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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Ojo Bar Review

I went to Ojo’s on three separate Thursday nights during August 2012 for Latin Dance. The first night, arriving at 9pm was a mistake as there was no one on the dance floor … or even at the bar at all. By 10:30 a few people will start to make their way to the dance floor and by 11:30, the dance floor was usually packed with a good mixture of locals and tourists. Generally speaking, mostly young local men (19 – 35) and mostly tourist women (19 – 50) … however, certainly some couples (local and tourist) were showing off their moves too.

The drinks here were strong (Cuba libre or Santa Libre) and reasonably priced. The bar staff were always pleasant and if you are a fan of Bachata and Merengue music, this is the best place to be for a Thursday night.

It was a great atmosphere for dancing and I was comfortable dancing with my girl friends or with friendly locals. Solo women travelers should be wary of the intentions of the locals at this bar (or any bar) as often they are looking for their ‘sugar momma’s’. Return week after week and you’ll see the same guys courting various different women, sometimes within the same evening. However, if you are just looking to dance the night away, you’ll have no shortage of offers to hit the dance floor from local men … most of whom are good dancers and will make you feel like a star even if your dance skills are beginner. Be cautious of their requests for ‘Just one kiss’, your phone number or them offering to make sure you get home safely.

Need to take a break? Head upstairs to the open-air rooftop, Salsa section of the bar. You can have a seat on some comfy couches in the fresh ocean air and grab a drink from one of the two bars. And then, once you’ve rested, you can show off your Salsa moves on the huge rooftop dance floor. The best part about it is that most nights there is a refreshing breeze, which is greatly welcomed in the middle of summer in the Dominican when you are out dancing.

Overall, Ojo’s was my favorite bar in Cabarete, specifically for Thursday nights. I made a special effort to go out every week for Latin Dance to meet and dance with locals rather than always heading to the other bars with the North American / European style dance beats.

Enjoy! Be cautious!

Latin Dance Night in Cabarete – The Wife – Part 2

Although part 2 of this story didn’t actually take place in Cabarete, it is the continuation of a plot that started at Latin Dance Night in Cabarete. If you haven’t already, you can read part 1 here and get all of the details before you venture into the remainder of this scandal!

I made it home safely from Cabarete, crawled into my bed, ALONE and sent a quick text message to Francis simply saying thank you and that I had made it home safely. Simple and innocent enough.

A couple of days later, I received two or three text messages from him asking when I would be in Cabarete again, to which I avoided answering because I had no intentions of purposely seeing him again. If I ran into him my next time out dancing, fine, but I certainly wasn’t going looking for him. Only a couple of messages were exchanged, completely friendly and normal … no harm, right?

ha HA! That’s where I was wrong …

Monday morning at 5am, my cell phone rang. I looked and it was Francis calling. I ignored it. I didn’t feel like talking at 5am and was pissed for being woken up. Moments later it rang again. I answered and groggily said ‘hola’. I was greeted with silence and then the whimper of a baby in the background. I said ‘hola’ again, but nothing. I hung up. Did a child accidentally call my number? My niece has called me in the middle of the night without mommy and daddy knowing, why couldn’t it happen in another country!

Moments later, the phone rang again. I answered with ‘Hola’ again, and again no communication except for a baby crying. I asked ‘Can I help you?’ in Spanish, and nothing … At this point I knew something weird was going on, but what could I do? It was just a phone call. I hung up.

Moments later, the phone rang again … I ignored it, silenced my phone and went back to sleep.

I awoke at 8:15am to 12 missed calls and a text message. I checked to see who the message was from and sure enough, it was from Francis’ number. I thought to myself, this should be good … and I wasn’t disappointed!

The message (loosely translated from Spanish) said
“My star. I want to make love with my wife and I have a baby.
You are stupid.”

After two or three nice messages the day before, getting a nasty message was particularly odd. Stupid in Spanish is one of the most offensive insults that you use. I knew immediately that this message was not from Francis, but from his wife (or girlfriend).

Even funnier is that she was calling me in the middle of the night and then calling me stupid. I had zero interest in her man. I danced with him for awhile, had a nice little conversation and he was sweet enough to get me home safely. I’ve got to say, I don’t feel particularly stupid about any of that. Unfortunately I feel sorry for her though as I’m positive he had further intentions with me, should I have given the ok … and unfortunately that makes her the one with the problem not me.

I wrote back short and sweet with:
ha ha ha Good Luck.

I haven’t heard from either of them again … nor will I provoke it.

It makes me sad that this is so common here. Men in the Dominican have a really bad reputation for being aggressive and for being unfaithful. Many of them are skillful con artists, masterful liars and incredibly talented at wooing their way into the hearts of young single women from all around the world. Women are warned about it constantly before traveling to the Dominican. They are told by their friends, their family and the locals wherever they stay that men are like this, but time after time, thousands of women each year fall in love with Dominican men who are cheating on their wives, looking for their green card in another country or who need a rich sugar momma.

Although I truly don’t believe that all Dominican men are bad, it is a country where it is particularly difficult to sift through all of the bad ones to find a good one. That is, if you are looking for love. There’s no way to ever really know because the men are so good at making you feel special.

I’ve met a couple of the con artists and luckily haven’t been caught off guard yet. I’ve also met a couple of true gentleman, so I know they are out there! Girls, if you are looking for your Dominican love of a lifetime, search long and hard, don’t fall to fast or you’ll fall flat on your face!