5 Viewpoints of Sexism in the Kizomba World

By Tanya Dimitrova

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

Have you read any of the Discworld novels? Terry Pratchet is brilliant! One of the most hilarious recurring characters is a suitcase with 100 legs, called the Luggage. It technically is a living creature but it has no face and nor does it talk. All it does is it faithfully follows its master as he gets into trouble all around the Discworld.

I suddenly felt just like the Luggage one morning in 2015 when I came across a promotional flyer on Facebook for a Neo Kizomba™ weekender where Charles and I were supposed to give a series of workshops and a couple of performances. Mind you, it was kind of a coincidence that I even saw this flyer because I was not mentioned or tagged anywhere on it. If fact, the YouTube demo the promoter had decided to post in the event was of Charles dancing with somebody else! (As if we didn’t have enough videos of us dancing as a couple.) It appears that the promoter considered my presence at the weekender just a part of the logistics – after all, a travelling instructor like Charles must have a suitcase, right?

This is not the first time such a situation has occurred so it made me think: how much sexism is there the world of kizomba? Do people consider the contribution of the followers less worthy than that of the leader? Am I being too sensitive or is there indeed an issue here to be addressed? What caused this situation? I have a few theories:

Theory one: It is my fault: I had not promoted myself enough on social media and that’s why the promoter didn’t even know my last name (Dimitrova, FYI). To be fair, it’s true that kizomba is a part-time activity for me – at that time I was teaching environmental science in a high school and reporting on environmental stories for news sites. And since my Facebook profile doubles as both my personal and professional account, only a third of the posts on there are kizomba related. The other two thirds are on environmental, political and social justice topics. But still, anyone can tell that this is a profile of a dancer, if by nothing else than the pictures.

Theory two: It is all followers’ fault: by remaining quiet during workshops and not actually TEACHING we don’t add value from a promoter’s point of view. But this is not always true! I always break down technique for the ladies and I give tips to the guys (both individual and as a group). Charles and I actually split the work during a workshop – while he would be in the front explaining something, I moved around the room as a scout and let him know what the students are getting and what they are not. Not to mention that at parties, I dance with as many ladies as with guys – especially given the chronic shortage of good leads. As far as I know, all other professional kizombeiras do the same.

Theory three: It is the nature of the dance. Kizomba features the most pronounced domination/submission dynamic of any dance I know of. The lead is in charge of everything. The follower has to shut down her brain and receive all instructions from the leader. But just like any psychologist would explain, a D/S partnership is exactly that: a partnership! It’s a temporary exchange of power and each of the two partners offers a valuable and equal contribution in the relationship. Even the most experienced advanced kizombeiro would not be able to do a beautiful demo with a partner who does not establish a strong connection and is not able to read his mind.

Luggage blog picTheory four: It is the nature of the world. As much as we wish we lived in a secular equal society, women are still underpaid and undervalued in the workplace. This is the statistically proven reality even in “developed” countries such as the US. Many women hit a glass ceiling at some point in their careers. The reasons for this are complex but can partly be summarized by saying that many of the economic leaders, males themselves, sometimes tend to forget that half of the population on the planet does not have a penis. Yet this is not an ideal explanation either. I have received similar treatment from female promoters.

Theory five: I am imagining this problem: there are after all some successful female kizomba instructors. Take Rachel Cassandra (Kizomba Community), Maria Ivanova (Kizomba Chick), and our Neo Kizomba™ instructor trainees in Oklahoma City, Monique Aragon & Lee Sirena. One thing all of these kizombeiras have in common, though, is that they do not have a permanent male dance partner. So an argument could be made that if they ever were to enter into a long-term partnership with somebody, questions may be raised about the value of their contribution in the creative output. How sad would that be? I wonder if somebody knows of a good case study of a female dance instructor who started off alone and then decided to partner with somebody – how would that affect her career?

This whole situation sadly reminds me of a custom in many traditional male-dominated societies: a young unmarried woman has a substantial freedom to travel, get educated, communicate openly with people until the moment she gets married. At that point, she loses all her independence and the purpose of her life shifts completely to simply rearing children.

OK, I’m going to get off my soapbox for now. Thankfully, all of my suitcase legs were in good shape when the time came around for that weekender and we did not have to look for a replacement. Not to worry, I am sure that the promoter would have done a great job assisting himself in Charles’ workshops! Hey, he might even have looked great wearing my stage costume!

For more articles and resources related to sexism and gender dynamics in the dance world, check out Kizomba Community’s Resources.

Tanya Dimitrova is a kizomba and salsa teacher from Bulgaria. She currently lives in Sofia and teaches at Dance Academy KizombaHolics BG. This post was previously published on iloveafrolatinmusic.com

5 Comments

  1. Steve N says:

    Hi Tanya, as background I’m a male lead dancing Kizomba for a 2 1/2 years. Thank you for the thoughtful article.

    It’s true that Kizomba instruction is male dominated, although there are some female instructors that manage to teach solo at times, Lucia Nogueira and Sara Lopez for example (and others). I know that’s setting the bar really high but the competition is pretty fierce out there.

    Besides exceptional talent and technical acumen, it takes a certain personality to fill those shoes. Then there’s the marketing and promotional side. In your first theory you say you could’ve done better with social media, which these days is a key marketing tool – and not just FB. It’s a long hard road, are you sure you want to take it?

    In your theory 3 I’m so happy you brought up dance as a partnership, a temporary exchange of power where each of the two partners offers a valuable and equal contribution in the relationship. Right on!!! Exactly how I feel. As a lead I try to share the experience, the creativity, and the fun.

    Lately my female practice partner and I have been rotating (switching off) lead and follow. What an epiphany! Turns out I’m not the best follow, but I’m working on it and getting better 👣

    Sincerely,
    Steve N ( aka dj Stevie Sí )

  2. Steve N says:

    Darn, I forgot to mention Rachael Cassandra as a shining example 🙌🏾

  3. Steve N says:

    Hakima Kim and Sonja Kikizomba

  4. Meyer says:

    Lucia Nogueira and Sara Lopez are both women who make a living teaching Kizomba & are equally as popular with or with out partners!

    IMHO

  5. kizombacommunity says:

    Hi Meyer and Steve,
    It’s certainly true that Tanya’s three examples are not an exhaustive list of female kizomba teachers going it alone. We featured an interview on Sonja Kikizomba back in 2014.
    http://www.kizombacommunity.com/interviews/ladies-leadership-interviews-sonja-kikizomba/
    These days, there are more and more. Anais Millon has started working on her own, for example.
    But consider those few women against the long list of men either going it on their own or quickly cycling through partners That’s the point Tanya makes here.

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