Getting Out The Comfort Zone

When I started Kizomba lessons two years ago, I latched onto Tammy for the first few weeks, until she insisted that I dance with the other ladies too. They won’t say no,” she said.

I eventually gathered the courage and approached the ladies one by one, and none of them said no.

VICTORY. But still I was nervous and moved cautiously, not wanting to make a mistake and spoil my chances of dancing with her, and her, and her again.

Now I have the confidence to walk into any party and ask any woman for a dance. In fact, some ask me. I also live by the mantra, ‘be awesome and attractive’ and sometimes I say MAXIMUM EFFORT before I dance, it helps with my low self-esteem.

Just kidding, but being confident in your ability to dance is not easy. For some it takes one lesson, for others, months. But with practice the ability will match the mindset.

Last week I was in Durban, in a completely new setting, with people I didn’t know. The Kizomba music sounded familiar, but there were a few new tracks. The dark floor and bright lights of Vacca Matta added to the excitement, but it was the enthusiasm of Junior and Frida that stood out.

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The Mozambican duo is bubbly, lively and had their students laughing, stepping and learning.

In a twist of irony I danced with Tammy, but this Tammy was a Durban local. She said she was comfortable with certain guys and admitted she was tense with me, because she did not know me. I understood, I was in the same situation not so long ago.

Kizomba, though, is an effortless dance. The woman basically hugs the guy, his right hand holds her gently below the shoulder. His left hand firmly clutches her right. They both engage their core (I do this often because I have #sixpackgoals) and the guy then moves forward with his left foot, then right, then left, then right – you get it, right.

The lady does the opposite, and because we are so close to each other, my right foot is between her feet and vice versa. Why? With this stance we don’t step on each other’s toes.

The music moves the gent. I mean, hello. And there we go. Stepping, in tandem, to this beat and that rhythm and…It’s Kizomba.

However, there are some intricacies. They are subtle, the way you step, soft knees, the way she moves her hips, the connection. This – CONNECTION – to me, is the ultimate high point.

The basics remain the same (see Eddy Vents, Lucia Noguiera and Tony Pirata on YouTube) but with each and every dance partner there is a different connection, a distinct energy that is unique to her.

That energy is exclusive to each dancer, and therefore no Kizomba is the same, depending who the partners are.

It’s an awesome feeling, and like many other Kizombies I go back for more. I guess that’s where the addiction lies.

And like a drug, there’s always a craving for more, always a fresh connection to be made. The cycle continues, the high is personified again and again.

That Cuban Salsa, That African Style

Ben is tall, dark and moves with such consummate ease, it almost seems he’s disinterested in the dance. A wry smile plays around his mouth. His steps are diminutive, and with controlled arms, he guides his lady naturally around the floor.

The look on her face says she’s enjoying this relaxed version of Salsa. Usually the music is of a high tempo and commands that you move quickly. But not for Ben, he sticks to his calculated, lazy steps while the woman is lively, but still, in tune with him.

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The beauty of the South American dance is this: the ladies are the stars of the show. Short skirts (or tight jeans), alluring hip movements, playful actions and elegant twists and turns are par for the course – or in this case the dance floor. Show me a man or a woman who won’t smile at this delightful sight.

Even so, the man leads this dance. He directs his partner, who glides along, in perfect harmony. I still can’t stop watching how effortlessly Ben leads, and I ask myself why can’t I?

Then there’s Caspa, shorter and not as dark as Ben, he clearly feels the music. His fast footwork, bouncing body and wide smile have everyone else feeling his elation.

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Whether he dances with Melissa or Nadia, they complement his style. Two people moving happily, swiftly, together, and then apart as they freestyle to an erratic drum beat. Did they rehearse this? How do they know? This is Cuban Salsa, flavoured by Africans, you’ve got to love it.

I’ve never been to Cuba, but if they do this, then every weekend must be an epic party because Caspa is partying like a Salsa star. I can’t help watching how effortlessly he does this, why can’t I? I wonder. I’m jealous.

Just last week I saw a video of Junior and Frida, they’re a killer Kizomba couple from Mozambique, and their Cuban Salsa is on fire too. Other couples stop dancing to watch them, in the background you can hear people cheering and you can see the delight on Junior and Frida’s faces. I ask again did they rehearse this or is this witchcraft? LOL. I love their style.

Whether you can do the basics or not, whether you take it easy like Ben or liven it up like Caspa, the joy of Cuban Salsa is clear, and it’s got something for everyone.

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A Rooftop With No View

 

It’s only one floor up and buildings are pretty much all you can see around you.  To the right are some trees that provide shade. Other than that, there’s not much to look at. But…

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This is Joburg’s hottest party spot on a Sunday (it’s the only place you’ll find me). Cuban Salsa and Kizomba tunes provide the background to enjoyable chatter, happening at Arts On Main, a huge warehouse filled with culinary delights and pictures from local artists.

The music adds ambiance to this colourful, casual market. It’s rich in dialects from around the continent and beyond. You’d never say you’re in one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

Danger is not on the minds of the hundreds of people walking the streets here. They are there to sample the African cuisine, shop and explore.

And then, of course, there are the addicts of the social dance community.

Every Sunday, without fail, dancers from various schools and different walks of life bring vibrancy to the rectangular space above the canteen. Some of us are regulars, while others drop in now and then.

Those who don’t dance, sway to the tunes of Thabo Moloto – aka DJ Salsa Touch. Their eyes don’t leave the dance floor, where bodies gyrate, swing and quick-step.

Cell phones are focused and fingers point, as Salseros turn and twist their ladies at rapid speeds, suddenly stopping, dipping, and pulling them from one side to the other, with effortless control and flair.

People stare when Kizomba beats prompts the ladies – and some gents too – to do mesmerizing hip movements while smoothly stepping together, bodies seemingly pushed tight against each other. It’s that intimacy and synchronized movement that astonishes most and makes others cautious about trying this sensual dance.

I know little of Bachata, but only two songs are played, and while meringue gets everyone jiving, DJ Salsa Touch plays more Salsa (he lives by his DJ title) and Kizomba, as students of these dances dominate the floor.

Onlookers approach us, quizzing us about where we learnt, where they can learn. If they’re brave enough, they ask for a lesson. The delight of dancing is shared and the bliss is evident.

Dancing, or more so the dancers, do not discriminate and share their expertise with the new found fans who follow to the best of their ability, and laugh at their mistakes when they step incorrectly. They thought it’s easy. Ha.

As dark shadows replace the summer sun, DJ Salsa Touch switches to Afro beats to the delight of the Angolan, Congolese and Nigerian attendees. P-Square’s music is a firm favourite with the crowd. Old School, RnB and the heavy bass of rap music, fill the cooling night air. You would swear tomorrow is a public holiday.

The Salseros and Kizombies exit what is now a full-on party, I mean, some of us have to work on Monday. The Revelry continues until 9pm when DJ SalsaTouch is obliged to disconnect the speakers.

There may be no view at this venue, but who needs one when the sexy ladies, audacious dancers and spontaneous entertainment will leave you excited – until we dance again.

 

 

 

Lose yourself to dance

 

It’s 10:20 on Monday night, and Edd shouts that the next song is the second last, but everyone knows it’s not. The 20 or so Kizombies will ask for another song, and another. Until the speakers are disconnected, they will continue dancing.

We – the Kizombies – eventually leave Parker’s Grill at 10:40pm. Tomorrow is Tuesday, after all. Edd was fooled into playing more Zouk, Semba and Kizomba tracks. He enjoys playing the music as much as we love dancing to it. He’s also an awesome dance teacher. 15876260_1809848875899175_756545849101647872_n

It’s this love that brings me back to Baila Afrika on a weekly basis. The people, the music and this hypnotic dance from Angola, called Kizomba, are addictive. I’m addicted. I’m a Kizombie.

The classes start at 7pm, but some of us are there from 6:30, because we want to Kizomba as much as we can. We are slaves to this dance, to the people and the music. We’d stay until midnight, if Edd allowed it.

Did I mention this happens on Mondays?  The day most people hate because it signals the end of a weekend and the beginning of a work week. It’s human nature to hate Monday.  But for kizombies, there is huge expectation and excitement about Monday night. Even if you’ve had a crap day, you know you can head to Parkers Grill and dance the blues away. It’s like balm for a battered spirit.

There’s even a hashtag, #whywelovemondays, and judging by the number of people who attend classes, the Monday love is growing.

Edd and his wife, Tash, are the initiators of this weekly event. Their attitude, consistently pleasant and welcoming (for the past two years), has helped forge an appreciation for Kizomba and the creation of many friendships.

Friendships that lead to laughter, dancing, talking and counselling. See, it’s not just a matter of dancing, it’s the essence of Baila Afrika that prompts you to connect with people from as far as America, Congo, Rwanda, Morocco, Mozambique, Soweto and Lenasia.

Your level of proficiency does not matter, neither does your age. Last night I danced with an 18 year old chick and a 60- something grand lady.

We are here to dance, and we’ll rhythmically move until the sweat soaks our clothes, and, in my case, until my bald head glows. Just dance; there’s enough ladies and gents, to make you feel at ease, so that you experience the simple joy of moving in unison to this African inspired music.

Dancing with a stranger, feeling that beat and moving together as if it were practised, is simply awesome. Did I mention it’s addictive?