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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It’s a cat … oh wait, no it isn’t!

I’m living in a nice area of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It is on the border between Fluvial and Pitillal. It is a newer neighbourhood, only a few years old and there is new construction happening on at least four houses in a two block radius. It is very quiet here (other than some barking dogs) and no traffic.

The house I live in is quite nice. It has two levels, tile floor throughout the house, three bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, a full kitchen … A normal house. I’m guessing about 2000 square feet. The front door opens to a dead end street with about five houses in total. Not only is the street a dead end, but the sidewalk blocks the entrance to the small street so that traffic doesn’t enter. Of course, the locals in the few houses bring their vehicles in, but most people wouldn’t bother to manoeuvre over the sidewalk.

I’m living with a local lady, her cat, dog and sometimes her boyfriend when he is in town. The cat and dog are lovely. I’ve never met such a calm and well behaved cocker spaniel. She only barks at danger and never at me.

Tonight, I went downstairs to get a drink at around 10:30 pm and the screen door to the small patio and laundry area was open. This is normal, as the small backyard (about 8 feet x 25 feet) has a cement wall about 10 feet high and then a screen / fence around the top for another 5 or 6 feet. The small patio has room for a laundry sink, washer, dryer, cleaning supplies, a small bbq and a few plants.

The dog, Mona, was sitting by the open doorway perfectly still staring into the distance. I thought nothing of it because she is always so calm. I walked by again and she didn’t stir. She didn’t even cock her head or ears. I said her name, nothing. She was like a statue. I called her name louder and still nothing. She wouldn’t take her eyes of of ‘something’ outside.

I went to the open door, stood over her and timidly peered upward in the direction where her eyes were fixed. I saw nothing but blackness and the shimmer of plants in the breeze. She still hadn’t moved even though I was invading her space and likely blocking her view.

I took a quick look around the house for the cat and determined that she must be somewhere in the back yard, that’s probably what the dog was looking at, right? It made sense at the time.

I looked out of the open screen door again, standing still a little longer and letting my eyes adjust to the light. And then I saw the glitter of animal eyes at the top of the fence above the backyard (about 16 – 20 feet up). I squinted through the dark night to see what it was. It wasn’t much more than a shadow, but was about the size and shape of a house cat. About a foot long, four legs, hairy and it had a round belly. It didn’t help that the animal was also dark brown or grey, not exactly easy to pick out from the blackness of the night sky with no lights.

Yes, it must be the cat, Menina. She is grey and black striped and since she’s not inside the house, it is quite possible that she’s climbing the fence in the backyard.

I made some kissy sounds to get her attention and she looked at me. As I squinted to see what colour it was to make sure it was Menina, it started moving very slowly across the top of the wire fence, about the speed of a cat stalking a mouse. She continued to move slowly away from the edge of the house and to the corner of the fence where she stopped.

As it was moving very slowly and my eyes were starting to adjust, I could tell it was not Menina. The animal was far too plump to be the lovely little cat that was in my bed last night. And, now I was questioning if it was a cat at all. But what else could be cat-sized and climb fences?

As I caught a glimpse of the animal’s profile, I realized it clearly was not a cat. It had a long pronounced snout. And then it paused and looked at me again and seemed to be content to stay in that corner for the time being.

I closed the screen door and went to my room to get my trusty iPhone to use as a flashlight. I was a little scared that the animal might have moved, or climbed down into the patio area while I was upstairs, so I was scared to open the screen door. I tried (hoping for miracles) shining my light through the screen, but it didn’t work. I timidly opened the screen part way and shone the light up at the corner where I had last seen the animal. Sure enough, the light glistened off of it’s eyes. It then started it’s way across the top of the fence again. Ah! Maybe it is a racoon? They aren’t so bad, we have those in Canada! They like to make a mess and dig through garbage, but they don’t really scare me. But then I saw the long, thin, hairless tail. The tail was approximately the same length as the animal’s body.

What does a long, thin, hair-less tail mean to you?

RAT.

I nearly squirmed out of my skin at the thought that this cat-sized animal could be a rat. I’ve seen lots of wharf rats in Halifax and other large rats in other countries, but never the size of a full grown cat.

It wobbled atop the wire fence, likely because it’s body weight was more than the fence was meant to withstand, and I quickly shut the screen door and then the glass door while I got myself together. All the while, Mona, is still sitting under foot, just inside the door, following the movements of the creature.

With the glass door shut, there was nothing further that I could do, but at least I knew it wasn’t coming in the house through the open door. I went upstairs to research what the animal could possibly be.

Searching for cat-sized rodents in Mexico, rodents with long tails in Mexico and large rodents in Mexico brought me to lots of images that I should never have looked at before bed time. Was it a coati, a rat, a racoon, a capybara?

I couldn’t tell which it was, so instead of going to sleep and forgetting about it, I marched myself back downstairs to see if I could get another look.

I tried to see through the glass and the screen with no luck. I opened the glass, muttering to myself the entire time that it better not be standing right by the door or I might die.

I cracked the screen door open far enough to stick my hand out and pointed my phone’s flashlight up at the fence. Sure enough, it was still stealthily moving across the top … until it changed it’s mind and started climbing down … on the inside of the fencing … That’s right folks, headed down toward the ground on the inside of the patio. I watched until it got to the bottom of the fencing and was contemplating how to manoeuvre from the concrete wall to the large tree with it’s leaves reaching upward.

I contemplated no more. I shut the screen door and then quickly shut and locked the glass door. After all, if it was a racoon, they are smart little buggers. I didn’t want it figuring out how to pry the door open because it smelled the garbage can in the house.

With nothing further I could do, I messaged the lady I lived with to warn her not to open the back door as there was a large rodent out there. She hadn’t read the message, but came home a few minutes later.

When I told her the short version, that there was a large rodent outside, she said ‘oh, was it about a foot or two long and green? I’m sure it was just an iguana. Don’t worry about them. They won’t come in because of the cat and dog.’

I had to explain that this was definitely not an iguana. And, with that, she bravely opened the glass door and we looked through the screen for the mysterious creature. We finally found him back on top of the fence. Since he was at the top of the fence, I took my light out and shone it on him again. We then both got slightly grossed out and our voices each went an octave higher. Even she didn’t know what it was, but she was equally disgusted at it’s long, hairless tail.

We watched it slowly crawl along the top of the fence for a couple of minutes and then it started down on the outside of the fencing. This is when she squirmed a bit and closed the glass door again, reassuring me that if it had gotten in that the dog and cat would take care of it quickly. Sadly, that really wasn’t very reassuring with a skinny cat and a cocker spaniel, I didn’t feel particularly safe.

In the end, we still don’t know which kind of rodent it is for sure and it was too dark to take a photo.

Lesson learned to always keep the patio door closed at night though!