You’ve probably (hopefully) heard that kizomba is a family dance. In a nutshell, if you can’t dance it with your mum/dad, it’s not kizomba.

However, you’ll find some people marketing at the same time this other thing named tarraxa (or is it tarraxinha? it’s rarely clear!), handwavingly relating it to kizomba, all about undulating hips in tight clothes and very, very close proximity.

Beginners immediately realize it doesn’t look very family-friendly, unless you’re trying to start a family 😉. Marketers typically talk instead about empowering sexuality, about spiritual connections, and… well, whatever they can think of. I’ve seen it used as an excuse for a solo dance! What gives?

Well, there is no direct connection between Kizomba and Tarraxinha (music) or Tarraxa (dance). Tarraxinha and Tarraxa are just something different. The only connection is that they all come from Angola – and European marketers saw yet another gold mine to exploit.

OK, so what exactly are Tarraxa, Tarraxinha and Tarraxo?

Let’s start by clarifying something: there’s here absolutely no judgement implied about any of those. They are fun 😉. Tarraxinha is part of Angolan culture. And the non-school Tarraxa is something so simple and natural that probably you already re-discovered it by yourself. So the point of this post is just to explain that

  1. Tarraxa and Tarraxinha are not Kizomba. Tarraxo even less so.
  2. You need to know what you’re doing, or you will end up in trouble. Yet many instructors forget, or avoid, explaining this.

The meaning of the words

“Tarraxa” means “screw” (noun). “Tarraxinha” means “small screw”. The verb “to screw” is “atarraxar”.

Why screw? I hear it’s about the typical wrist movements that you’ve probably seen applied on the back of the follow. More about that later.

Angolans use the word “Tarraxinha” for both the music and the dance. While in Europe, the dance got a separate name, “Tarraxa”. To simplify, in this article I will keep calling both the music and the dance “Tarraxinha”.

As for “Tarraxo”, if you treat it as a Portuguese word, means “I screw”. But I’m not sure that that one is actually intended to have a meaning – probably it just derived from Tarraxinha. That’ll come last.

Tarraxinha music

Tarraxinha (the music) started as slowed-down Kuduro. Some say a commiserating DJ wanted to play something for those who couldn’t dance the physically-demanding Kuduro, so that those would be able to at least dance with their partners. So the DJ just slowed down the Kuduro they were already playing. The origin seems to be in the Angolan city of Benguela, with pioneers DJ Madabaya and DJ Znobia in the early 2000s or earlier.

Dj Znobia Madabaya.
Chiquinha, by DJ Madabaya in 2003 (according to DJ Paparazzi)

Floating around the net I heard another “origin story” for Tarraxinha music, in which a defective rhythm box got stuck and originated the first Tarraxinha. I haven’t been able to find any backing for that. On the contrary, there’s DJ interviews discussing how, by slowing-down different flavors of Kuduro, one gets to the various flavors of Tarraxinha, Tarraxo, etc.

For a quick demonstration, here’s my own Tarraxinha creation experiment…

Tarraxinha = slowed-down Kuduro

Is Tarraxinha in the “kizomba umbrella”? Some say yes, that it got slurped into the umbrella in Europe; as commented in another post, possibly because of the influence of the slower, heavier, typically simpler music that was used when kizomba started in Europe. But to me that’s an example of why the “kizomba umbrella” is not very useful: if you extend it as marketers abuse it, then it ends up being just yet another marketing tool.

Tarraxinha “dance”

On the dancing side, Tarraxinha is, as an Angolan instructor put it, “simply what teenagers dance1 in couples when they make a party without adults around”.

Tarraxinha is practically foreplay, and in Angola it’s typically considered as something you only do with people you’re interested in.

In particular, there’s no walking, which is a clear difference to kizomba. You’ll probably notice that the music doesn’t give you a walking mood, it’s too simple for that; instead, the whole focus, all the attention is on your partner. And you already have her/him right where you wanted! Again, think foreplay: why would you walk around?

A medium-strength (!) example in the Angolan Dances website

Why is this important? Two reasons:

  1. Musicality: we’ve seen that many beginners feel that music like Tarraxinha or Ghetto Zouk doesn’t give them a walking feeling. This makes sense: that’s how Angolans themselves react to this music too! So it would be a pity to spoil that natural musicality just because someone taught you to keep walking and do complicated stuff even when you don’t feel it like that.
  2. Social implications: if you realize that this is all about getting closer to your partner, then you probably can see what’s coming. If you go to a real party (not a dance-school one) and you start doing Tarraxinha with someone, it’s not rare that people (both your dance partner and those watching) will think you’re probably going home together afterwards. This includes that if you do Tarraxinha with someone else’s partner, there could be yet another layer of trouble! The typical joke is that you should learn to quickly check for wedding rings before accepting a dance.

And what about those hand movements we were talking about? I’ve heard that the whole “screwing” theme came to be because of the wrist rotation, as if using a screwdriver, that the leader typically does to delicately guide or accompany the back of the follow, with soft hands/fists. Though using hands at all is a matter of technique and style; I’ve heard Angolans say both that using your hands/fists is the classical way, and that not using your hands is “another level of skill”… though not necessarily better! Consider that in Tarraxinha the distinction between leader and follow is tenuous, so without changing the position of your hands you might switch between leading and following as the mood flows. Because, again, it’s all about you and your partner.

Conversely, the typical comment is that badly led Tarraxinha, with the lead disturbing the natural movement of the follow, is particularly off-putting. This tends to happen when the lead gets distracted with showy / dance school moves. Who are you dancing for: your partner, or the public?

To me it’s very interesting that beginners of course feel that this kind of closeness is risky. It takes some dance-school time to convince them that “no, it’s just a relaxing dance”. Yet another reason to check the context of what you learn! Closeness is great, is healthy, is fun, but it’s even better when you know what you’re actually doing.

It’s also interesting that I’ve had local instructors ask me to play Tarraxinha in their party… but then, when I played some of the classics by DJ Znobia, she got offended thinking I was pulling her leg. No, that’s what you asked for. You know that… right? Of course she didn’t. Even “kiz” instructors get lost in their own marketing.

What about Tarraxo?

Tarraxo is yet another different, European beast, even further from Kizomba than Tarraxinha. Anyone telling you otherwise is selling you something. And so, it’s rather off-topic in a Kizomba blog.

However, I noticed that some readers find this page looking for its connection to Kizomba; so I’ll just fill in a couple of details and sources I found. Feel free to suggest improvements (with sources, please 😉).

Again there’s both music and dance to discuss. Tarraxo music seems to have appeared in Lisbon in the early 2010s or even earlier, as a harsher version of Tarraxinha, as registered in interviews with the DJs that created it back then.

Tarraxo/tarracho is an even more raw and dark version of tarraxinha, more focused on the percussions, rhythm and less on the melody. […] Fodencia means “fuckery”, it is even rawer tarraxo. Just pure raw beats almost without melody. Foda = fuck

From 2014 interviews in the old website Generation Bass

In contrast, Tarraxo dance appeared as a dance school product in the late 2010s, elsewhere in Europe. But it’s curious to notice how the 2014 DJs talk about the purposely sexual, “dirty” feel of their music, to the point of being banned in Lisbon venues… while the 2018 Tarraxo dance school product is comparatively sanitized. Still not exactly a family dance like Kizomba, though!

So once again we find this fascinating pattern of marketers adjusting the sexiness of the product to make it easier to sell. Kizomba, the family dance, was sexualized in Europe into something closer to Tarraxinha; on the other hand, actual Tarraxinha, the foreplay “dance”, was watered down into a (kinda) social dance taught in schools; and further, Tarraxo/Fodencia, the music explicit even in its name, was watered down even more into a commercial dance with relatively distant partners. No wonder beginners, and even Angolans in Europe, get confused.

To finish, I thought it was interesting to compare how the original Tarraxo music and the commercialized Tarraxo are presented…

Dj BeBeDeRa ft Dj Zulox- Violação de alta Quentura
Tarraxo by one of its pioneers, DJ BeBeDeRa.
Title translates to “High Temperature Rape”
🔴🔵 [Tarraxinha] - RIK - Tarraxo 4 [Instrumental]
Tarraxo as it is marketed. Kinda different mood…

“Well, I prefer Tarraxo to Tarraxinha and Kizomba!”

That’s OK! And it makes perfect sense that someone who likes Tarraxo might not like Kizomba, and vice versa, because they’re so different: the music, the mood, the basic body movement, the technique for leading/following… everything is worlds apart.

So, hopefully, you can now understand my puzzlement when some people twist themselves into knots to market Tarraxo as somehow related to Kizomba. Isn’t the style good enough by itself? Why confuse things?

Heavily expanded from a Facebook post published originally on April 13, 2021. Thank you to Kirsi vanSol for providing some details!

  1. … with “dance” accompanied with “air quotes” and an exasperated eye roll. ↩︎

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