I got a note from a friend in Cali, Colombia (South America) via messenger recently asking how my transition to Europe had been going over the last couple of weeks. He was also happy to report that Kizomba classes in Cali, Colombia had been continuing strong. For those who might not know, Cali, Colombia is renown for it’s Salsa dancing and universally considered the Salsa capital of the world. Kizomba on the other hand is an African partner dance from Angola, Africa that is rapidly growing in popularity around the world. Now, inquiring minds might find it interesting that a dance from Africa is being taught and enjoyed in what many consider the epicenter of Latin music and dance. Well, the truth in this particular case is that this African rhythm had traveled to Cali, Colombia similar to how lots of culture travels, through bearers of its likeness. More on that shortly.
Many friends and family know that I decided to take a leap of faith at the end of 2015 and quit my longtime job as a university administrator. Change was needed and true calling or purposeful reflection perhaps lied on the other end of an unknown door. The plan was to first travel to Europe, then to Latin American. I would be able see friends and dance Kizomba in Europe then I could finish off my travels with a bit of Salsa dancing plus learn Spanish in Latin America. I would do all this while concurrently thinking about my next professional move. Well, after a couple of months in Europe and a very interesting month in Santiago de Cuba, I landed in Cali, Colombia where I would spend the next 5 months.
Cali, Colombia will always have a special place in my heart. The food is excellent, the people are very friendly, and the language is romantic. My good fortune had even led me to find a young Colombia family to live with just a few days after I arrived to the city. Beyond these things, daily Spanish classes and all the Salsa dancing I could ever imagine made life complete. However, it was another experience that would take my time in Colombia to an entirely different level of intrinsic value and purpose.
I rarely had a chance to dance Kizomba during the first couple of months in Colombia. Why? Yes, you guessed it- there was no Kizomba dance scene in Cali, Colombia. No venues to dance and no classes being taught. People had absolutely heard about the dance and the music, and there had certainly been past attempts at establishing a Kizomba presence in Colombia.
However, other cities in Colombia (Bogotá and Medellin) had better receptions in the past to introductions to the African rhythm versus those in Cali Colombia. For me, this just meant that my passion for Kizomba would be confined to dancing a bit with my Spanish teacher and a few friends, something I was ready for when I decided to travel and study Spanish in Colombia. Well unbeknownst to me, word begin to spread that I was a Kizomba aficionado and teacher and before I knew it, I was invited to teach at multiple dance studios in Cali. What a pleasure!
What’s more is that I had the privilege of training several professional dancers. Individuals who sustain themselves and their families in some case by way of dance instruction. For me, this was a game-changing idea. The economies in many cities like Cali, Colombia in Latin America receive huge support from touristic dollars, which typically includes the patronizing of local culture.
For instance, language and dance instructors generally stay in high demand. The idea that I was able to introduce a skill that has the potential to help locals in a tangible way blows my mind. A small, but notable feat, at least in my own mind. Moreover, as I reflected on these things, I was happy to also make a mental note that I wasn’t simply teaching people how to party for the sake of the party. There was more in the works, but admittedly, I would not discover the fullness of this perspective until my time in Cali neared its end.
Very early on in my introduction to the dance of Kizomba, its traditional or authentic form was presented to me by individuals who grew up in Angola, African (Mestre Petchu and Vanessa) or one of the Palop—Portuguese speaking—countries in Africa. Therefore, I enjoy both dancing and teaching multiple rhythms within the Kizomba family: Tribal, Afro House, Tarraxxa, Urban Kizomba and Semba, the main dance that Kizomba derives from. Not only were the people of Cali, Colombia ready for these new rhythms, willing hearts and able bundas (slang term in Portuguese for buttocks) defined the welcome Kizomba ultimately received in this small Latin American city. What more could I ask for? It is such a humbling experience to share what you love with others. A very popular expression for the city of Cali is: “Cali es la surcursal del Cielo…” well, this was absolutely proving to be true in my experience.
About half way through my teaching stint in Cali, I realized that the filming of all my classes could and would serve an additional purpose beyond practice material for me to observe and study. This being the second half of 2016, video documentation is as popular as ever and in many situations enhances the story. Therefore, it is with great pleasure that I share a small, but significant labor-of-love I call “Bailamos Kizomba en Cali, Colombia,” translated: We dance Kizomba in Cali, Colombia! Stay tuned for video project’s release in the coming days.
Now, I conclude regarding my experience teaching las personas en Cali. Did I inform the people about the ever-changing ideas out there about what is and is not Kizomba and the concept of cultural misappropriation? YES. Did the people really care about this? NO. Did the people already have a good idea of what they wanted to learn and dance according to what they had seen online? YES. Did this cause tension or unease within myself? NO. As a person of African descent who grew up poor, in an inner-city of the United States, I have seen “my culture” exploited and misappropriated as far back as I can remember. Gospel, Soul, Jazz, R&B, Hip Hop and the list simply goes on and on. In fact, there is really no doubt where the swagger and/or style that permeates world-wide popular culture originates from: poor black and brown communities in the United States of America- with historical influence from the mother continent Africa, of course. But I digress.
My point is that history is extremely important, but we must also recognize and not devalue the here-and-now and what life offers in this moment. With that said, a great professor once told me, just because a culture transcends the people of its origin, does not take value or brilliance away from the originators. And yes, students who were interested got an extra lesson in history beyond dance. However, my standard student was presented with something of equal if not greater value. The blessing of movement and rhythm, experienced through the uncompromising spirit of Afrocentric dance. It originated as something free as life itself, and it is perhaps the most important Universal Language that we have today. Be happy and free to dance as you prefer!!