Kiz Talks, Aug. 13, 2014
Here’s how I teach kizomba connection to beginner students. I will leave more advanced concepts of connection, leading, and following for a future post. I have referenced a couple of my own previous posts as well as some comments from the wonderful Tanya Dimitrova, since she beat me to this topic! Be sure to read her posts in full, they’re great.
1. Everyone: Ask someone to dance. I stand by it. Unless you’re in a class with ongoing rotation, you should just ask. It’s one of the “6 Simple Steps to Not Being an Awful Person on the Dance Floor.”
2. Everyone: have your weight forward. Confused about what that means? I described this in part 1 of “How to Transform Your Kizomba Movement.” This helps us stay in engaged once we connect.
3. Everyone: Come toward your partner straight on, but with your left foot slightly to the outside. So when we look at the feet of a dancing couple, we see left foot, right foot, right foot, left foot. This also affects “nipple placement,” as Tanya Dmitrova points out. Your chests will touch – that is our primary point of connection. Almost everything led and followed in kizomba happens because of connection and movement of the chest. I love Tanya’s description of being connected “from the belly all the way up to the breastbone.” I first encountered this kind of connection in blues dancing, and love how it enables us to move as one with our partner. As I like to say in class, “How do you get your bookbag to follow you?” Tanya also does a great job of describing how connection varies depending on our body shapes.
Now, for me, at this point you are standing both with your weight forward, touching, but holding your own weight completely. I personally disagree with the idea of leaning on one’s leader,or as Tanya puts it, “Surrender a small portion of your own weight (say, 20%) and shift it forward to his chest.” I prefer to avoid any added tension in the dance, so I invite both leaders and followers to be responsible for their own weight. However, followers are responsible for seeking to maintain this lovely chest connection (unless explicitly led to do otherwise); even as leaders are responsible for leading each step. I like to imagine that our hearts are magnetic, so they are always being drawn back together.
4. Leaders: Maintaining shoulders parallel to your partner’s, wrap your right arm in a relaxed way around your follower’s back. Your hand or forearm should rest comfortably somewhere below the shoulder blades and above the waistband of the follower. Avoid reaching up, which engages the bicep and introduces unnecessary tension; squeezing, which limits your follower’s movement; or placing your hand below where it should go. This should feel as safe as a friendly hug, and as relaxed as when you walk through a park with your arm around a loved one.
5. Followers: Keeping your shoulders parallel to your partner’s, drape your arm across the line of your partner’s shoulders. You will probably reach behind the neck and rest on the muscle on the far side of the neck, or possibly on the opposite shoulder. If your leader is much taller than you, seek as much surface area contact on your left arm as possible by draping down your leader’s right arm. Do not reach around the leader’s back, as you will need to engage additional muscles to keep it there, and that tension can inhibit your following. This isn’t salsa or tango! You also shouldn’t let your arm hang off the leader’s bicep – because we are aiming for a very relaxed hold, that will feel very heavy.
6. Leaders: Let’s talk about your left arm. While there are many holds that are possible in kizomba, I encourage you to choose the most relaxed one required at any given point. Holding your left hand down at a right angle is great for weight-bearing moves like dips; holding your arm up and pressing your forearm to your follower’s can give you extra leverage in passages where you are doing rapid pivots or tricky dissociation. Most of the time, though, that’s not necessary. Your easiest hold is essentially just holding hands at about shoulder height or just below (or split between the heights of your shoulders and your partner’s). You’re not leading with this arm, so it can be totally relaxed besides the muscle holding it up; let your elbow point down to the floor and do not push forward on your partner. Another very sweet option when you’re doing relaxed movement or dancing on the spot is to rotate your wrist around the back of the follower’s palm and bring it to your chest, just over your heart. I always melt when a leader does this with me.
7. Followers: For your right arm, you need to match what the leader is asking for. I hope it will be relaxed and at an appropriate height for you. If you leader is carrying a lot of tension or pushing on you to the point that you’re using “elbow grease” just to survive, speak up! Very often leaders are just getting tense thinking about everything they want to lead, and a simple reminder will help them relax. For your part, don’t push with your right arm; this will make your back tense and create resistance in your following. At the same time, don’t be so relaxed that you are expecting the leader to hold up your arm.
8. Everyone: Head contact can be a beautiful additional point of connection, so long as both parties consent to it. Not everyone wants to feel your sweaty forehead! I personally find it increases my tendency to be totally lost in the moment. If you like head contact, make your head available by leaving it close enough for you partner to connect with easily. However, do not bend your neck to make this happen. It’s totally find for your jaw to connect with your partner’s forehead if you are different heights. Believe me, your head weighs quite a lot and will be difficult to support if you lean it on your partner! Also, it won’t take long for your neck to start aching from such an unnatural position. Keep your spine straight and let it happen naturally.
There you have it. Flawless connection in kizomba. Go try it! And hey, if you have questions or would like to add a thought or disagree with something I’ve said, your comments are welcome below.