Dancing With A Conscience

BailaAfrika’s recent party had a human rights twist. Quite fitting, as it happened on the eve of Human Rights Day. A woman spoke about human rights violations happening somewhere south, or was it west, of Morocco. There was also a Jewish guy who is rooting for Palestine and a Cuban gentleman who talked about the Cuban revolution.

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It was a bold step taken by Edd and Tash Wyatt, the creators of BailaAfrika. They’re leaders in the social dance community in Johannesburg, and the custodians of so much joy. I mean what does music and dance have to do with politics or Palestine or religion, right? What does BailaAfrika have to do with these causes?

Well, they felt the need to engage their friends and family on a level of humanitarian awareness and responsibility, a shared responsibility us humans have.

Cuban Salsa was shut down by the authorities a long time ago in Havana, Bachata was frowned upon by the elite in the Dominican Republic. Kizomba well, is about partying, and started – I am told – after the last Angolan revolution.

I did not care much for what these speakers had to say. Don’t get me wrong, the things we hear, read and see about Morocco and Palestine are dreadful. My fight though, my activism starts here, at home in South Africa, Joburg, Bosmont and more importantly my hometown – the Floors in Kimberley.

The township I grew up in is infested with youngsters dependent on drugs and alcohol. Unemployment is another major threat to their ability to lead normal lives. Poverty is real, and then there are the so-called gangsters.

So-called, because the guys I grew up with were gangsters. They pushed drugs, intimidated people, some were killed, and others were beaten. There are not so many murders now.

That was in the 1990’s. This activity is still rife today in most townships. Black on black crime, coloured on coloured violence.

I just cannot help Palestine. I cannot sympathise with Cuba, never mind Morocco. My brothers and sisters right here are living a life where their dreams are shattered, before they even leave the school ground.

And yes I’m going to blame apartheid for this, because I can, because it’s real. Today we still battle the evil aftermath of the apartheid regime. The demise of black, coloured and Indian people is happening, right before our eyes. And it’s affecting white folk too.

We are all in it. All of us. And this country is slowly reaching an epic explosion. And before I think of throwing a lifeline to Palestine, forgive me as I look in my own backyard first.

Back to the social dance scene that brings together people of all colours, from all continents. Discrimination is reserved for that guy or girl you don’t want to dance with based on their awkward moves or unsavoury hygiene — there’s no time to racially profile on the dance floor.

I just want to enjoy the music, and for those few hours, life is a pleasant melody until I return to the daily grind. But I don’t want to.

Don’t Miss A Beat

Don’t miss a beat as you will look like a fool. Mistime that step and people will laugh. You will leave the floor embarrassed. You will be pointed at, ridiculed. How will you live after such a travesty?

That’s far from the truth of what happens on a dance floor, or rather what happens in the various social dancing scenes. It’s easy to spot a new dancer but don’t judge her by her All Stars or Superga’s. That girl can move if you can move.

And that guy with the worn running shoes, even the one with the blue overalls, he knows his basics. They confident, they in the moment and clearly enjoy Bachata, Cuban Salsa, and Kizomba. Although the one gent leads more with hand gestures than body movements, it’s ok with some ladies, they dancing.

 

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Strike a pose. Pic courtesy of Hestings Image Pro

 

I find the fear of dancing strange, it’s unfounded. Immature. But not so long ago I was there, petrified of looking like a fool. And I have on a few occasions. Fortunately, the ladies are forgiving and usually laugh off the mistake.

You can overcome this fear by attending a dance class or going to a rooftop of your choice. Ladies, most men are too eager to show you their moves and I can guarantee that you won’t sit still for too long.

Boys, it takes courage to ask a Jackie or a Tash to dance knowing that these ladies have a poise that only certain guys can match. You know this cause you watched them, that fear battling with that enthusiasm to just dance. This internal conflict, you know you can’t salsa but that feeling, that desire to dance, will win.

 

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Captured getting down by Hestings Image Pro

 

The ladies will dance with you, but if you really bad they won’t say yes again. Ehehehe.

Just kidding, if there’s one thing I noticed, our women suffer at times simply to dance. With Kizomba especially you see that look of agony, it’s funny. NOTE to self: I hope she doesn’t look that way when I hold her?

I once heard this: “These beginners just move forward and back, they can’t even turn.”

I was that beginner. I was hurt. The rejection. “I’ll get her, I’ll show her,” I thought. Months later she asked me for a dance. Elation, gratitude, I overcame that limitation.

Just this past Sunday I was told my lead is improving. After nearly a year of dancing with this lass, she tells me this?

Doing it, watching closely, and listening to the music is helpful, to say the least. Dancing is a continuous art of progression. And not just on the floor, beyond it, there are benefits of pleasure… if you know what I mean.

Like writing, reading and driving a car it takes practice to dance confidently. Standing, watching and waiting to be ready won’t help your cause, and it’s a joyful cause.

No, you don’t need those shoes or that outfit, just be comfortable, just be there in the moment. Put an end to that internal conflict, don’t miss this beat.

The Wrong Judgements, The Right Intentions

She asked “Are you Coloured?” I said yes. “And you do Kizomba?” she probed with slight incredulity. I was like YES. People get an idea based on your appearance. Only. Prejudices are human nature and I had to look past various trivial tendencies as a Kizombie.

Kizomba is all over Europe and in Africa, it’s rapidly spreading from its roots in Angola. In Joburg, its growth is too small for my liking. It’s not exclusive to Angolans anymore.

On one Sunday I danced and talked with an American, an Angolan and a Zimbabwean all because of this sensual dance. I’ve learnt about the lives of Mozambicans, Rwandans and a Russian too.

I can’t stop, I mean I won’t stop, going to Kizomba classes and parties as it has added value to my sports-fuelled world.

Besides the beautiful women I get to dance with, there’s the camaraderie I have with an Afrikaans speaking Congolese, an Indian that talks Coloured, and that Nigerian that acts gangster. The noticeable break ups, the obvious romances and the undercover lovers that expose themselves on a weekly basis add to this colourful society. There was also a trivial argument about sensual memes I sent out but that’s none of your business – unless you want in? (in a Deadpool voice) Whatsapp me!

It all makes for an award winning daytime drama script.

My friends have this idea that I dance to get lucky. I won’t lie sometimes I do, but my intention was to end the predictability of my life. Not that it’s boring. I could write a soapie based on myself.

I do Kizomba because it presents a chance to dance with stunning ladies every week.  Just see Alicia, Ayesha, Basheera, Bonolo, Busi, Carmen, Christina, Claire, Chevon, Deirdre, Delicia, Dineo, Elizabeth, Eunice, Jax, Janelle, Juliet… the list ends at Z. But I have to add Mel and Viv.

The first time I saw this dance I was like WOW, that guy, how did he do that? And how did she know? It’s rehearsed. I know. But hell yes I want in.

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The Hotness that surrounds me every week

After my first class with BailaAfrika, I was committed. And two years later I can proudly count on one hand the amount of parties I missed. That’s too many.

The enjoyment of this music, the synergy with a stranger, the courtesy of moving WITH this fine lady. I mean, the attraction, the ease of this Kizomba is captivating.

More gentleman need to do it. The fact that a lady allows you into her space, your face millimeters from hers and your hands on her body; you reach another – needed – level of respect for women.

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South Africans, A Rwandan and a Nigerian.

And this is something a few gents don’t get. It’s not an opportunity to grope. Maybe it’s a chance to ask for her number and to show your slick moves, but it is not an option to be disrespectful.

See this Kizomba is a celebration. Whether the song is about being in love or being dumped, it’s a cheerful coming together (see what I did there).  It’s balm for the battered soul.

Some other ignorant notions I’ve received include: I don’t look like a dancer, and that it’s gay. The best compliment I’ve got: ‘Rooftop is not the same without you.’

So if I let the colour of my skin deter this craving, or the idea that it’s only for Angolans, or only for talented dancers, then I’d probably be at some club on weekends swaying like a wallflower, eyeing that chick, talking trash – missing out on a bevy of beauties.

That’s not me. This is Kizomba. Ladies. Let me hold you.

 

Connection. Execution. Fun

In my quest to find out who the best leads are in Kizomba, I firstly had to ask what they do that makes them a lady’s first choice.

So I spoke to a few ladies and the recurring ideas are connection, execution, and fun. That’s connection to the music, your partner, and then executing the steps. And fun, well that’s why we dance.

Tarryn said: “You got to have your own style, he has to make a good connection with me and is smooth, and it’s not a situation where he has to think of the next move. The transition into the next move is smooth and most importantly he is fun.”

Now what stands out here is style. The basics are the same, but if you apply your interpretation of the song, you connect with your partner, then that right there is your style. And this lady, like most experienced Kizombies, can feel your intentions. So make it clear. And don’t count the steps. Well, not out loud at least.

Simone said: “I like a guy that makes me comfortable first and if he can see I follow, then spice it up, surprise me.”

This reminds me of that Jamie Foxx song Unpredicatable: ‘Girl get comfortable we gonna do something you never done before.’

So before you try to shine make a lady feel comfortable. BUT first, you need to know if she can follow before you surprise her with a fake, a pause or a quick quick slow step. Connection again is stressed; it’s the foundation of an enjoyable dance.

Delicia said: “There’s nothing worse than a guy doing his own thing and then I’m struggling to keep up because he has not paid attention to my body movement or the music.”

We are taught steps which lead to a sequence and then some guys just dance it, irrespective of the song. The substance of Kizomba is feeling the music, knowing your partner’s abilities and then confidently leading her.

Gill said: “Suggesting with your body so that she can take up the cue. The minute you force anything be it by pushing or pulling or tugging or yanking that’s when it’s not a conversation anymore, it’s a competition.”

A Kizomba conversation, I dig this. I mean here I am faking to the right and she fakes to her right? That’s so wrong.

I’m sure you will agree that it just looks (and feels) awesome when two people are moving in unison, but if the lead wants to outdo his follower it just seems awkward. There are no medals for pulling off a move a minute; the ultimate prize is a genuine smile and a reference to her friends.

And trust me, references are doing the rounds.

I was taught from day one that the man leads gently because Kizomba is a whisper. Using your strength to complete a movement is just rude, and if you can use the subtlest of body gestures to lead your lady then congrats.

In my experience repetition is key to dancing a seamless Kizomba, knowing a few songs helps too, and of course enjoying the music so much that your partner feels it too. Bringing that enjoyment is essential or else what’s the use?

As for the best Kizomba leads, only I will know who the ladies said their best are, and who are in the top 10.

*Jacob Zuma Laughs*

It’s not a competition gentleman; so let’s indulge the ladies with a whisper.

SJL

 

Come Salsa, It’s Not A Trend

Come Salsa is around longer than Blackberry, that’s what Edd said. I’m sure Blackberry will make a return in a decade, but during that time Come Salsa will still be representing Cuban Salsa.

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It’s a major feat that Thabo Moloto has pulled off, well, still is. The weather, your couch, and traffic can all deter would-be Salseros from attending class. Sometimes six people rock up, sometimes a dozen or 30.

But regardless of opposing circumstances, Thabo has to be there, after all, he is the instructor, the DJ and the bricklayer of Come Salsa – since 2007.

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It is his unwavering dedication that has pushed him through the decade, but if you think just pitching up is tough, wait till you see some of the students.

Some have no rhythm, some can’t feel the beat, and some are just too bouncy, too excited, and others too tense. I know this because I watch carefully, and on occasion, I assist in a Kizomba session, plus I was quite nervous as a beginner.

You’d think that Kizomba being so simple would be easy to learn, but no, that’s why you need a lesson or 10 to actually know how to step, and when.

Now Cuban Salsa is not as mild as Kizomba, its fluid and rapid, the intricate arm movements, the quick feet; your shoulders are also required to move. Thabo does it with little effort, those slick dips and twists, EISH I’m envious.

It’s one thing if the teacher can burn up the floor, but his ardent students too are on fire. Delicia, Melissa, Lance, and Seps have all come through the sessions at Come Salsa. They represent the brand with the verve that he brings.

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In the first class I did with Thabo two weeks ago, Rueda Da Casino was his choice of helping us absorb specific Salsa moves, Americano, Americana, Dame, Enchufle, and Sombrero – confused? Yes, I am.

Everyone is at one time but there are smiles all around as the circle goes back, forward, stepping inside and then past a lady. This Cuban Salsa makes you sweat.

All the while Thabo keeps his eye on everyone, spotting mistakes, correcting them with a comical gesture or informing the guilty party directly of their wrongs.

Just kidding, this Rueda is entertaining to those doing it and to those watching, so there’s no harsh judgment, and his method of correction is aimed at improving one.

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And improvements don’t happen overnight, students return for the next few months and before you know it the music is their only instructor, as it should be.

Progress is slow for some, but another Salsero is produced.

So unlike Blackberry and Nokia that are stages in our lives, and recurring at that, Cuban Salsa, Kizomba, and Bachata are not.

This social dancing is a cult, a happy style of life, but it requires passion and persistence.

Come Salsa has all these elements, Joburg needs it – I mean with the xenophobia happening –  as dancing unites us and is joy personified. So, Come Salsa, it’s not a trend. See the life of Thabo, bricklayer extraordinaire.

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En Fuego Bringing Bliss  

The percussionist is without a doubt the most animated character on stage, and his energy leads the band and excites the crowd too. I see that Cuban Salsa is not just music that requires sweat from Salseros, but the band as well.

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En Fuego (which means the fire) definitely brings the heat. They seem to have no restraint as they play their instruments, but there is so much control in their synchronization. The percussionist is excited throughout the two hours they play, expertly whipping the cymbals and beating the drums.

To his left the dreadlocked man on the bongos is as cool as the aircon, his palms lightly smacking the quinto. To his left on the end of the stage is a saxophone player, a trumpeter and a trombonist. Their sounds are blazing and even though I see them readying to play, I’m still surprised and thrilled by it every time.

On the other end the piano man has his head down, the sounds of the ebony and ivory keys are playful. On the right of the percussionist are two gents who take turns playing little hand held instruments. I’m told it’s a Maracos and the Clave, both producing a delightful knocking timbre.

I don’t understand what they singing but it’s enjoyable. The lady behind them vocals too, and is as sensual as she is soulful. The guy on the bass guitar is just there in the background, keeping a flowing tempo.

For me this music always sounds frenzied, but watching this band it made sense, and now, I appreciate Cuban Salsa more.

The Orbit was packed from wall to wall, the sounds of this Joburg based band had heads bopping, feet tapping and fingers snapping.

I spoke to both percussionists, yes there were two. Just before they started a tune one of their founding members (Thomas) walked in and was duly called on stage. In the audience, the man he replaced (Riaan) beamed as he watched this impromptu exhibition.

Both of them said that their passion for making music is the main reason they played Cuban Salsa, and wanting to make music that everyone enjoyed. So it’s not just for Cubans or Salseros, but people of all races. I mean the ensemble is made up of an American, an Ivorian, a Senegalese, and a Peruvian and of course South Africans.

And that’s one of the beauties of music, it surpasses race. The dancing brings us closer.

I’m in awe of this phenomenon, in Joburg, there’s a Nigerian dancing with an Australian, a Swazi dancing with a Mozambican, a Cuban with a Zulu, all to the tunes created on an island thousands of kilometres away from this city of glitter.

In the 1940’s, Havana’s Buena Vista Social Club was the bedrock for Salseros, until they were shut down in 1959 due to a revolution.

In the 90’s there was a recreation of the music played at the Buena Vista Social Club. This album – simply called Buena Vista Social Club, won a Grammy award and revived interest in Cuban Salsa. And the music that emanated from that era has a worldwide presence and a home right here in South Africa.

En Fuego proves that Cuban Salsa is universal and that dance (instead of ignorance) is bliss, so let the music play and continue uniting nations.

Bachata: Symbolising love

I’ve read that, back in the day, Bachata was frowned upon, because it was danced by Black people in the Dominican Republic. In fact, it was not just a discrimination of colour, but a bias of class, too. So the elitists of that island disassociated themselves from the people who danced this Bachata. That was way back in the mid-1900s.   

Fast-forward to 2017 and it’s the same in Joburg. Okay it’s not actually the same, but now I have your attention, LOL.

The thing is Cuban Salsa and LA-style Salsa are the preferred social dances, followed by Kizomba, which is growing fast, thanks to the increasing number of Angolans and Mozambicans living here.

Now the Dominican Republic is 11,000 kilometres from South Africa, so it’s a mystery (for now) how Bachata reached our shores.  It was scoffed at in its homeland back then, but the dance is known and enjoyed around the world and it’s slowly gaining a following in SA.

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A friend of mine, Leeroy, does this dance really well. He is a Coloured guy from the Cape flats. Leigh is White, from Parkhurst, and she is an awesome Bachata instructor. So, no discrimination here, in terms of either colour or class.

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Of course racism is alive and kicking in our country, but among the dance community, that’s not top of mind. I’ll write about the perceived divisions in our kinship later.

So, this Bachata is a dance of intense affection as the music is about love and suffering and you have to hold your partner close. Because that’s what we do when we love and suffer, right.

And in a twist of irony, the word Bachata actually refers to an informal party, a celebration, fun.

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Yet, the bourgeoisie used the word, Bachata, to ridicule the dance and the music, to make it look inferior, like the word Tsek, Bachata… but look who won, Tsek.

Let’s TRY to understand why they – this elite social class – looked down on Bachateros.

There’s a close hold between man and woman, and hand actions that involve not only moving her body, but her head too. Imagine this, while perpendicular to your lady, lifting her right hand with your left over her head, then catching the base of her neck and swirling your hand around her face and toward yours.

Yes, if it’s your partner you may kiss her, but rather not. Next, you’re moving to the side to a beat that goes ta-ta-ta-da. That’s four beats.  Move to the right, add in some erotic play with her hands and body and that’s Bachata. Basic yet urbane (for some) and sneered at by those people.

The music though, is minimal. A guitar, a little drum beat, some bass and all it asks is that you take four steps left, right, forward and back, did I mention the body rolls? Again, this music was not taken seriously by the upper class, and yet they embraced Merengue?

The Abba song, Chiquitita, was restyled by Bachatero legend, Leonardo Paniagua, back in 1979. That song right there sums up the joy and melancholy of Bachata, as well as the spirit of Bachata and those who fought for it.

The deep lyrics, the flowing beat, the emotion. Who cannot adore such simplicity?

Borne from the barrios, the imagination of labourers, the determination of black people, the passion of Dominicans – the world needs it.

I leave you with some of the lyrics of that illustrious Abba song.

Chiquitita, you and I know

How the heartaches come and they go and the scars they’re leaving

You’ll be dancing once again and the pain will end

You will have no time for grieving.