A few years ago I met a Cuban guy living in Halifax. We hit it off and hung out a few times. I discovered he used to work for the resorts in Cuba as part of the entertainment crew and used to teach people how to dance. hmmmmm … It didn’t take me long to ask him to show me a few things!
One night (long ago) he asked me if I had ever heard of Kizomba. I hadn’t. He loaded up some good ol’ youtube videos with kizomba music and told me ‘just feel the music’.
There we were, ‘feeling’ the music in my living room. How romantic right?
Generally, I would agree with you … handsome latin man who can dance, sexy music … should be very romantic.
This is what ‘Feeling the music’ is supposed to look like ….
Then there is me trying to learn to dance to Latin music when I don’t have Latin blood. It is difficult. Our white North American bodies are not accustomed to moving the same as Latinos. They learn to dance from birth and here I was 30 years late getting started! I had a lot of catching up to do!
Ok ok … I’m not that bad.
I thought that Dominican bachata was the sexiest dance I knew, but then I learned about kizomba! Ooo la la!
Lessons didn’t last very long that night. I don’t think I was a very good student. For some reason I have difficulties with follow the leader. (ha ha ha) It was probably because kizomba is danced so physically close to one another that it is like you are one.
Fast forward several years until March 2015. I’ve always enjoyed the rhythm of kizomba, but it isn’t very popular in any of the areas that I’ve traveled. Or maybe I haven’t been looking in the right places.
One night when I was out with my friend in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, we stopped for Happy Hour at La Bodeguita, a Cuban bar / restaurant on the malecon, whose creator is famous for the original creation of the mojito in Cuba. Come to find out, we were an hour too late for happy hour, so we didn’t stick around, but on the way out I noticed a sign advertising kizomba dance lessons at 9pm that night.
We went out and had a few drinks at a nearby bar (I couldn’t resist 2 for 1 Pina Coladas) and then returned to the Cuban bar to check out kizomba lessons.
The instructors started off with a beautifully choreographed dance to show us all what ‘could’ be done and then a small group of us practiced the basics together. We learned a few of the basic steps and danced a couple of songs and then the lesson was over. It was just a short little teaser for the workshop that they were organizing for the next two days.
I had looked into taking dance lessons (salsa) when I arrived in Vallarta, but I didn’t have any luck finding group classes. Having stumbled upon kizomba classes and a workshop taking place on my last weekend in the city, I just couldn’t say no.
Late Saturday afternoon I headed to Isla Cuale (a very small island in one of the main rivers running from the mountains to the ocean) to a newly opened bar called Utopia. It was quiet mid-day but looks like it would be a great place to dance the night away. There I met with the promoter, the instructor and about seven others looking to learn kizomba.
The workshop was put on by Nora from Keep on Dancing. She’s a beautiful dancer and speaks fluent Spanish and English. Amazingly, and very proudly, I told her that she did not need to repeat everything in English for me and I actually understood the instructions in Spanish. Although, I’m sure the demonstrative nature of a dance class helped some.
I knew I was in the right class when she explained the basis of kizomba as being all about connection with your partner. The first thing we had to do was form a circle and then individually hug everyone in the circle. Keep in mind, nearly all of us were complete strangers, with the exception for the couple who were there and two girls who had met at a prior class. Now, I know many people who cringe at the thought of hugging a stranger, although it doesn’t bother me at all. But, take a second and think about hugging a stranger for 10 – 15 exaggerated and long seconds. It was important to hug long enough to actually relax a little and feel the connection. This is a hug like you would give your mom, your dad or your partner and isn’t the quick little pat that you give someone in a receiving line at a wedding. For anyone who knows me, they are more like my squishy hugs or even my wiggly ones. I’m a strong believer that hugs are good for your mental health and I give and take them whenever I can.
When was the last time you had a 10 second hug? I was literally very happy that day because I had at least 10 hugs before the dance class even started. If I could take dances classes daily that started with hugs I think I would be the happiest girl in the world. It was a great, although a slightly awkward icebreaker, but afterwards we didn’t really feel like strangers any longer which makes it a whole lot better for dancing kizomba.
The first 45 minutes was spent listening to the music and standing in a line learning the basic steps. Then we would practice them with rotating partners. This way everyone got a feel for how to dance with different people and since some were a little more advanced than others, you could learn from your partner while practicing.
One of our practice exercises was to dance with our bodies touching, but without our hands. It is important to maintain body contact at all times and you ‘should’ be able to follow your leader by feeling their movements rather than with hand signals. Here’s a short clip (I’m in the black and white dress on the left).
For the next hour and a half, we practiced various steps with increasing difficulty and putting them together into a choreographed movement. The choreography was mostly so we could learn how all of the steps could transition and be used together, more so than having to learn to dance this exact formula of steps.
Through changing partners the men got to practice leading different women. I felt bad regularly as I suck at following, but I tried really hard to follow and by the end was getting better. If a guy can’t lead, the girl doesn’t know what to do and if a girl can’t follow then nothing works!
I won’t lie, I stepped on a few toes and my little toes got squished a few times too. Note to self – don’t learn to dance with open toed sandals. I learned how to move my hips in a proper figure 8, how to do the dolphin move (rolling your body) and all kinds of variations of quick-quick-slow, slow-slow-quick, side to side, back and forth and walking along with a couple of turns or salidas.
In the end it was actually lovely to hear from the instructor how much I had learned throughout the class and have a laugh at how uncomfortable the dolphin move is for me, even though I was doing it correctly.
Here’s a little video of the instructor showing off all the moves that I did not learn in my first class. Well, the dolphin is in there toward the end where she moves her whole body like a dolphin, or a worm (standing up). Add these moves into the choreography of a beautiful partner dance and it becomes incredibly sexy. Hmmmm … I’m not quite there yet.
Sadly, I was too busy learning to take any video of my efforts. I know how disappointed you all are! But, I hope you enjoy the few little videos I’ve shared.
I now know how to dance at least the basic steps to salsa, cumbia, bachata, merengue and kizomba. Keeping all of the music straight is sometimes a challenge, but I just can’t tell you how much I love latin dancing.
If you ever get a chance to try a class, give it a ‘roll’ …
A big thanks to Keep on Dancing for the classes and Nora for being so lovely and encouraging.