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I have not blogged in a while as I am writing a book on my experiences in Salsa but a recent series of comments regarding to Kizomba (and on my Facebook wall) really hit home. The comments were not new and have been around a while and been applied to Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba and I am sure other folk dances.

The comments were from Preservationists about Evolution.

In this article, I will share some my own experiences with this debate as well as a post from the dancers in the video. I will also share my own opinions and theories as to the motives about why people are so aggressive.

How it Started

It all started by me sharing a video of a Kizomba AsOne video and asking if anyone knows more about this or if this particular style of Kizomba is taught in London. I am a lover of dance which for me is a way of expressing myself to music and washing away any stress I might have; in essence dance is escapism.

The improvisation video in question is not available on YouTube but a sample of their work can be seen below:

The first person to comment recommended that I go to various Hip Hop and Kizomba classes and fuse them together in my own personal way. Although this is perfect advice, given the amount of things I have read on Facebook about the “proper” way to dance Kizomba I wanted a group of people that dance in this way as opposed to subjecting dancers to this who are not interested.

This is not right?

Then it all kicked off when one teacher stated that this is not Kizomba and felt the need to tag various Kizomba teachers in London who had some strong opinions. This is where things got really hairy as the preservationists commented about the dance, how it should be danced and why this should not be called Kizomba:

“Be creative, be crazy, come up with different and new steps, routines, whatever u want. Dancing is beautiful in many different ways but Create YOUR OWN NAME for your dance too. Create your culture, your legacy and in 30 years from now people will remember and dance to it.”

“I have realized recently that some people dont really give a s*** cause they have NO Respect At All for Kizomba, but these same people Demand that Respect for Salsa or / and Bachata.”

“I know Kizomba and that is a fact. X knows Kizomba and that is another fact. The rest have a vague understanding of it. Will we always defend it? Yes.”

I first heard these types of comments 10 years ago when Salsa teachers were telling me that I should only learn from Latino teachers as Salsa is in their blood and they “know it” while the rest have a vague understanding; this of course came out the mouths of Latino teachers. Sadly, I believed this and spent the first two years of my dancing not learning how to dance in a fast evolving scene.

More recently I remember a known teacher on the outskirts of London accused me of not dancing Salsa as I did not stick to the basic timing of 123 567 but moved to the rhythms of different instruments. I remember his statement “You are not a Salsa dancer, you are a dancer…” which absolutely blew my mind.

Comments from the Dancers

I have seen many comments from dancers feeling the need to defend what they do, but the response from Kizomba AsOne hit the nail on the head for me:

“To Traditional integrists ^^ :
We use the WORD KIZOMBA in our Style Name because we know that we started there and it would be a shame for us to act like if we created all our moves from nowhere, but we grew up and evolved, passionately, quickly, beautifully, and adapted to our new self, like every f****** living creature on earth, unlike you.

You are so lucky that we still use the word KIZOMBA, otherwise everyone would have forgotten you, you only exists as Facebook comments and you call that “fight”, fighting is not crying around on social media, fighting is creating, you produce nothing, you seized to create since the 90’s and never evolved, you are stuck in the past, you are dead, we are your only chance to survive as a culture, otherwise you will only stay as a story in museums and Angolan folklore.

We only keep the word Kizomba because our students need to know the first page of our history, but we are making new pages everyday in that History, and if we just stop using the Kizomba Word for one day, you, as movement, will be dead and burried .
#RealTalk #StraightToThePoint #EvolutionOrDeath

How much truth is in their claim is a debate in itself but the things that ring true for me is that it is always good to acknowledge the roots of your dance. Secondly, the roots is the introduction, the first chapters, and as dancers we should be writing our own novels based on our personal experiences and taste.

Preservationist

The preservation of a dance has always been a very interesting concept to me. Dance forms like Ballroom and Ballet have well established rules for what makes up a certain dance and what does not. I remember my co-founder of TNT, Tina Stamou, was learning American Tribal Fusion belly dancing which had a brand and syllabus that you would have to follow in order to be able to teach it. I refer to these as institutionalized dances and are snapshots of a dance at a particular point in time.

Kizomba, Salsa and Bachata are all street dances in the same way as Hip Hop, and in street dance change is the only constant as the dance is continually evolving. When I travel the world with Salsa I see so many individual styles, fusions and cultures brought into Salsa.

I believe that if you are expressing yourself to Salsa music you are dancing Salsa. If you are dancing with a partner to Salsa music then you are dancing Salsa. Dancing well is a different story, extremely subjective and unimportant. But what is true is that there is no one on the planet that can go to a couple who is enjoying themselves and moving to Salsa music that they are not dancing Salsa.

This begs the question as to why these self appointed preservationists feel that they have a birth right to govern and tell people what is and what is not a dance? I honestly do not know the answer but I can share my experiences and thoughts from my early days in Salsa and what the possible reasons could be, yes, I took notes on everything when I first started including my thoughts on what I was seeing:

Insecurities – A lot of these new wave dancers are normally very proficient at their initial dance and bring years of solid training into their fusion. This is the only way that fusion really works well. The institutional teachers do not have the ability to compete with these dancers so instead build a silo around what they know and defend it

Financial – Fusion dancers in my mind will always have a larger group of people that it appeals to. From a dancer perspective we will eventually get bored and search for something new. These fusion teachers provide competition to the institutional teachers who cannot compete. A typical statement from these teachers would be that X is stealing our students. Note: The institutional teachers will also be the ones who are more likely to say that people are stealing students (how on earth do you steal students? it is the choice of the student who they learn from).

Religion and Cults – When you are struggling to fend off others some teachers look inwards and start building a cult. To build a cult you need something that you can hold dear and that is under attack from others. Some of these institutional teachers have built cults around the premise that they are speaking the truth and others are destroying this truth. I personally believe, and I am not a psychologist, but certain people need something to fight for and this gives them meaning. This is one of the ultimate forms of customer retention and is not a new tactic.

Summary

In today’s world information is everywhere and our ability to create and share is easier than ever before. Social media, the rapid flow of information and migration of people across borders means that as a society we have more influences and ideas for life than ever before. This also applies to dancing as we have people crossing dances and bringing with them new ideas to be incorporated.

I personally celebrate what I think is new, different and could give me ideas for how I can explore myself. I will love or hate things that I see with equal measure but I will always celebrate those that are trying to bring something new into the world.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you celebrate the new? Do you think Street Dance has preservationists? Have you experienced this?

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Toan Hoang

Written by Toan Hoang

Toan Hoang has been dancing Salsa for more than 10 years and was the co-founder and managing director of TNT Dance in London; A dedicated and holistic Mambo school, that thrives on innovation, and hopes to develop and inspire the next generation of instructors and performers. www.tntdance.info

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