In Part I we saw that most top level teachers say there’s no dissociation – and then do it.

Here in Part II we’ll see possible reasons why this happens.

So, is there dissociation in real kizomba?

Yes. Even the Famous Teacher that started all of this with his “wrong, wrong, wrong” message accepted after some discussion and after seeing my compilation video that yes, there is dissociation, there has to be.

So you were right all along?

Well, I wasn’t wrong 😉, but it’s subtler than that. There’s dissociation, yes; but knowing that Angolans don’t seem to recognize it as playing a part in saida means, to us as teachers, that probably we should not introduce it too lightly either. See the European examples of dissociation: we don’t want to create that kind of exaggerated effect. And we want our students to be able to jump forward to learn directly from Angolans; so it’s best if they learn to use the same concepts as Angolans do.

However, dissociation is evidently still an important thing to teach; the reason I recorded that broom video in the first place is because we realized dissociation helped our students

And so we reach a key question: if Angolans do it, but don’t teach it… how do they learn it? What are we missing in our (Western) learning and teaching?

Or even, why would anyone say that there isn’t dissociation?

This is my understanding as an European that works on learning and understanding Angolan culture. It’s taken me years to go back to basics and ask questions as fundamental as this, and evidently I’m not the only one grappling with it. So take this with a grain of salt.

My understanding is that this is an example of cultural differences between Angola and Europe / the West: the way in which dancing is taught and learnt, and what we pay attention to. Eddy Vents already touched on both of these subjects in his social media posts some time ago.

Plus, probably there’s some overcorrection going on against the European injection of tango. Let’s put that out of the way first.

Overcorrecting against tango?

As mentioned, people in Europe rushed to spice up their “kizomba” with anything that they could cherry-pick from tango – and this keeps happening. It’s probably too tempting! And other dances have been doing the same for some time too (bachatango anyone?). So I can personally understand the knee-jerk reaction of pushing tango away from kizomba. In fact, when the Famous Teacher complained about my video, I immediately wondered whether one of my first teachers, who was a proud follower of Kwenda, pushed me too much towards dissociation.

The solution to this is easy: let’s not overcorrect. It’s not needed; if anything, it’s interesting that tango-like dissociation when forced into kizomba has a different feeling to normal kizomba dissociation. My take is that, as with other external influences or fusions, it’s like a rough edge that will get polished out as the dancer digs deeper into kizomba.

What we pay attention to in the West vs in Angola

If you follow kizomba dancers in social media, you’ll surely have seen dance videos showing only the feet. And after some time, you’ll realize that actually you know what’s going on in the rest of the body. The feet are actually enough!

Two dancers' feet: Dasmara and Kirsi
Dasmara & Kirsi. Not pictured: dissociation!

To me it’s very interesting that this kind of feet recording doesn’t seem to happen in other styles. In salsa, in bachata sensual, in urban kiz, if you only look at the feet you’ll miss all the styling. Which would be a pity, given how much effort they invest on that: the thrown arms, the body rolls, the head flicks. But in kizomba there’s no styling. Our upper body is busy keeping contact with the partner.

A shock came when I realized that this attention to the feet doesn’t happen only in videos; in our privates with Angolans I realized they looked at our feet almost exclusively. Somehow I never realized before! In one particularly memorable case, we had a private with a couple of Angolan champions. I asked them both to pay attention to my shoulders while I led her; my plan was to introduce dissociation without mentioning it, to see their reaction. But turns out that the leader of the couple was incapable of keeping his eyes on my shoulders; the moment I started walking, his eyes would go to my feet! After 3 attempts of me explaining that I wanted him to look at my shoulders, him accepting, and again him failing, I realized that that was the actual answer: he didn’t care for my shoulders. You do with them whatever you want, as long as you deal with your feet and your partner. Dissociation or not – they don’t care, you do you. It’s just an extra degree of freedom that you can use if you want. And why wouldn’t you?

It’s worth noting that also the follower didn’t seem to care much about me introducing dissociation – she only dismissed it as uncomfortable once I exaggerated it a lot (Kwenda-style).

How we teach and learn in the West vs in Angola

Another of the cultural differences that the dissociation subject brings up is between the ways people learn to dance in “dancing cultures” (Angola, Latin America, etc) vs “non-dancing cultures” (what I’m calling “the West”).

Story time: years ago, a bachata teacher friend in Poland noticed an Angolan man living there that was a good kizomba dancer, so she asked him to teach with her. He accepted, but when she tried to discuss what exactly they would teach, he was baffled: he expected they’d just pop in to the class, dance a bit, people would repeat that bit as a drill, and that’s that. She insisted and asked him to visit one of her existing classes to get an idea of what was needed. He did, and when he saw what a western dance class looked like, he decided it wasn’t for him.

When she told me about this, I thought this was funny! Every class I was attending at that point was pretty well structured with explanations, with sections within the hour, typically with a multi-month curriculum, and always in levels! We even got explanations about dissociation. Who would teach, and learn to dance, just by watching and repeating stuff as a drill? No one!

Guess what? Angolans do. Cultural dancers do! Of course with the huge advantage that they’re submerged in the context of the culture; they’re exposed to the music and the dance, so that just “by osmosis”, by being exposed to it so much, they know how things should look like, in a way that a one-hour-per-week class will never compensate for1.

And of course it makes sense to repeat stuff as a drill! That’s how everyone learns to do everything. Explanations are nice, but few can learn to do something just by hearing about it. And yet, we have this expectation that a few simplified explanations about music or technique will allow us to feel the music and apply the technique. As if those were easy, to begin with.

That is funny. We don’t do that to learn to talk, or to do multiplication, or to walk. Why should it work for dancing?

Drill at the dance school “Flor do Semba”, Luanda (Facebook video)

So when that approach (understandably, previsibly) fails, the typical Western thing to do is: count, build combos, and maybe chain them to get an impression that things are moving forward. Next level in 2 months! And when you keep repeating that, that’s what your drill consists of. Instead of learning to do simple things while listening to the music, and letting them flow together as you get comfortable with them, you mechanized a complex sequence of steps that you’ll be so busy repeating that you’ll do it no matter what the music tells you in the meantime. And then you’ll think musicality is hard. Fortunately you might find yet more classes to help you fix that problem…

Consider: when you think about improvising in the dance as a leader, what is your first impulse: listening to the music? Or searching in your brain for a cool combo? If you don’t know, you better think about it, because your follower sure feels it.

And think of the bigger picture too: what did you look forward to when you started learning to dance? Did you get into it because you wanted to memorize combos? If you did, that’s OK – and styles like salsa might be great for that. I still remember an international teacher in my first salsa festival who advertised as “The Man of the 1001 Combos” or some such.

Me, I hated his class. And one reason I love about kizomba is that it’s the opposite of that.2

For completeness, I want to mention that one can also find Angolan teachers in Angola that can give Western-style explanations, including using vocabulary from tango and ballet. Being able to bridge both styles of teaching must be fascinating!

This all is hard to believe. What do teacher training courses say about dissociation?

On to Part III !

Big thank you to Adilson Maiza and Gabriel Cabinda for reviewing this looong article – and to the other many friends who reviewed the initial drafts!

  1. Particularly so if the teacher simplifies the music and dance to make it easier to teach or advertise. ↩︎
  2. Worth noting here that I’ve heard Caribbean and Angolan people comment that kizomba dance school people tend to complicate things too much… Just like how Latin Americans comment that dance school people complicate salsa and bachata too much… ↩︎

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