A Look at the White House Kizomba & Zouk Summit

The White House Kizomba & Zouk Festival 2016: 3 days of workshops, 6 nights of parties, national and international instructors, live music, performances, and plenty of hype. In fact, there’s so much hype surrounding dance festivals these days that it can be difficult to sort out which events merit attention (and of course our time and money).

Fortunately the WHKZ Summit delivers on its promises. Let me take you on a little tour of this festival – a little history, awesome features of the Summit in 2016, and the highlights of my own personal experience.

What follows is the full version of my write-up – for the short version, head over to Latin Dance Community!

Vision of a World-Class Festival

The Summit started with Tanya, also called Kianda, wanting to bring a high level of kizomba instruction back to the United States after studying and dancing in Portugal.

041816 skyzombaTanya organized the first-ever kizomba festival in Washington, DC on July 6, 2013 – an event called SkyZomba, which featured the world-renowned Ricardo & Paula of the Portuguese group Afrolatin Connection, with the addition of US-based kizomba and Brazilian zouk instructors Ivo & Shani. It was a single track event offering a range of classes in kizomba, semba, and tarraxinha, and a unique optional trip on the Sunday to go skydiving!

The following year SkyZomba moved to April and expanded its offerings. Shani & Ivo returned with Brazilian zouk, four DC-based instructors taught kizomba, Brayo Judah offered an introduction to soukous, and Miguel Monteiro brought tarraxa, kuduro, and semba to the festival.

“After listening to much feedback and much appreciation for the first two festivals, Tanya realized that she had to close some gaps between kizomba festivals in the US and some of the top kizomba festivals in Europe,” explains the “About” page of the Summit. So in 2015, the festival expanded considerably. Tanya and After Dark Kizomba collaborated with Ashley of District Zouk to create the White House Kizomba Summit and District Zouk Weekender. The 2015 Summit was also the first to offer two levels for kizomba workshops and a separate track for zouk. 041816 flyer 2015 The international lineup of instructors increased impressively, offering two full days of workshops, and there were six kizomba DJ’s and four zouk DJ’s to cover five nights of parties. Additionally, a pre-festival semba choreography intensive was offered by Miguel and his partner Susana.

Features of the 2016 Summit

“Every year the Summit has doubled in size and every year we have added new challenges and growth to make it closer to our overall vision: a celebration of the music and dance forms centered around Kizomba and Zouk,” said Tanya in a Facebook post following the event. I don’t have the statistics to back that up, but I can’t help but think of Miguel Monteiro’s involvement when I read that quote. In 2013 he wasn’t there; In 2014 he was featured for the first time; in 2015 he returned with his partner Susana; and in 2016 Paulo and Lanna joined them to complete the Fantastic 4‘s presence.

These amazing four dancers represented only a fraction of the excellent lineup in 2016. Rather than rattling off a long list of names, I invite you to have a look at the Brazilian zouk artists, kizomba artists, and DJ’s on the Summit’s official website.

There have been other visible markers of growth, naturally, including the increasing size of the venues, the move this year to a true DC address, and the growth of the organizing staff and volunteer crew. While class offerings didn’t double, there were 4 concurrent tracks – 2 for kizomba, and 2 for Brazilian zouk.

The parties were gorgeous and well-attended, especially on Saturday night. It’s easy to understand why – there were top-notch DJ’s, six performances (including the culmination performance of the Semba Choreography Intensive offered once again by Miguel & Susana), extensive Afro House and Kuduro animation, and the special feature of 2016 was a live performance by one of the founders of the kizomba music genre, Eduardo Paim. Witness for yourselves!

My Summit Highlights

12963614_10154007822145449_2790684697596394066_nI had the pleasure of attending Skyzomba II and the first Summit, so while I was excited to see how things had grown, I was also hoping the festival would retain the same ‘vibe’ I had so appreciated previously. The “About” page claimed the Summit would be “keeping its African family get-together feel,” but in my experience that’s none too easy. For me, the Summit did a better job than most festivals of comparable size, although I’ll have to be honest and say this might have been influenced by my knowing quite a lot of people present. Personally I find it easier to reach out and welcome new people when I have a strong base of friends and familiar faces topping up my social energy tank. That said, no one could argue with the fact that Tanya and Ashley and all the people involved in making the Summit happen were fully invested in delivering that welcoming feeling.

I had the best of intentions when Tanya strapped an all-access pass on my wrist, but obviously this festival’s workshop offerings added up to more than any one person could possibly sample, let alone enjoy immersively. Prioritization is so hard at festivals of this caliber! In the end I stayed in the realm of kizomba, attending most of the Masters Kizomba/Semba classes and a couple of the general ones. If I could have doubled myself I would have loved to take several zouk workshops, but as it was I enjoyed some crossover between social rooms in the evenings.

From my limited perspective, it did seem there might be more mixing between the two sides of the Summit this year. I wasn’t the only kizomba dancer spending time in the zouk room, and some of the other kizomba teachers did a better job getting over to take some zouk workshops. I had more followers introduce themselves to me on the kizomba floor as newbies more used to dancing zouk. There were periods on Saturday and Sunday when the social rooms were combined, which offered us all an opportunity to mix a bit more. I also really appreciated the deliberate setup of a crossover dance among all the instructors and performers on Saturday night. Have a look!

There is very little to criticize about the 2016 Summit. There was a slightly confusing online presence, with a proliferation of event pages on Facebook that made it difficult to find relevant announcements quickly, and the official website was a bit tardy in appearing. I personally didn’t care for the extensive use of a fog machine in the zouk room, but I think those of us who found it made breathing a chore were very much in the minority. I mentioned it on one evening and a staff member obligingly switched it off for a while. The festival stayed remarkably close to its announced schedule, with the only annoying disparity being the delay of Paim’s concert by more than an hour (which may even have escaped attention were it not for the scheduled time being 2:00 AM).

I could rave for a while about all the things I personally loved about the Summit, but I’ll restrict myself to just a few comments. The Fantastic Four’s Afro House/Kuduro class for the Master’s track was killer. I mean that in many ways – the choreography was great fun; they brought enormous energy; the moves were explained clearly, often with bonus contextual information; AND I had pain in certain small muscle groups for two days following.

I so appreciated Jamba & Adorée‘s instructional style in the “Semba Show” class. The technique required for each trick was clearly explained in terms of leading and following. I discovered that I was perfectly capable of doing a move that had frustrated me at another festival. I won’t call anyone out, but in that case I was basically told that some things can only be led by a man, and that it was all about strength. In a matter of minutes Adorée and Jamba had me leading it with confidence.

041816 flyer 2016Obviously the Saturday night concert by Eduardo Paim was a highlight, although I dearly wish we could have seen him perform with a live band. Of additional interest was a panel discussion that featured him the following day. The topic was about the original evolution of kizomba as a musical genre, from his perspective. The Head of Culture from the Angolan embassy was in attendance. Paim started with a presentation and then moved into answering a wide range of questions. His answers were delivered largely through a translator, but my favorite parts were when he interrupted the translation to speak directly to us – and this happened more and more often as the discussion continued. The mix of earnestness and hilarity that characterized this meeting would be difficult to capture in print. I was certainly not at all surprised when Tanya rearranged that afternoon’s schedule to allow the session to continue an extra hour, and I know many of us would gladly have stayed longer. Hearing a perspective from a primary resource inspired additions to my webpage on kizomba history, and Kizomba Harmony captured a fairly long segment that you can view on Facebook.

In a reflective post on Facebook, Tanya said: “Eduardo Paim, we made history together and Kizomba in the USA will never be the same.” I agree that this has been a landmark event for authentic kizomba dancing in the United States. It is difficult to understate the hard work that went into bringing so many foreign artists together at the White House Kizomba & Zouk Summit in 2016. I have so much appreciation for Tanya and Ashley and all the staff and artists who put their efforts into making it excellent. I’d say there is still a ways to go in competing with some major European festivals, but certainly the Summit is an event I’d be proud to hold up as an example of what an American kizomba festival can be.