I’ve written many posts about, among other topics, issues in the Kizomba scene, but I’ve only touched briefly on social media on our vision for a sustainable, quality, diverse scene. As most of what we teach, do and say, and the many events we organize are guided by this vision, we felt it would be prudent to lay out our vision to make it convenient for others to read and understand, particularly as we are now embarking on our first festival, the purpose of which is to support our vision. This manifesto is a result.
Before I lay out our vision, it is helpful to first speak on the current state of the scene as we’ve experienced it to give some context and perspective. Currently, as far as we can see, most folks in the Kizomba scene worldwide are divided into “camps”. On one side, we have what I will call “Traditionalists”. On the other side, we have what I will call “Revolutionaries”. What do these terms mean? I’m glad you asked! As a disclaimer, there are always exceptions to any “label” or “category” as humans are ever-changing free-thinking beings capable of doing the unexpected, but to help provide context, it’s prudent to define these terms.
For purposes of this document, a “Traditionalist” is someone who strongly favors a dance style and music that some would call “traditional” (though the term is misleading which I will touch on later). On the music side, a Traditionalist generally favors Kizomba (aka “traditional” Kizomba aka Kizomba) Semba, and Zouk (not B-Zouk the dance, but the music Zouk from the French Caribbean) over Ghetto Zouk, etc. The most hardcore Traditionalists strongly dislike Ghetto Zouk, Tarraxinha, Remixes, electronic Instrumentals, and anything of that nature, though there are some more moderate Traditionalists who also like some Ghetto Zouk/Tarraxinha but not Remixes or Instrumentals. Most Traditionalists will prefer to hear mostly Kizomba, Semba, Zouk, or Afrohouse at a Kizomba party. On the dance side, Traditionalists favor dancing in what some call a “Traditional” manner, which generally means dancing with a strong Semba influence (which herein I will refer to as Kizomba, as opposed to a “new style”/”evolution”/etc. of Kizomba). The most hardcore Traditionalists strongly dislike “new styles” of dancing Kizomba to Ghetto Zouk, Instrumentals, Remixes, etc. that are developing in places such as France (more on “new styles” later).
For purposes of this document, a “Revolutionary” is someone who strongly favors “new style” dancing, and therefore the music that fits with “new style” dancing. So on the music side, a Revolutionary will prefer Ghetto Zouk, Remixes, Instrumentals, and music of that nature. The most hardcore Revolutionaries may even prefer dancing to contemporary music that isn’t related to Kizomba at all, and dislike any music that sounds too “traditional”, though there are more moderate Revolutionaries who like some Kizomba/Semba/Zouk in small doses. On the dance side, Revolutionaries favor dancing in one or more of the many “new styles” that are currently developing and go by many different names with different fusions and influences and varying Kizomba/Semba foundation (more on that later).
In our experience, many in these two camps fight and argue quite a bit, and they are so divided that at many festivals in Europe there are separate music rooms for Traditionalists and Revolutionaries and there are many who will never leave one room to go to the other. There are even completely separate festivals that cater only to one camp or the other and very few in one camp will attend festivals catering to the other. So we have arguably thousands of people who dance Kizomba that either can’t or won’t dance with each other. To literally add insult to injury, there is a great deal of fighting occurring, most notably on social media, which has at times taken a very ugly turn with folks hurling nasty insults and even personal attacks at each other. To us, this is a problem.
But why are they fighting so much? I’m glad you asked!
The main complaint we’ve seen and heard from Traditionalists and sympathizers is that many of the Revolutionaries are misappropriating and misrepresenting Angolan/PALOP culture, and the main response we’ve seen from Revolutionaries is that folks should be free to be creative, and dance and express their art as they see fit. To be fair, both groups have some valid concerns and points.
I’ve written about this at length in previous posts so I won’t rewrite them here, but there are many Revolutionaries who have not taken the time to actually learn Kizomba and Semba (both the music and dance), instead attempting to fill in the gaps in their knowledge and ability using whatever dance background they already have and or by simply making things up (I call it “Tangoxinhazoukchata” or a “mutation”) and calling it “Kizomba” or a permutation thereof to capitalize on the marketing power of the word. Often a YouTube search for “Kizomba” will result in a long list of videos of dancing that looks nothing like Kizomba to those for whom this dance is a part of their culture. Often the movement in these videos is either flat out wrong, or overly sexualized. In addition, marketing for Kizomba often portrays the dance as “sexy” or “sensual”, which not only turns off many who would otherwise want to learn Kizomba, but also is highly offensive to Angolans and other PALOPS who know Kizomba (and Semba) as family-friendly dances.
And to top it off, the most hardcore Revolutionaries go so far as to say they are not simply “evolving” the dance, but “revolutionizing” or “taking over” Kizomba, even though their actual knowledge of Kizomba is minimal at best . Others have gone so far as to attempt to rename whole genres of music that they did not create to suit their marketing interests. Many of these Revolutionaries claim they have a “new style” or “evolution” of Kizomba (though in my opinion many are simply “mutations” of Kizomba) in order to sidestep responsibility to actually learn Kizomba (and Semba), but insist on taking advantage of not only the marketing power of the word Kizomba, but also the relative lack of knowledge of students who often pay to learn something they later realize isn’t remotely related to Kizomba. So we definitely understand how and why many Traditionalists are so frustrated, and we empathize with their concerns. However, some have ventured far away from reasonable constructive criticism and resorted to name-calling and outright personal attacks, which we think are generally counterproductive, and tend to obscure valid concerns with unconstructive vitriol which turns off many people from wanting to learn Kizomba/Semba and discourages others from supporting Kizomba/Semba events because of all the negative energy.
On the other hand, there are artists who, after taking the time to learn Kizomba and Semba and developing a solid foundation, started experimenting and adapting them to music such as Ghetto Zouk and Instrumentals that started to be created more and more by musicians and DJs. This experimentation resulted in what some have called “evolutions” of the dance. The most popular styles born of this experimentation are generally collectively referred to as “French Style” (though as I’ve written before, this is not necessarily the best term as not everyone in France dances the same way). The most established of these styles are currently known by various names such as Urban Kiz and Kizomba 2.0, though we usually just call it “new style” (we don’t use the term “new style” for “mutations”). We have trained with the creators of these two styles, and we can attest that the creators of these styles in particular have a very solid foundation and dance Kizomba and Semba very well.
So… what is Kizomba Harmony’s stance? Well, we’re both Traditionalist and Revolutionary, and we’re neither. We are firmly in the middle, as though we believe everyone who purports to teach Kizomba should be CONTINUALLY working to develop a solid foundation in Kizomba and Semba (as well as the music and culture) and imparting that knowledge to students, we also appreciate certain “new styles” based on that solid foundation. We feel it’s entirely possible to do both Kizomba and “new style” (as we do both), but that all should have that strong foundation of Kizomba/Semba no matter what “style” they prefer.
Why is the foundation important?
It’s important to understand a few things about Kizomba/Semba. The key to dancing Kizomba (or any African dance) well isn’t moves or tricks, but learning how to MOVE, and that means learning to move in an African manner. This is what gives people that “feel” that makes dancing awesome and is the true hallmark of an advanced dancer. Also, Kizomba, both the music and dance, come from Semba, so learning Semba is a big help in learning to dance Kizomba well. In addition, what’s sometimes referred to as “traditional” Kizomba “style” isn’t really a “style” of Kizomba, it IS KIZOMBA, and is the foundation of any legitimate “new style”. And although dancing “new style” well does require a new skill set in addition to the Kizomba/Semba foundation, to dance at the highest level that foundation is essential to “feel” right, as I’ve gone over at length in previous blogs. For this reason, among others, we make it a point to not only emphasize the importance of this Kizomba/Semba foundation in our classes and events, but also to promote African dance and culture as well. It’s important to note however, that when I speak on Semba foundation I’m referring to “social” Semba as opposed to Semba “show”, which is primarily meant for shows and emphasizes lots of tricks and showing off that isn’t entirely appropriate for a crowded dance floor.
So why learn “new style” at all, instead of only learning Kizomba/Semba?
Well, why not? Why limit yourself? Besides, it’s SUPER FUN! As music evolves and changes, so does dance to adapt to and interpret the music. So, though the strong Kizomba/Semba foundation is necessary to dance “new style” at an elite level, the technique and musicality for “new style” isn’t entirely the same. Dancing “new style” requires not only an expanded sense of musicality, but also a new skill set to implement said musicality. But why learn the additional skill set? Because unlocking these new levels of musicality enables us to fully interpret and express ourselves when dancing to many popular new songs being made today and played in parties around the world. “New style” dancing, as well as the music this style is danced to (Ghetto Zouk, Instrumentals, etc.), is extremely popular worldwide, and for good reason! Learning to dance “new style” in addition to Kizomba/Semba not only makes one a more well-rounded and versatile dancer and levels up one’s lead/follow ability considerably, but also ensures that one can go anywhere in the world to dance and fit in immediately and enjoy great dances. Some critics say that dancing “new style” is all about tricks and showing off (though that sounds a lot like Semba “show” as well doesn’t it?), but the truth is, dancing “new style” doesn’t have to be about tricks at all, and I’ve had many very excellent and connected “new style” dances without doing many moves at all!
What we have found in our experience is that folks can learn both Kizomba/Semba and “new style” at the same time with proper training and practice, as we can readily attest to as we train in both, and teach both to our students. Contrary to what some have tried to assert, the two are NOT completely separate dances and are NOT mutually exclusive! In fact, our teaching methodology aims to give our students the tools to allow our students to dance to ANY music played at Kizomba parties, from Semba to Remixes, and to dance in whatever style they prefer based on the music while eventually finding their own personal style.
So we do not see an issue with teachers who have a strong foundation being creative and expressing themselves as the music speaks to them and teaching students to do the same as long as they also teach Kizomba/Semba foundation as well and teach their students the difference between the two. But we do however see an issue with folks who do not have a solid enough foundation trying to pass off their lack of knowledge as a “new style” and teaching it to others using the name “Kizomba” or any permutation thereof such as “Kiz”, etc., because this often results in “mutations” and many of the shenanigans I referred to above that have escalated tensions in the scene.
So… the million dollar question… what is Kizomba Harmony’s vision for the scene?
Our vision for the scene is one where all teachers focus not only on marketing and commercial interests, but make learning Kizomba/Semba, the dance, the music, and the culture associated with African dance a PRIORITY, and teach that to their students as well, no matter what style they personally prefer. Where people, even those with a more Revolutionary lean, appreciate and learn Kizomba/Semba foundation and African dance and culture in general. Where people, even those with a more Traditionalist lean, can learn, or at least appreciate “new styles” based on that strong foundation. Where instead of a divide, everyone who dances Kizomba can dance with each other because all have a common foundation. Where at parties and festivals DJs play a mixture of ALL types of music, instead of only playing music associated with their preferred style of dancing, and everyone can dance with each other in one room without any issues. Where there isn’t major division in the scene because all respect each other regardless of what styles they prefer, and everyone feels welcome to come out dancing and have a good time. Where Angolans/PALOPS do not feel that their culture has been disrespected, and dancers feel free to express themselves on the dance floor without judgment, and therefore a great cultural exchange is facilitated through dance!
We are blessed to have the support of many in the dance community (including members of the Angolan/PALOPS community) who support our vision of a unified scene, and we will continue working tirelessly to build a scene we can all enjoy and be proud of. I will finish this manifesto with something I wrote a few weeks ago during a particularly negative time of conflict in the scene. I call it “Imagine a Scene”. It is my hope that it and this manifesto as a whole will reinvigorate those who already share our vision, and will inspire others to join us in our quest to find a friendly equilibrium, a happy balance, a Kizomba… Harmony.
IMAGINE A SCENE
Imagine a scene where most folks come to Kizomba socials and dance with everyone, whether they’re big, small, tall, short, white, black, purple, old, or young.
Imagine a scene where beginners feel welcome and not overly intimidated or snubbed by instructors and more advanced dancers.
Imagine a scene where instructors make learning their craft and professional development a priority over commercial interests, and invest their time and resources accordingly.
Imagine a scene where DJs similarly respect their craft, continually investing in learning about ALL music played at Kizomba parties, and playing, with competence and care, a mix of music that all dancers on the floor can enjoy.
Imagine a scene, where not only out of respect for the culture associated with Kizomba, but also out of the practical necessity of strong fundamentals, Kizomba instructors teach their students how to recognize, appreciate, and dance to actual Kizomba music, as well as other genres of music played at Kizomba parties.
Imagine a scene where instructors take the time to truly learn Kizomba (and Semba) before creating “new styles”, thereby ensuring that all new styles are based on a strong foundation.
Imagine a scene where every Kizomba dancer can dance with one another without a problem, regardless of who they learned from, or what style they prefer, because they all have a similarly strong foundation.
Imagine a scene where promoters value not only the quality artists and DJs who share their art at their events, but also the best interests of the consumers who support their events, and make decisions accordingly.
Imagine a scene where, no matter what style or music folks prefer, everyone treats each other with respect.
Natacha Zamor says
I am so proud of the mind frame KIZOMBA HARMONY is projecting. I am not going to lie; I have grown so tired of this bickering and lack of respect for African base culture in general! Having dancers & promoters tell me that the culture is irrelevant as long as the dance is executed well… Smh… It angered me to the core, being so territorial and proud of my Afro-Caribbean heritage! It screamed appropriation and, honestly, took me to a place of negativity… Not where I want to be with my passion!
So seeing you guys working on making the gap smaller between the camps, educating, learning and building a bridge… Aaaahhh!!! Kudos!!! You know how I feel!
This is just the percfet answer for all of us
Thank you. I will be posting and reposting this Manifesto as it translates exactly what my thoughts are.
I must add: Kizomba, to me, is about feeling the music. The leader that can only dance on side to side and still take me to heaven, is a great leader. I will dance with him all night long for sure! Connection is a must!
Abigail Wylie says
Fantastic concept and one we have adhered to and promoted from day one to our fellow dancers and more importantly our students
Great inhgist. Relieved I’m on the same side as you.