feels amazing and I don’t want it to end. (If you want a visual of this kind of dance check Tara’s video I shared in my top 5 videos, towards the bottom of the blog)
That being said, experiencing this type of dance and feeling, does take practice and a certain level of dance as well as a certain mindset and openness. Not being there is perfectly OK. It’s always OK to be yourself and to be who you are with the abilities you currently have. Or maybe that is not even the type of dancer you are interested to be. This blog is to inspire dancers to reach their full potential, to share information I found very useful during my dance journey and to share who I am. What is the most important is that you are having fun when you are social dancing and that you are expressing yourself. Your favorite type of dance may be very different from mine, and will probably evolve as you evolve as a dancer. And again, that is perfectly OK, we are all our own person, and that is a good thing. That doesn’t mean that you can’t get inspired by some of the information I share, and take from it what feels right to you.
I believe in the power of being your own dancer, of having something to contribute to the dance. I strive to be a dancer that people want to dance with and are inspired by. How do you get there? I like to compare it to a sand box. When dancing you are the sandbox that your partner is playing in. When you have a strong foundation, understanding of more intermediate/advanced concepts and your own self expression, styling and musicality, you are like huge sandbox full of toys. Your partner can play to their heart’s content and they feel free to do so. They feel like they can execute all the steps they know and even create new ones. But if you have very little skills your partner feels like your sand box is very small, barely big enough to play in. Which sandbox do you think your partner would rather have? There are also different types of sandboxes, a smaller sandbox that is clean, well built and has toys can still be lots of fun to play with, even if it doesn’t have as much freedom as a bigger one. But a small sandbox that is not clean, has no toys, that has very little sand, can be very uninspiring to dance/play in. That is why the quality of what you know matters, not only how much you know.
There is this misconception among beginner dancers that if you have a “good” partner they can elevate your dancing. But although you may be able to execute a few more steps than usual and feel more comfortable, its usually because your partner is heavily adapting and compensating to give you a good dance. But you didn’t just become a better dancer during that one dance. It’s just that more beginner dancers don’t have the compensation skills or as good leading/following skills to make up for what you lack in your own skills. It’s a little like if you give a beginner violin player a violin with one string they probably won’t know what to do, but if you give a professional violinist the same violin, they can figure out a way to play something that sounds nice with just one string, but that doesn’t mean that they want to only play one string violins every time.
It doesn’t mean that beginners should never try to dance with good dancers. Especially if you are taking classes and know a few steps already. It can be a fun exercise for a good dancer to dance with fewer steps, while keeping the dance interesting on their level. Many also remember their beginner days and want to encourage beginners and give them a taste of what it can feel like when you keep practicing. Just don’t expect for them to want to dance with you all night, they will also want to dance with partners that will enable them to fully dance at their level.
I want to share a story about my first social dance experience (and yes it may be hard to believe but I was a complete beginner to at one time). I had been living in France and taking salsa classes for about 6 months before I got the courage to go out to a social dance event. I was nervous, and definitely still struggling in many ways. But I was proud of myself for having the courage to go out. I danced with other beginners and stared amazed at the more advanced dancers. Then at the end of the night one of the best dancers at the event asked me to dance. I will always remember that dance as he was able to help me relax and for the first time feel like I was dancing. I was so grateful for the experience and it gave me hope that I might get there one day. I kept taking lessons, practicing (and still do 14 years later), and started going out more regularly, my skills improved and so did my confidence. I don’t remember how much time passed, probably another 6 months or so. I was at a social and that same dancer asked me to dance again. He didn’t remember me from the first time, (which is understandable as I wasn’t a memorable dance for him) but this time he danced with me several times that night. I was so happy as, to me, it was a proof that I had improved. After that he made sure to ask me to dance every time we were at the same events. We even became friends and hung out outside of socials. He was also the first person who encouraged me to teach. At the time I thought he was crazy, but when I did start teaching, I realized that he saw something in me that I only saw in myself years later.
He was known as one of the best social dancers in the city I was living in because he would dance with everyone and try to give them a good dance although he had the skills to dance with the best dancers in the room. I realized that he liked dancing with me because I naturally cared more about my dancing feeling good than on learning more steps. I never forgot that and to this day I try to dance with everyone who respects me (and doesn’t injure me) and give them as good of a dance as I can. I never told him about our first dance, (maybe I should of) but I think it’s a great example of how things can change with practice.
I promote active, confident, creative following. I hate the expressions “just follow” and “be a ghost follow”, when I follow I am a dancer too in the partnership, I am a person with ideas, creativity, things I want to express… and also following is a skill, it’s not as easy as it sounds to do it well. I see so many follows on the dance floors of the world doing their best just to keep up with the leads, scared to do a mistake and trying to be perfect. But to me it’s not about being perfect it’s about being yourself, it’s about dancing through the “mistakes” it’s about truly sharing a moment. Yes, following is a skill and I am completely for learning to follow well and for developing a strong foundation in your dancing. And starting out wanting to be a “ghost follow” (or in other words, being a good follow that responds to every impulse from the lead instantly, thus feels really light to dance with), isn’t a bad first goal. Actually, it is a commendable one. However, where does the actual dancing come in? Isn’t dancing suppose to be fun for both partners and be about self expression? It makes me sad sometimes to see leads worrying about patterns and follows worrying about executing them, so much so, that they forget to enjoy the process of dancing.
It’s one thing to follow and to know the steps, but how do you go from executing steps to dancing the steps? To me that comes after having established a foundation, it comes with learning to trust yourself, knowing yourself, and developing your own personal style, musicality, creativity and confidence, but it’s also the way to look at your dancing and what your focus is. If you focus on feeling good and on creativity with basics, you will be a very different dancer than if you focus on learning as many patterns as possible.
In the original kizomba style they talk about Ginga (Banga for the leads). Ginga is the hip movements and styling of the follows, but it’s more than that, it’s your attitude, it’s how you show your personality and who you are through your posture, walk, way of moving, way of dressing… Yes, having the confidence to decide how you will step through each step of the dance. Yes, when learning to follow, you first need to understand how to read the lead’s signals and how to execute steps and get enough practice to get them into your body. But to me after that there is this extra step which is about learning to dance the steps. To me that is largely a self exploration and self practice. For example, if you want to add body movements and isolations, you first need to be able to do the movements by yourself before being able to add them to the dance. If you want to be more musical you should listen to music and focus on hearing the different instruments, feeling the flow of the song…
However, some leads just want to execute patterns and are not listening much to their partner or giving them any space, then it’s hard to really dance the steps and add to the dance. I have even been stopped mid dance before to be told to stop adding the extra bits and just follow because it’s distracting. However, I have also had amazing dances with leads who are soaking up all the little things I add to the dance and are truly happy to be dancing with an active follow that is dancing every step and inspiring them. To me if we want the scenes to change, we, the follows, have to demand change by taking our part in the dance and make ourselves heard. Why would more leads learn to be better listeners and sharers if we don’t have anything to add to the dance even when they give us the space to do so?
To me the best dancers have both the ability to listen to their partner and the ability to have their own voice in the dance. To share more both partners have to both be listening to each other and have their own voice. That is to me the best dances, because we are inspiring each other and feeling valued in the dance. And it feels like we are truly having a conversation, instead of reading a script.
Something else happens when we are both listening and being creative. When we are in the moment and open to change and adapting. I often talk to my students about the notion that there are no mistakes in kizomba when social dancing (with the exception of falls, painful accidents, and other obvious exceptions) What I mean by that is not that both partners will be perfect all the time, it’s how you react when things don’t go the way that you thought it would go. For example, a lead tries to indicate a touch step forward, but the follow does a rocking step instead. Whose fault is it? Was the lead’s signal clear? Did the follow listen attentively? Does it matter? Instead of either partner blaming each other, I suggest that you instead take stock of the position you are actually in and realize that you are still in a workable dance position 99% of the time and that if you change your mind from what you wanted to do, to what you can do from this position. This moment can be seen as an opportunity to be creative, as you may do a step that your never did before in that exact way. From the outside looking in, if you don’t make a big deal out of it, people won’t even be able to notice that things didn’t go as planned.
In kizomba it’s very easy to pull this off because you have some much freedom by not having a repeating basic and being able to dance on different timings. This is also one of the main skills that a good social dancer has, and this is why they can make beginners feel like they are good dancers. They are listening to their partner and adapting, changing their steps, making up for space and timing issues so that the mistakes disappear. Because to many more advanced dancers, the importance is having a good dance that is fun for both partners and is flowing as much as possible. But if they danced the way they danced with a high-level dancer (and I’m not talking about leading harder moves, but about executing the same moves without adapting), the beginner dancer would have a hard time, all the mistakes would be visible and it wouldn’t be a good dance for either partners. This is also why many say that you won’t learn much just trying to dance socially without taking classes, because most of the time your partner is adapting to your handicaps, so you are not actually practicing the steps the correct way. So, it’s very hard to truly improve.
Having so much social dance experience I do usually know where most of the problems lie during a dance (and yes sometimes it my fault… I’m not perfect either) and I am usually adapting to help with the flow of the dance. But I do have a problem with beginner dancers who hound more advanced dancers and refuse to dance with dancers at their skill level or lower as they only want to have “good dances” but don’t want to work on their own skills, or beginner dancers who without realizing your background criticize your dancing, try to correct you, or are disappointed by the lack of “advanced” moves you executed with them, when we were actually doing the best we could, within their own limitation (or within their own sandbox) as a beginner dancer. Partnered dancing is danced with two people, please remember that we both play a part in it and that if we don’t play it will it affects the ability of the other person to do their part to the best of their ability. Stay humble, and instead of blaming your partner, if you want to talk about the problems in the dance. Try a different approach. Something like: we had a problem executing this type of movement, what do you think was causing this? To me sharing is not only during the dance, but during class, practice… instead of blaming each other, try having a conversation about it. Most of the time both partners can learn to be better dancers through conversations about problematic areas of their dancing and many times we both did things that caused the stumbles. And they are much more likely to be open to the problems when they are discussed equal to equal, instead of being blamed for the entirety of them.
This month I made quite a long video… it’s over 30 min long. On what I call the grid of possibilities. As I said in the video it was a request from a subscriber and I believe it’s a great way to be able to put in practice the “no mistakes” social dancing approach. The video talks about all the different positions from basic 1, always keeping one of the feet in the original position. There are any more than you would think (hence the length of the video) Being familiar with the possibilities in every step of the dance definitely helps you be more creative and also more adaptable as you are aware of all the possibilities and are never stumped when the one you were thinking of doing doesn’t work out, because you have a whole suitcase of other options up your sleeve. As I said in the video, I often imagine what I call lines of energy (or of possibilities) that I visualize as I’m dancing. Before dance became a big part of my life I was studying fine arts, and I have a Masters degree in Sculpture and installation. So, I am very good at picturing things in 3D in my head. I find this helps me tremendously when I dance kizomba. The grid of possibilities is a look into how visualize when I dance kizomba and how it helps me not execute patterns the same way every time. Hope you enjoy the video and that it helps you see more possibilities in ever step.
- I believe in the importance of teaching follows and for them to have a voice in the dance. Love this timely message from Tania Mendonca, one of the first Angolan kizomba teachers to teach in Europe. I have been promoting these kinds of ideas in all my dance classes but it’s always great to hear others talking about it too. Dance is suppose to be fun 😉 https://www.facebook.com/tania.mendonca.work/videos/10156915821876005/
- Video of the 2019 second place winners of a Semba contest in Luanda Angola, Josiane Gomes and Patricia Bernadeth Lubanzadio. I just love this couple. So clean, precise, graceful and in sync… and surprising in the best way. Since they don’t fit the typical body type of dancers they had to be creative when it came to doing lifts and tricks and I just love how they turned it into a strength by finding creative ways to wow everyone with their technique and creativity while making them laugh at the same time. I love it when people show us through their talent that any body can be an amazing dancer and that the perfect dancer’s body is your own body the way it naturally is. And that once you accept yourself and dance with confidence and skill, that is enough. The only limitations are the ones we place on ourselves. https://www.facebook.com/tanja.harju.94/videos/2187871207934133/
- Most people who know me know that one of my favorite Urban Kiz dancers is Willy Dianza. I also love his partner in this video, Laura, who is a great example of an active follow who adds to the dance while still being a great follow. Although this is an older video, it’s one of my favorites and I have come back to it this month for two reasons. One, it has inspired some of my practices this month. Two, it has been there when I needed a reminder of how playful, connected and generous kizomba/Urban Kiz can be. Since the moment I have discovered Willy, (which was before he exploded on the international scene) he has given me faith that Urban Kiz can be the way that I imagined it could be. The first video I saw of him, I literally felt like he was dancing the way I imagined Urban Kiz could be in my head, but I hadn’t seen anyone do yet. So, since then I have been following him and have been inspired by him. Whenever I get discouraged, I always go back and watch his videos. I am so glad to see he is now in demand all over the world, he deserves it. And I am loving the impact he is having on kizomba around the world. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hP80o7tZw_s
- I’ve been loving seeing the growth in Canadian and North American dancers. I especially have been enjoying Tarah‘s videos. There just seems to be one each month that I just have to share. When she shared an improv session with Eddy-Alejandro Velazquez this month, I just had to include it in my top 5 videos. This one has creativity, musicality, sharing and connection on another level and is a great example of what I described as my favorite type of dance in this blog. It just made me smile. Love when you dance with someone and everything clicks; you are on the same level of craziness, you inspire each other and you find yourself doing things you don’t even understand how you thought of or got into. Whose are always the best dances. https://www.facebook.com/tarahurkiz/videos/265879150986212/UzpfSTExODQ1MTIzNTA6MTAyMTg3MDY4NDA5NjA1NDI/
- OK, so I wasn’t planning to do this, but when this came my way, I just had to… I had share one more video with Willy, this time he is following Davy in a kizomba social. Just love the creativity and musicality. And you know me, I always celebrate dancers who are comfortable and open minded enough to dance both roles. After all we are all human and dancing is about connection, not the stereotypical sexualization of close physical contact, that social dance is so often promoted as. Nothing wrong with the girl seduces the man story line, but there are so many more stories, connections, partnerships possibilities that enhance the dance in different ways and allow us to be creative in different ways and to connect with people more on a soul level. https://www.facebook.com/tarahurkiz/videos/265879150986212/UzpfSTExODQ1MTIzNTA6MTAyMTg3MDY4NDA5NjA1NDI/
- I’ve been enjoying dancing to this Urban Kiz track this month, DJ Guez – Sweet Flight https://soundcloud.com/dj-aitor-rguez/dj-guez-sweet-flight-2019-download-free. Proof, I ended up recording myself free styling to this track for the first time and decided to share it. It had lots of fun beats, so I was having fun dancing to it. Here is the link to me dancing to this track: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_t5LU-vasA
- I love Gerilson Insrael’s voice in this kizomba song, such a beautiful tone and deep emotion behind it, I Carne Com Gindungo – Gerilson Insrael https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2udC0juhFdQ Sometimes it’s nice to dance an easy flow to a song you can easily get lost in.
- This song surprised me in a good way the first time I listened to it: Bairro – Wet Bed Gang https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjAycO5KYDE When it starts out you think it’s going to be a mellow song with nice guitar, but it picks up and has a nice diversity of different grooves to explore, including a rap sections while keeping the interesting guitar through the song. I love songs that have a variety of sounds, feelings and beats to dance to and this one has that in spades while also being a nice song to listen to.
- Tayc songs have been on my playlist this month and this has been my favorite, Promis jure – Tayc, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5l_GyzWpyI As always I’m a sucker for a song with an interesting beat, a good melody and with an awesome singer, and Tayc is smooth as butter in this one.
- If you haven’t noticed yet, I’ve been in more of a mellow mood this month, so no Semba or Tarraxo songs… not that I didn’t listen to some Matias Damasio from time to time (Yes… my obsession hasn’t completely gone away yet). So, my last song for this month is a mellow track. A feel good song to dance to when you have a good connection with someone and don’t feel the need to go crazy, but want enjoy the moment, DJ Visser — Breathin (ft Emma Heesters) https://soundcloud.com/user-47270122/breathin-ft-emma-heesters
Hope you enjoyed the read and got inspired. See you next month for the next edition! The subject will be on connection!