The short version

Dissociation in kizomba

Yes, there is dissociation in kizomba. The confusing thing is that many instructors, including Angolans, don’t explain it. Some even discourage it… even though they do it!

The more interesting question is why this happens. It might be caused by cultural differences: what each pays attention to, and how each teaches and learns. It’s like there is a game of telephone going on. So, to get closer to how Angolans dance, we need to learn like they do. That way we can go directly to the sources.

The long version

It all started with a broom video…

In the beginning of 2022, I posted a short video explaining with a broom how dissociation helps in saida; plus exercises one could do at home to practice. The idea for the video came when we noticed in our classes and privates that many people did not use dissociation at all, which caused them to cross their feet and stumble on them, and made it difficult for them to keep a closed embrace for long. We saw that teaching them about dissociation helped them avoid those problems; but this is an easy enough thing that it’s a pity to spend a class on this.

So we thought a free short video might help everyone jump forward to more interesting stuff.

Dissociation with a broom!

I published it, a few people seemed to like it, and that was that.

But a few months later, out of the blue, an Internationally Famous Teacher with over a decade of experience teaching messaged me, saying that my video about dissociation was “wrong, wrong, wrong” because “we Africans definitely don’t and never needed to dissociate our upper body to do any saidas”.

Imagine our shock. Had we been teaching wrongly all this time? After all, we learnt kizomba in Europe, and we never stopped to think about the pedigree of what we learnt. How far was our teaching from Angolan lineage? Angolans seemed happy with our dancing, but would they accept our teaching as kizomba? Would our students have problems when dancing with Angolans?

I took down the broom video and started looking for references.

A flurry of privates and a mystery

And so, in mid-2022 we had privates with 11 teachers – 8 Angolan and 3 non-Angolan but well-respected in the kizomba world. I asked them all explicitly about dissociation, and particularly in saida.

First shock: all of them explained saida with no dissociation. Still, Angolans were practical and open minded about it: they’d say it can be “a matter of style”, or that you should “better avoid it to keep a beautiful straight posture”. However, non-Angolans were much more extreme, and went as far as saying that dissociation is only an European thing, or even that it’s just “not kizomba”. The only non-Angolan teacher that didn’t do this was Kirsi vanSol – more on that later.

Second shock: all of them started doing dissociation, also in saida, the moment they moved on from explaining it as a separate move. One teacher needed video of himself to accept this, and tried to joke his way out of an awkward situation – until I told him that other teachers also do it. How relieved he was!

It’s in fact not difficult to find videos online of Angolan teachers showing saida in a very straight, hardly-dissociated manner. But once they start dancing socially, there it is!

So, how’s this mismatch possible? What is going on?

For starters, not everyone knows the word “dissociation”; in our privates, even some teachers living in Europe for a long time didn’t seem to know the word at all1. Though people can obviously do it without knowing the name.

What is dissociation?

Dissociation is typically connected to tango: it’s about changing the orientation of the chest independently of the hips. Or vice versa; a common misconception is that it has to start from the chest, but remember that movement is relative. See this example of hips initiating dissociation:

Disociación pívot 90°, torso 90°

Why care about dissociation? Because from the beginnings of kizomba in Europe there were attempts to infuse tango moves into kizomba. In a way it sounds logical: there’s the close embrace, the chest leading, the walking together… so, why not put them together? For example, Kwenda Lima was big in the early 2010s with his heavily tangoified “kizomba”. But it didn’t last; like most fusions, his very particular style seemed to disappear when he retired in the late 2010s.

Kizzmemore 2016 - Warsaw - Kwenda Lima - Kizomba DEMO

Still, every few years someone again comes up with the idea to add ochos and pivots to some new fusion. Of course this breaks the fundamental weight transfer of kizomba, and I’d guess that’s the reason why none of these fashions seems to last long: the common kizomba language gets broken, so this tends to create an isolated group of people who only know to dance with each other.

Ironically, tango music and dance have roots in the culture of liberated African slaves in Argentina and Uruguay, many of which were taken from what today is Angola. After a period of erasure, those African roots are recognized today. Roberto Dinzel, an important tango researcher and teacher, describes dissociation as key African heritage:

Firstly we find a fundamental concept. There’s a mechanism of dissociation in tango. That means that what happens in the legs is dissociated from what happens in the torso. This is found in all the dances of African influence that exist in the Americas, like brazilian samba, joropo, cumbia, and uruguayan candombe. The mechanism of dissociation is the only certainty and confirmation of African influence in Tango.

R. Dinzel – Tango, una danza: Esa ansiosa busqueda de la libertad, p.10
(my translation and highlight)

Unfortunately, intriguing as this sounds, I never heard of tango-kizomba fusions exploring this common heritage; they typically seem to focus just on reusing moves of one into the other.2

Why the focus on saida?

Just because it’s one of very few combos that everyone recognizes and teaches. But it’s good to remember that saida is just a teaching aid, and that dancers are supposed to break it down into simpler moves during social dancing, instead of repeating it as a block. Kizomba gives you the freedom to change at every step, so it would be a pity to fall into the trap of combos!

So, is there dissociation in real kizomba?

Check it in Part II … This is the long version after all 😉

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. To be very clear, this not exclusive of kizomba teachers. I’ve seen similar situations with teachers of European/ized styles like urban kiz and fusions: ignoring dissociation in their explanations or even somehow turning it into an elbow movement. ↩︎
  2. It’s ironic how in tango the African roots were suppressed, while in the European kizomba derivatives those African roots are celebrated… though frequently reduced to a superficial marketing ploy. See the abundance of festivals that sport African (and even specifically Angolan) motives and dress codes, but little to no actual African (much less Angolan) dancing or music. ↩︎
One thought on “Dissociation Dilemma, part I: The Mystery”
  1. What is clear is those ”teachers” didn’t know what they were talking about. You see ”dissociation” all the time especially when Angolans dance Semba. If they thought it should be avoided fine but to say its ”none african” (or specifically Angolan) is just simply ignorance. Dissociation is found in Candombe (Origin of Milonga and Tango) that was danced by enslaved Angolans in Rio de la plata (Border between Argentina and Uruguay), and is found as said when angolans dance today. Just plain ignorance from those teachers.

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