“To be honest, I have never seen you dance. But what I heard you say in a youtube interview- not just about dance, but about Art and life- told me everything I needed to know to assure me that I would be learning from a great teacher.”
That was part of the email I sent to Kwenda Lima before I met him and just after I booked a flight to San Francisco to take his workshops.
As I explained to Kwenda, for the past few years, I have been writing about the power of dance to inspire, to strengthen, and to heal. But I knew I was missing something – someone who could speak deeply about the spirituality aspect of dancing- someone who lived and breathed it. And I knew instantly- I felt it through his energy actually- that Kwenda would be one of those people.
And I was right. Not only did he respond very quickly to my message with a few heartfelt words of his own, but he made sure to keep his word by making time, in the middle of his workshops, to discuss with me some of the issues around health, dance and teaching that I had brought up in my email.
Insights into how to live a fuller life were cleverly woven into, and sometimes just outwardly stated, in Kwenda’s teachings during that weekend. The kizomba movements and exercises we learned were just one aspect of the lessons. There was such emotion and purpose in every one of Kwenda’s actions, including the moments where he just fell silent. It was hard not to be captivated by this man’s spirit.
And for those of us who stayed until the last workshop—when Kwenda
introduced us to Kaizen dance- we went from jumping in utter happiness, holding hands in gratitude, laying on each other’s shoulders in a clump of bodies on the floor, letting our tongues hang out, freeing our inner child, and forming a tight spiral around Kwenda, which reminded me of his belief that we are all in fact one. But it was the final exercise about forgiveness that seemed to have been the most impactful for some. Every single person in that room was moved to tears from it. But it felt more like a long awaited, giant, collective exhale, a letting go of something heavy, rather than tears of sorrow. We may not forever remember all the details of the dance steps learned that weekend, but I am sure the depth of feeling through dance that Kwenda left us with, will remain with us for a long time.
Thank you Kwenda, for proving my instincts right, and being that great teacher I felt you would be. And special thanks to Emile Carter for doing an amazing job in organizing Kwenda’s first visit to the U.S.
Yes, I wear this all the time (skims his fingers over the beads). It is a spiritual thing. And it’s something very personal for me. It reminds me of things that are important to me.
I was curious about that because you have this spirituality about you which was evident well before I met you. I could feel it even when just watching you in another interview on the internet. Where do you think that spirituality comes from?
It’s a mix of everything, actually, but it’s not a cultural thing or anything like that. I would say it comes from my ‘education’. When I talk about education, I am referring to my parents, I’m talking about my friends, I’m talking about the books I came across, I’m talking about the movies I’ve seen, I’m talking about the situations that I went through. For me, that is my education. And it is what has taken me to where I am now.
As I said, it’s a mix of everything. Nothing happened to make me change suddenly. But I’ve always behaved in a different way, even when I was a child. I was different. My friends would always say to me “You’re complicated,” or, “You’re different”. They would say, “Okay, you’re talking too much,” or something like that (smiles). I was the kind of child that would spend a lot of time in my room alone. And so all of those things- EVERYTHING that surrounds you- of course, will kind of guide you to what you’re supposed to do. That’s what I believe.
I believe there is a mission for each of us, something we are meant to do. So probably, those things- the people, the books- those situations, were taking me to where I’m supposed to be, what I’m supposed to do.
I didn’t choose kizomba, actually. Kizomba chose me. Kizomba is a part of our social dances where I grew up. We dance it normally in Cape Verde. I started to create my own style of dancing kizomba, my own interpretation of kizomba. And then people started asking me to teach them. And that’s why I said that kizomba came to me and chose me. And then it took me awhile to understand that I can teach kizomba. And so I said, Okay, why not? If the people like it, why not share it? I started to realize that kizomba- in my opinion, or the way I interpret it- is such a beautiful dance. And how people see it and use it as a sexual thing, or to get involved with someone, I didn’t like that. I said no, I have to build something to show people that it can be different than that, that it is different than that. And so I started to work with kizomba in a deeper way.
But I didn’t choose kizomba saying it would be my goal. No. Kizomba – for
me, it’s like a door, a door to inspire people- to inspire people, certain people, to see that instead of using this sexual energy, which is a strong energy, you can boost that energy and use it in a good way. I mean, use it more to see the dance as more sensual, delicate, and less aggressive. It’s not about rejecting the sexual part, because that part is important for this kind of dance. That is also in the roots of the dance in some way, of course. But the way people interpret it sometimes nowadays, is not right. Instead of seeing it as sensual, people turn it into something more vulgar. So I didn’t want that, and I don’t want that. And I’m trying to make people see it in a more meaningful way.
And actually, my goal is that through kizomba, I would like to make people
see LIFE in a different way.
That’s why I created Kaizen. Because, to be honest, I see that kizomba can open my doors to show what it is that I really believe, what I really want to do, which is actually Kaizen Dance.
And what exactly makes up Kaizen dance? I mean, what is the
philosophy behind it?
I like the way you said it. You said it right when you use the word ‘philosophy’, because Kaizen dance is a mix of everything. And through this dance, I want to make people realize that we are unique, but we are also ONE. Instead of having the idea in mind that we are Religion A, Religion B, Religion C, or that we are black, or we are white, or that we are American, or we are Cape Verdian, or we are Angolan, I want to make people realize that we are all the same.
We have, of course, different bodies, and different ways of interpreting things, and different educations. But we ARE connected. And through Kaizen dance, I want people to realize that life is something that is really precious. If we have this opportunity to be alive, we should care, we should be grateful for that life. And Kaizen is exactly that. It is a set of tools to inspire people. It’s a kind of, let’s say, engineering of people in this way, or it’s about helping people create their own ‘software’. It’s about making them realize that they have an amazing software inside that can help them live more deeply, instead of living in a superficial way.
That reminds me of something you said in another interview. You were talking about how dance helps to remind you not to get caught up in pressures from society. And how people get so consumed with ‘things’ without even knowing why they want those things. What do you think has helped to allow you not to get caught up in that?
It’s so easy to be a part of that world. It’s so easy. But I’ve always tried to do something by myself. Of course, you need the others. As I said, we are one. We are connected. We need others, we need others to grow, we need others to learn. We need others to show us that we are ‘wrong’, or that we are going in the right or the wrong direction. We need others, because otherwise, we wouldn’t have families or parents. We NEED others.
But it’s also important to be on your own. Be alone. Spend time with yourself. Learn about yourself. If you find it uncomfortable or hard to be by yourself at times, there is something wrong, because that means that you feel you are in bad company, right?
I believe it’s important. And I think Art and dance can help with this. I believe in Art. I BELIEVE in Art. But I don’t believe in art as a commercial thing. Of course, we all need money, because without money, we wouldn’t be here, or be able to hear this beautiful machine (points to the digital recorder next to him). We need money. But the difficulty is that we are using these tools in a wrong way. And many of these tools are a part of Art. We are using Art in the wrong way. We can make money with Art- it’s true. We can live with Art. But we don’t need to kill each other, to be aggressive to each other. We don’t need to step on each other. We don’t need to talk badly about each other. Art should teach us to be more gentle and caring.
For example, we use facebook. Facebook is a beautiful thing. It could be a beautiful tool. But people use facebook to hurt each other. We need cell phones, you know, nowadays. We need cell phones to call our friends, our parents. If I’m here, I would love to text my family, or call them to hear their voices. So we need cell phones. It’s good for that. Technology is good for that.
And dance should be good too, to help us appreciate life. But dance is going in another way. People are using dance as a tool to fight each other, to be aggressive, to feed their egos, to feed their weaknesses. But dance is a part of Art. And it should be used to teach us beauty and life. So it’s really important when you are in that Art world, to work on yourself, to get to know yourself so that you can be ready to GIVE something, to share something, with people, instead of just throwing things at them. We are hurting people a lot these days because we think we have to be better or perfect. We don’t have to be perfect. No. We are already perfect. Even with your mistakes, your dark side, you’re still perfect.
But the thing is that this dark side is important for us to grow. But we need to know how to transform it into great things, instead of using it to hurt people. And that makes a huge difference in our lives. But instead of using dance to make great things, people are using dance in a bad way. It’s not their fault. It’s just because they are not conscious of what they are doing. Some of them, they are conscious of it, which is even worse. But there are a lot of people who are not conscious enough or aware enough to understand that they are doing something which is very bad for themselves and for others.
I like what you said about Art. And I think that there is also an art to
teaching. As a former teacher, I really see value in your unique approach to teaching. You did an exercise where you had a beginner dancer, totally new to kizomba, be the leader of a group and teach the group. At first, we were confused about the purpose of that. But when we realized that it actually was showing us to appreciate the work of a teacher, it made sense. Where did you get your teaching skills? Did you have inspiring teachers that helped you learn this?
This is a good question because my way to teach,… well, I never get it from someone else. I always follow my intuition. And my intuition for me is my guru. My intuition is my guide; it’s my master. My angels- I know they are always with me. They are teaching me, they are guiding me. So through them, I got all of those things- my appreciation for teaching, my ability to maybe teach differently, and my unique view as a teacher. It’s not like I saw someone, and I just wanted to do it like them. Of course, you have examples to learn from. You have other kind of masters- other kinds of inspiration that I mentioned before- movies, performances, or a book, or your parents. The way you grew up, and society can also inspire you. Some friends’ situations also taught me a lot. Of course you have those kinds of things that you can see that inspire you.
I never, for example, watched how someone did something and then said, “Okay, I’m going to dress like that, or I’m going to dance like that.” I don’t know if it’s fortunate or unfortunate (smiles), but I’ve always been like that. I go with what I feel, what my intuition tells me, not with copying someone else. That’s why, for example, when I start my class, I never prepare the way someone else might expect. My way to prepare my class is to listen to the music that I really love, or to be quiet, or to read and be on my own, before I go to another city, so that I am ready to give my best to my students. Sometimes, I find myself in front of my students, and for a few seconds, I don’t know what I am going to do or what will happen. But suddenly, it starts to build, it starts to build. And something inside tells me what to do. So I allow myself to be MYSELF in that way, to listen to myself, because we are special. We all have something to share. We are here with something to give the world. So it’s important to just trust that, and allow that to come out, to flourish. It’s important to work with your guide, your angels. I believe that they are always there to help you. And if you are open enough, this will help you give something to the people around you. And that’s what I do. That’s the way I work.
I am based in Portugal, but at this moment, I don’t teach during the week. I prepare for my workshops by being with myself, spending time with myself, to learn and to read. And then, I’m always travelling during the other days. And sometimes, it’s really tiring. But it’s a different kind of tiring, because I LOVE what I do (smiles). I really love it. But at this moment, I am going through a situation that is really interesting. And so I really need to be with myself during the week. This, for me, is important, because it’s kind of my time to recharge. It helps me prepare myself for the weekend, to be with people, to give them something, to make them happy.
In my initial email to you, I was telling you how dance has been very important to me in helping my health. It has helped me listen to my intuition more, surrender to the moment, and live in the moment, to live in the present, which has been huge in benefiting my state of mind and happiness. And so I like what you said in the class, about not pulling out our cameras during the workshop, because to you, that means that we are not really there with you at that moment. We are only thinking about the future and not being in, or valuing, the present.
I love dance, because dance is a language that I can reach the other side of people with. Because I’m talking to you right now, but your brain is processing many things; it’s thinking. But with dancing – when you watch someone dance, they’re talking to you, but they are talking through movement. It’s a language that is so subtle, it’s so smooth and it’s so delicate. And your heart can reach into it or it can reach your heart. You can watch people dancing and it can make you cry, because they are talking to you; the dance is talking to you. They are telling you a story with movement. So for me, dance is another kind of freedom. It’s about living in a much deeper way instead of living in a superficial way. That is SO important for me, because in this way, through dance, I can reach a world that we are not really able to reach when we are in our normal, everyday life.
You have a PhD in Aerospace engineering, right? And you’ve also mentioned in previous interviews that you believe in the link between Art and Science- that both are needed and connected. I absolutely agree. And so I’m curious if you think your background in engineering has helped shape your dancing, or if you feel that your dancing has helped shape your work in engineering. And if so, how?
I think it has gone in both directions. They have both influenced each other.
I think the engineering side- if you look at it deeply- there is a lot of dance inside it. And if you look at dance deeply, there is a lot of engineering inside that. The only thing is that we don’t know how to use the bridge between them. We just cut the bridge; we separate them. And once you separate them, you lose a lot, because they want to be together to help each other. They are different, but they are the same as well. So engineering helped me a lot as far as the way I express dance. And dance helped me a lot to deal with engineering, and the engineering world. So we just have to get to know and cross the bridge several times – forward and back, forward and back, to learn how they can both help each other. We need to take something from one side, and take it back to the other side. And bring something from the other side, back here too. You just have to use the bridge.
I think it takes a unique mindset to understand that bridge and to appreciate how the Arts and Sciences can help each other. For me, I know that it was an English Professor of mine who helped me see this connection. He actually was a physics major and taught me more about sciences and their link to the rest of the world than the science professors I was taking classes with did. Where do you think you got that appreciation… for ‘using the bridge’, as you described it?
My mom taught me a lot about dance. And with the engineering, I remember I met this man in India and we were talking. And suddenly, he said something that made me think a lot. It was something about sciences, and the way they behave. And I automatically connected it to dance. And what he said helped me a lot in making that connection.
Do you practise any of the engineering now?
No, I don’t practise engineering as far as ‘ENGINEERING’ engineering, as a job, itself. I like it, but I don’t practise it, because in my opinion, there are a lot of engineers and doctors around the world. Of course, we need them. They are important with their skills in researching and building and helping the world. I just don’t like to see some people who use those skills to create war or fear in human beings, or to destroy this beautiful earth.
So I chose another way to keep that engineering in my life. I would like to use the words ‘engineering’ YOUR SELF to describe what I do now, which is not easy, either. But I use this kind of engineering in my work, through dance- through Kaizen Dance- to try to help people see more meaning in their lives.
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