Following Your Heart- An Interview with Madan Kumar

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Where do you live and what styles of dance do you dance?

I live in Mumbai and I dance Salsa, Bachata & Kizomba

What got you into dance?

Dancing was my hobby since childhood, but I never knew I would end up as a full time dancer, teacher and performer.

I remember being asked why, if I’m Indian, I dance Latin dances instead of Indian dance. I I love Indian dance, but it just wasn’t what I gravitated to. And I thought it was a bit of an ignorant question at the time. Haha. But now, here I am, asking you the same question (laughs). Since you are in India and Indian, what made you choose Latin dances instead of Indian dances? 

IMG_20180125_004918_178Haha. It’s like someone asking, if you are Indian, why do you eat burgers instead of Vada Pav? (laughs). Well, it’s a personal choice. I used to dance Bharatanatyam when I was a young kid.

I have been a trained classical dancer since childhood, but as I grew up, I found my interest towards western dance, and then to Latin dances and now African dances. Human interests won’t remain the same forever. As an artist, you will always fall in love with every culture that is new to you. Continue reading

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A Heart to Heart With Charles Ogar

charles10“Dancing with the heart” is a phrase that has been so overused that I think it had lost the depth of its meaning for me over time, until… people like Charles Ogar came along. Charles not only reminded me of the true meaning and feeling behind those words, by the connection he creates in his dancing, but he also put a whole other twist to it as he opens up about matters of the heart in this interview.  After learning about some of the journey Charles’ heart has been taken on, – from having faith in his passions, to leaving his old career behind, to enduring heart surgery, and following a new path by trusting in where the universe is taking him- I have  a whole new appreciation for the power of the heart. Thank you Charles Ogar for opening up with such honesty and authenticity in this interview and allowing us to know a little more about the heart that lies within you as a dancer and teacher.

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Kizom-what? – Part 2

Kizom-what?– Part 2 –Interview with Eddy Vents- discussing Kizomba Dancing (continued) To view Part 1, click here

Tasleem: At the end of Part 1 of this interview, you talked about the importance of the connection in this dance.  Because it IS more about that connection and energy, it’s really hard to describe kizomba to someone else.  Often, I hear it being described in terms of other dances. The description “Afrieddy vents2can tango” has come up a few times, and I’m wondering what your thoughts are on that.

Eddy: I think people describe kizomba that way because they need to refer to the dance with something that is more familiar.  If I explained kizomba to you by talking about the other dances it’s connected to or came out of, you probably won’t know what I’m talking about, because you’ve never seen those dances.  So ‘African tango’ makes it easy for people on this side of the world, who have not experienced those African dances, to imagine the dance using something they already know.

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Kizom-what?- An interview with Eddy Vents- Part 1

Kizomba. What is it, and why are more people talking about it?  The word itself seems to stir up a whole range of reactions from those who have never danced it.  Some of my favorites are:

“Oh, is it related to Zumba?” 

“You’re referring to that NEW dance, right?” 

“Yeah, I think I’ve seen it and it reminds me of high school dancing. Not much to it.” 

“Oh, I can’t do THAT, being glued to a partner that way?”

“It looks so simple.”

I laugh, not just at the reactions, but at how I can relate to them because, before I started learning kizomba myself, I’m sure some of those thoughts ran through my head as well.  But it didn’t take long for me to realize that there is so much more to the dance than what it appears to be from the outside.   In fact, all of those perceptions above disintegrate when the magic of the true kizomba takes a hold of you. 

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Life’s intricate connection… in reference to Kizomba

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“Chaotic, kizomba may seem to the spectator, just like the Chaos Theory is to those who don’t understand life’s intricate connection. Chaos is the domain where instability is the rule, the absence of predictable patterns and connections. But the elements of existence, things that some people view as chaos actually follow the inconspicuous laws of the universe…the function of music, in this case kizomba is to release us from the tyranny of conscious thought, to release the self, the seemingly isolated solid individual into the connective vibration of the heart.  Dancing kizomba with the feet might be magnificent, but dancing with the heart is an enlightening spiritual experience.

Nietzsche couldn’t have said it better, ‘You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star.’ “
-Antonio Vega

Kizom-what? (an excerpt)

Kizomba. What is it, and why are more people talking about it?  The word itself seems to stir up a whole range of reactions from those who have never danced it.  Some of my favorites are:

“Oh, is it related to Zumba?” 

“You’re referring to that NEW dance, right?” 

“Yeah, I think I’ve seen it and it reminds me of high school dancing. Not much to it.” 

“Oh, I can’t do THAT, being glued to a partner that way?”

I laugh, not just at the reactions, but at how I can relate to them because, before I started learning kizomba myself, I’m sure some of those thoughts ran through my head as well.  But it didn’t take long for me to realize that there is so much more to the dance than what it appears to be from the outside.   In fact, all of those perceptions above disintegrate when the magic of the true kizomba takes a hold of you.  The small, subtle movements, as well as the close connection, require a control and sensitivity, as well as a trust and surrender that are not as easily attained as one might think.  And as far as the “newness” of the dance, tell that to the kizombeiros and kizombeiras, as they are properly referred to, who have grown up with the dance in their families for years!   What makes it ‘new’ to us is our lack of familiarity with the dance in this part of the world.   But to the dancers in areas of Angola, West Africa, where the dance originated, as well in Portugal, where kizomba later spread, kizomba has a history. It is not just this dance that we have come to have a fascination for most recently.  It goes back much further with roots from dances that a lot of us here have never even heard of.

That must have been why it didn’t sit right with me one day when I heard an organizer of a dance studio refer to kizomba as simply ‘African tango’.   A couple had walked into the studio inquiring as to what was going on that night.  And after seeing a sign for a kizomba social, they asked, “What is kizomba?”  Of course, I understood that the organizer was trying to give the couple something that they were more familiar with to relate to, in order to picture this ‘mystery’ dance in their mind.  And having danced some tango myself, I could see some of the tango nuances that were often used by kizombeiros in the dance.  But I also knew kizomba was not tango and that not all kizomba dances had tango elements in them.  I definitely did not have all the answers. In fact, I had very few.  But knowing how kizomba had affected me very deeply in such a short period of time, I felt like it deserved to be recognized for what it truly is.   Kizomba made me feel so alive, in a way that was different to anything else I had experienced before.  So I knew it had to have a life blood of its own, an identity, a history, and an essence that was individual.   I was touched that kizomba had invited me in, embraced me, welcomed me with open arms and heart, without even having known me.  And so, I felt I owed it to kizomba, to get to know it, not for what it might resemble, or what people might guess it to be. But for what it really is.  I wanted to learn its story, and help share it, because with every dance, I could hear it whispering that it had a story worth telling. And the whispering just seemed to get louder the further I was drawn in.

But in order to tell the story accurately, I needed to find someone who had years of experience in it, someone who had a deep understanding of kizomba and who knew it well.

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To read the original, full article, including answers to the questions posed above through my in-depth interview with the amazing Kizombeiro Eddy Vents, please visit Industry Dance Magazine by clicking on the following link: Kizom-what?

Kwenda Lima- “To me, dance is a kind of freedom”

“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. 

The beads on your hand – around your wrist and fingers- are they spiritual or religious or have any particular significance?  You wear them all the time, it seems.

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.

Have you always been that way? That depth that you convey- has it always been there? Or did something happen in your life to instil that in you so strongly?

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.

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