Greg’s Story: the DC Bachata Congress 2016

A note from Rachel Cassandra: I attended the DC Bachata Congress this year as a representative of, and I asked many people what stood out to them about the festival, or why it was significant for them. Greg e-mailed me this gorgeous response. I knew I couldn’t fit more than a tiny fraction of it into my write-up for LDC, so I asked him if I could publish it in its entirety here. He agreed! What follows are his own words.

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I would like to first of all thank Earl Rush and everyone he worked with who put together the DC Bachata Congress this year. Anyone who has had to organize and plan for a hosting guests at his/her home knows what time and effort is involved. Multiply that by hundreds of people and I can only imagine how much work is needed. In addition, I would also like to thank the many volunteers who assisted in the event. Whether they drove to Washington, DC, took the Metro, or came from out of town; anyone who has spent any time in the DC area knows that it is not a cheap city to spend time in.

I did not take any of the workshops because of other things going on in my life. However, I was able to attend both the Friday and Saturday night parties which were both very enjoyable. I spent my time equally between the salsa, bachata, and kizomba rooms. I thought it was great that there were additional rooms that played a variety of music as well. I used one of them to warm up in since I do not partner dance as often as I did when I was younger. Had I not had to work on Monday, I would have gone out on Sunday as well. This 51 year old cannot stay out as often as he used to. Since I did not stay at the hotel the Congress was in, I commuted. Getting back home and not going to bed until after 4:30 AM is something I have not done since Ronald Reagan was president.

The contrasts between the kizomba room and the salsa and bachata rooms provided an interesting dynamic for me. I have been partner dancing for 22 years. I’ve been salsa dancing for 20 and bachata dancing for a little over 10 years. I am far from an elite dancer in the aforementioned dances but I am confident enough where I can lead women of all levels through a variety of patterns.

My first exposure to an exclusive kizomba room was the DC Bachata Congress last year. Prior to that, I did some rudimentary kizomba steps at salsa clubs with other dancers like myself. It was essentially, as a former instructor would say, “a basterdized version” of kizomba.

090216 ballroommap-1The great thing about the Bachata Congress was that on the same night I could be the beginner level dancer in one room and then the experienced dancer in other rooms. That perspective allowed me to adopt two different mindsets: In one room, I would remind myself to not lead more than my partner could follow; in another room I would tell myself to stick to what I know since more than likely my partner would have more experience.

I have no qualms about people who are selective with whom they dance. For instance, a common rule with partner dancing is that if you want to improve, you “dance up”. Many advanced level dancers spent a great deal of time and money attaining that status and they have every right to be selective. Although I think as far as talent ballroom dancing, which I have done for 21 years, has always come easier for me; many ballroom dance studios, in their understandable efforts to attempt to get everyone involved, will sometimes harass people into dancing during its dance parties. I don’t agree with that practice. Dancing is more enjoyable when it’s done voluntarily and people should dance with whom they choose.

That said, I decided a long time ago that I want to dance with as many people who will allow me to do so. I would rather dance 20 times during a party and 18 of them be with women below my skill level than to only “dance up” and have to wait for women who are in high demand–assuming that they say yes to my requests. That philosophy has paid dividends for me. There are many advanced level salsa dancers who probably only dance with me because I did not think I was too good for them when they were beginners. There is nothing more enjoyable than seeing a beginner level student’s face light up when I’ve led her through some patterns that she negotiated well. I decided years ago that if that outlook prevented me from being a better dancer; so be it.

I was very appreciative of all the women I danced with in the kizomba roorn who made my experience enjoyable. Even when I was turned down, it was done in a respectable fashion that did not discourage me from asking them to dance in the future. Much has been said about rejection of a dance request. Frankly, I would rather a woman turn me down than to get on the dance floor and I could tell; maybe I’m doing something wrong or it may have nothing to do with me; she nevertheless is not enjoying her experience. Like many men, I’ve been asking girls/women to dance since my teenage years and we know that not every woman is going to say yes. All we ask it to be treated respectfully if we do the same to them.

I also want to thank some of the women with whom I have danced kizomba on a regular basis in the DMV (District-Maryland-Virginia) area. They are far superior dancers and yet they are always gracious enough to dance with me. I don’t know their last names (actually, I could probably find out though Facebook but that would make me the Creepy Middle Aged Guy and I want to avoid that moniker) but they know who they are: Nikky, Nina, Michelle, Zahiyah, Natalie, Marlow, and Helen. There are others whose names escape me. Women like them are what make partner dancing so enjoyable for me!

090216 logoLast year, at my first kizomba party, I fumbled around like every beginner does. I came across one woman who spent more time with me than she had reason to. Many women have told me over the years that no matter what type of partner dancing is involved; if they have a choice between a Leader who may not know many patterns but does them well and one who knows various patterns but does a crappy job of leading them, they will always choose the former. Sometimes I have to fight off the urge with kizomba to do more than my talents allow since I don’t want to be boring. With respect to women with whom I’m dancing for the first time, I’ve learned that it’s still better to do what I know than to screw up trying to show off and hamper my chance of future dances. This woman who I danced with last year wreaked of class. We only did a few patterns but I felt my confidence growing throughout. I did not know until this year that she was the Kizomba Chick. I saw her at the Congress but did not get the chance to approach her. I wanted to thank her for helping me get the confidence to know that I can do this if I stick it out!

I have been taking lessons with Michelle Reyes, a local instructor, for almost 10 years. I’ve taken dozens of salsa lessons from her and she helps to keep me grounded. I can pull up a salsa pattern on U-tube and practice it with Michelle. I thought that with my ballroom background and some Argentine Tango experience, I could simply transfer that information to kizomba. When I tried to do something similar with kizomba, Michelle quickly put the kibosh on that and stated she did not want me to simply become a pattern dancer without fully grasping the basics. I am truly appreciative to her for that.

I met Rachel Cassandra earlier this year since I like to take lessons from a variety of teachers to get their styles. Her help as been invaluable. Like Michelle, she goes for quality over quantity. Since I don’t do this every week and sometimes go for weeks without kizomba dancing, it’s important that I get the foundation in kizomba dancing that I have in salsa and bachata. She has been very helpful in that regard.

To those people who simply do not partner dance as often as they would like or cannot get out early enough to take group lessons, taking privates is invaluable. Yes, it’s more expensive than group lessons but a handful of times a year for me is very useful. I would strongly encourage it! Please do not expect to be taught many fancy patterns if you have not developed a foundation first.

090216 hotelfrontIf I had to do it over again, I would have spent the weekend in the hotel the Congress was in and taken the workshops which would have immersed me even more. I should have planned better and paid ahead of time but oftentimes I don’t know if I’m going out until the last minute. Zouk seems like a fun dance and I hope to learn it some day but I learned quite some time ago that if I spread myself too thin, I cannot develop in the dances I do and that some dances I have to put off into the future.

Even with the mistakes I made, I had an enjoyable time and once again am very appreciative to the promoters, teachers, women, and concert performers who made my experience enjoyable.

Read more about the festival and other people’s experiences here.