Kizomba Lessons

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!

Me?

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.

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Get your dance on!

The bass booms, the walls vibrate, you can’t hear yourself think …
Your heart pounds a little faster, you can feel the blood running through your body, excitement kicks in and then before you know it, your feet and hips are moving to the music.

Not everyone loves to dance, but I for one, do. And, I don’t have to be drunk to do it! In fact, I don’t really like drinking that much so I rarely bother (once or twice a year is enough for me!). Thankfully, I’m not easily embarrassed, so I’ll head out on the dance floor to wiggle wiggle wiggle without any liquid courage at all!.

When I was in Punta Cana in April, my new friend Emily asked if I would like to go off resort and go out salsa dancing one night. That sounded like a lot of fun to me and I hadn’t really been off resort as we had been busy getting settled after the fire, then I was doing photographs and then photographing the wedding that I was there for. So, by Friday, after all of my work was done, I was ready to be adventurous! Of course, I didn’t want to be dangerously adventurous!

Emily had the idea that we could ask some of the locals who were working at the resort to go with us. We had been talking with staff on and off all week, so there were a few that we (meaning Emily lol) would approach and ask. She also had the advantage of being able to speak pretty decent Spanish for a white girl, so that helped!

The idea was that if we went with locals who worked at the resort, they would know the best places in town to go and they have to work the next day, so they wouldn’t want to kill us … that might get their bosses a little angry.

Further than that, Emily and I agreed that in order to be safe, we’d stick together and we wouldn’t drink. First of all, getting drunk off resort could possibly make us sick because of the use of local water. And, second of all, we both knew it was better to think straight than blurry! Our goal was to go out dancing and have a good time, but neither of us required liquor to do this.

Our plan was to head to a big hot spot for dancing called Mangu. We had heard that it had both American style music as well as lots of salsa dancing which was what Emily was most excited about. Me? I had no idea how to dance salsa, but I was up for trying!

Yes, yes, I know that many of you out there (including my parents) are cringing at this situation, but you just have to remember that I don’t travel to see a resort and be waited on. I travel to get a feel for what the local area is like, what the locals are like and get to know them.

Being two mature adults, we made the best choices we could in order to make the adventure out to a local club as safe as possible so that we could see what it was really like in Punta Cana, rather than what the disco at the resort with all the foreigners was like.

The group of us took a taxi off the resort and in to Punta Cana where we stopped first at The Drink. It was packed inside and out of this little bar right along the main street in Punta Cana. It seemed like a friendly place, mixed with locals and tourists. There were chairs and tables outside on the patio, a small dance floor inside and lots of people milling around in the courtyard / parking lot in front of the bar. We stayed here for about an hour or so, and then we headed off to another bar called Areito. Here they were playing a mixture of latino pop, bachata and a little bit of salsa. It wasn’t really very crowded, which made it nice. We weren’t bumping into people or pushing our way through like you would at the bars in Halifax. The dance floor was a good size and everyone seemed to have just enough space.

We stayed here for the rest of the night and never actually got to go to Mangu. We had heard it was a $10 cover charge. That was normal for us, but since we were traveling with our new local friends, we suspected that $10 US might be a bit pricey for them. So, we stayed at Areito’s.

Now, Emily already knew how to dance salsa, so no problem for her to get out on the dance floor, although the local guys surprisingly did not know how to dance salsa like we expected!

I picked up Merengue really quickly, but Bachata, that was a different story! Bachata is a dance that is very well known in the Dominican … and although I didn’t know then, come to find out, it is a very sexy dance! I got passed around between guys like a little white hot potato, each of them trying to teach me the Bachata with no luck. It didn’t help that none of them spoke English, so communication was basically nil. Then, the lady bartenders took a crack at it too and they tried to teach me to Bachata. No luck! I couldn’t be led by the men or the women! None of them (men or women) attempted anything inappropriate. I guess because I couldn’t even get the basic steps right, maybe they thought they had no hope of teaching me to be sexy and do the dance! ha ha ha This cracks me up! Despite my lack of alcohol and my lack of coordination I had a fantastic time trying to learn as well as watching the people who did know what they were doing.

When I returned home and started watching you tube to find out what the bachata was really all about, I came across this video. It is choreographed, but this is what it looks like! oooow! oooow!

Back in Nova Scotia, with plans to return to the Dominican to learn Spanish, I was determined to learn how to dance before I went back.

I checked out Halifax’s Salseraros, but they didn’t have openings for beginners until September. That would be a little too late for me! I checked out a couple of others, but no luck for lessons in the summer. Finally, I came across Latin Dance nights at Pipa and that seemed to be the perfect fit.

Pipa is a lovely little Portugese / Brazilian Restaurant in the heart of downtown Halifax. In the back and down the stairs it has a gem of an atrium where there is a bar and dance floor. Every Friday night from 9pm – 10pm the atrium hosts, Amanda Huska for a beginner Latin dance class covering the very basics of Merengue, Bachata and Salsa.

I went to classes at Pipa regularly, as well as at the Sea Port Farmer’s Market from May until July when I returned to the Dominican for the summer to learn Spanish. I got past the basics and started feeling pretty good about all three types of dance- merengue, bachata and salsa.

I was excited to show my friends from Punta Cana what I had learned so we met up and went out dancing in Santo Domingo a couple weeks after I arrived. I was the first person on the dance floor, causing quite a stir with the locals who were all looking at the ‘gordita rubia’. Not long after I started dancing, lots of others joined in. My guy friends weren’t so excited to be the first ones on the dance floor, but I didn’t care. I wanted to dance!

As I sit in my living room on a warm, but rainy winter evening, listening to my Spanish music play list, it reminds me that I really need to make an effort to get out to dance classes again.

These are three of my favourite Spanish songs … they make me want to DANCE!

Dandole – Omega

Incondicional – Prince Royce

Promise – Romeo Santos Featuring Usher

We No Speak Americano

What’s the point of listening to music from another language when you can’t understand what the song is about? Well, just like falling in love, sometimes it is a feeling, an understanding and not all about the words. The words are only part of the music and although you want to understand them, it is about feeling the rhythm of another land … Music, without the words can make you feel happy, angry, sexy, full of energy … The notes are universal … anyone in the world can listen to music and feel it’s energy, despite the language of the words that correspond. It really is pretty amazing when you think about it that no matter where you are in the world, there will always be music of some kind … music that is important to the people around you. Music that is beautiful in it’s own way. Music, that if you let it, will touch your soul when you begin to understand the culture that surrounds it.

In April 2012 I traveled to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic to photograph a destination wedding. As on any resort, they have music playing all the time at various locations, the beach, the pool, the entertainment each night and the disco. Over and over and over we would hear the incredibly catchy ‘We no speak Americano‘.

I fell in love with the song, despite it’s over-play while we were there. Maybe it is a crazy assumption, but because I was in a Spanish speaking country, I just assumed this song, that was obviously not English, was Spanish. Well, I was wrong!

When I came home and looked for the song to check out the lyrics (and to continue to over-play it), I discovered it is actually Italian! This really drove the point home that music is a universal language. People from all over the world were staying at the resort and those same people were all listening to this music, regardless of their native tongue.

Playing the song reminded me of the Dominican; it picked up my spirits, got me dancing in my seat and on my feet. Regardless of the language, it had an upbeat feel.

I began looking through the hits charts for Italian music and listening to other Italian songs and I came across an artist whose voice is so beautiful that I feel like it squeezes my soul. Her voice is strong, confidant and haunting to me. Despite the fact that I am truly interested in Spanish culture right now and that I don’t understand any Italian (though the languages are similar), I fell in love with the music of Annalisa Scarrone.

The very first song I listened to by her is titled Sensa Riserva. Maybe I fell in love even more with the song because I also loved the video. Check it out below. You don’t need to understand the language when you watch the video. I’ll admit, I often blast this song … sometimes repeatedly.

I hope that next time you hear a song with lyrics you can’t understand that you’ll take a moment to listen to the music itself and get lost in it. Enjoy the beat. Then, if you like it, look it up on you tube and see what it is all about! Maybe you’ll find a new favourite artist, like I did!