Let’s Talk About Intimacy!

Is kizomba too close?

I have been teaching kizomba since the fall of 2012, and one of the main concerns I have always encountered is a fear of how close kizomba is danced.
“I just don’t feel comfortable dancing right up on someone.”
“My spouse would NOT be okay with that.”
“It’s so blatantly sexual.”
“I don’t want people to get the wrong idea.”
“Kizomba is way too intimate.”

On the other hand, those who have become kizomba enthusiasts explain that they love aspects of the dance that stem from that very closeness.
“I just love the feeling you have in kizomba.”
“It’s so amazing to move completely together with your partner, two as one.”
“It’s all about the feeling.”
“You can just let yourself go with the music.”
“I tell people we dance heart to heart.”

The same state of closeness produces powerfully different reactions. So how can we explain it? I think it’s largely a conflict between our social hang-ups around intimacy, and the powerful benefits it offers.

Defining intimacy

So let’s talk about intimacy. A Google search will quickly give you three primary definitions, which I quote in abbreviated form here:
“1. close familiarity or friendship; closeness
2. a private cozy atmosphere.
3. an intimate act, especially sexual intercourse.”

Clearly the third definition is the one making people worry, as they stand on the outside looking in. They imagine unwanted sexual contact, or the judgmental view of others. Are these concerns justified?

Dancing kizomba does not involve any contact between erogenous zones. I joke about “Health and Safety Space” in my beginner classes, a line I took from my mentor Nelson Campos. It doesn’t take much effort to keep your intimate space non-sexual – if you’re a normal-shaped human being, your torso will be bigger around than your pelvis. That means that when you stand torso to torso, there’s no contact between genitals.

As you move forward and back, both partners should have their torsos over the ball of their feet, ensuring that no objectionable contact could possibly occur.

Blame the creepers

So maybe the problem is the “creepers,” the people who deliberately exploit a dance venue to touch others inappropriately. The men who lean back, bringing their belt buckle forward, or who bend their head down to stare into cleavage. The women who rub against their partners, caress their necks, or breathe into their ears. If my first experience with kizomba had been with one of their ilk, I’d be turned off too!

But every dance has these people. The men who catch a breast as they turn the follower in swing or salsa. The women who wear low-cut tops and shimmy wildly or bounce. The men who put the followers into dips that bring their faces close or require the follower to clutch them closely in fear. The women whose shines borrow from strip-tease. Every dance can and has been sexualized. Kizomba’s just the new kid on the block.

Personal space

Others may protest that it’s the nature of the dance that offends them – you shouldn’t be so close to someone else! What about personal space?!

It’s true that Americans prefer more personal space than almost any other culture. We speak to each other at arm’s length. We sit across the table from each other on a dinner date. We can easily point to American-born dances like swing, lindy hop, contra dancing, and line dancing, where close contact is the exception.

Yet, at the same time, we are a culture of people who HUG when we see each other, and even when we meet friends of friends for the first time. Hugging involves more close contact than any other greeting. In the realm of dance, other American-born forms involve plenty of closeness. Balboa maintains chest-to-chest contact for the majority of the dance. American ballroom dancing has plenty of close contact. Even dances where people lean away from one another – like competitive waltz or quickstep – require lower abdomen contact!

Today we think of the waltz as something older people do, or maybe something done at weddings. It’s elegant or staid, depending who you ask. However, in the 1800s, dancing the waltz was considered scandalous! So it seems we come back once again to an objection that seems to come from kizomba’s newness in America.

Fear of the unknown

Let’s say the main problem then is that people haven’t had time to get used to kizomba; they’re still afraid of what they don’t know. That fear turns to avoidance and scorn. I saw the same exact thing happen as blues dancing started to be introduced in the swing scenes ten years ago. I even felt it! I was sure people were humping in the dark in the blues room. Today the modern blues movement has won a certain measure of respect.

Maybe only time can resolve this problem for kizomba, but I’d like to offer some facts to help persuade the uncertain.

Returning to the definition of intimacy, we had the first two meanings that offered a wonderful picture of closeness. Friendship and coziness are socially acceptable concepts, right? Even positive ideas?

Plus, the intimacy of kizomba also means that the dance is about you and your partner. It’s not about making a display of your body or being exhibitionist, like some dances we could name… Instead, it’s about feeling the music with your partner, and interpreting that together.

Science says…

Let’s go a step further, though. What do scientific and medical research have to say on the benefits of non-sexual contact between people:? Believe it or not, studies say that touch:

  • boosts the immune system
  • improves emotional well-being
  • reduces stress
  • stimulates cognitive function
  • lifts mood
  • improves communication
  • helps create social bonds

A couple of great articles that skim the surface of this topic can be found at:
Psychology Today
The New Yorker

What now?

If there are so many benefits to touch, why don’t we engage in more contact? Many believe that it goes back to our upbringing. Most of us Americans grew up with adults afraid to touch us or each other. Think of the trials for pedophilia, still causing men to think twice before applying to work in an elementary school. Consider sexual harassment suits and sex scandals, preventing touch in the workplace. Homophobia has created a culture where most men fear not only contact with other men, but any contact that could show weakness or emotion rather than sexual hunger. Girls, in turn, have been taught that too much contact entices men and compromises their own character.

I’m not saying that dancing kizomba is going to fix our touch-averse, fearful society. I certainly don’t think it can hurt, though! Kizomba may not be for everyone, but it’s worth a try. Go take a lesson from someone legitimate and get on the dance floor. Reap all the health and social benefits of close contact with other human beings.

Lets create communities that shine as examples of friendly, cozy intimacy.

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  1. says: ckye

    When you say torso-to-torso contact, does that mean my breasts must touch the guy’s chest? I can imagine that might make some guys uncomfortable.

    1. says: Stephen

      Yes it is uncomfortable sometimes. It depends on the person, the environment, the song, and any relationship we have. I generally don’t like to dance close embrace with a stranger. If I invite you into close embrace, I’m actually inviting you into my personal space. I recently got the confidence to dance close embrace with a few friends that I’ve been dancing with for six months to a year. I trust them and we have a wonderful connection on the dance floor. With a stranger, it always make me feel more open to a lady if she’s the one to ask if it’s okay to dance close embrace. The bottom line is that not all guys will enjoy having you in their personal space. Give the guy the same respect that you want him to give you. Lastly to reply about breasts. Think about a nice hug from a sister, mom, or any lady. Do you feel her breasts or just her love and friendship? It’s the same within a dance. It’s a loving hug that last for the length of a song or two… ?

  2. Hi Claire, I can understand the hesitation. I also frequently reassure lindy hoppers that dancing blues doesn’t have to be sexual, and isn’t for quite a lot of the scene. In the end you have to see what your local scene is like and whether the teacher is respecting the source culture and teaching good boundaries.

  3. says: Claire

    I am dancing tango, blues and other dances for years, dancing in close embrace is an habit, and yet I still have hesitations about starting kizomba.
    First, I am afraid that dance is driving more creepers than tango (usually perceived as too difficult).
    And second, I feel there is more there than being afraid of close embrace. The moves and hip rolls makes me think than sexiness is valued more than a good connexion. I hope I’m wrong and I’ll probably try kizomba one day to see if I’m right or wrong…

  4. says: Rici

    Kizomba is amazing:) But I think the dance is more risky for people who are a pair. Because kizomba is about feelings very sensual.. I danced it with a lot of women and I know that the feelings sometimes are amazing mostly when great sensual song is playing:). So I think when there is a couple it is beter to dance together and not changing partners. I saw it few times. But a lot of couples are changing partners. It could be risky sometimes but I didn ´t see anything wrong that happened to some non free people who danced with other people to this day. But I think the risk is higher than in salsa or bachata. It cannot be compared. Because in kizomba the sensual energy is very strong especially with great song.

  5. says: Tom

    As a married man who dances I have a problem with people holding onto my spouse in kizomba. In our culture and modern world everything can be normalized. Muder is normalized in some places as euthanasia.

    Dancing kizomba is now normalized. Who will allow their spouse to hang on someone as seen in kizomba. What about temptations it brings ?
    What about values ?
    What about Christians dancing it and creating opportunity for people to sin?
    You can normalized kizomba all you want but I still think there is a problem with this. Holding onto strangers in club and etc.

    I don’t have anything against the dance itself but it truly has issues that is been normalized.

    People should be bold and debate this.

  6. Hi Colin,
    You are preaching to the choir as far as I’m concerned – I’m not sure you read past the title. You are equating intimacy with sexual intimacy, which is unfortunate and one reason I wrote this. I do get intimate with family members more than a hug – I speak closely with them, I share my feelings, and I trust them. As for honoring the culture, I’m doing my best to help people get to know more, with interviews like this one:

  7. says: Colin

    KIZOMBA should never be considered an intimate dance. In its country of origin, Angola, and other PALOP countries it is danced with family members, brother and sister, aunt and nephew, niece and uncle etc etc. Do you ever get intimate with your family members other than a hug?? I doubt it and neither should this dance. You are right as in the dance is like a hug, in fact ones posture whilst dancing Kizomba should be very similar to a a hug, just allowing more freedom. Chest contact is necessary to lead the dance effectively and on occasion hip and leg contact and indeed some other parts of the body, except of course the groin area.
    The confusion comes where people are dancing what they believe to be Kizomba, when they are actually dancing a fusion of Tarraxinha and Semba to Ghetto zouk music. The vast majority of teachers in the west teach to ghetto zouk music, they step on the beat, with very little contra tempo, and to make the dance a little more interesting they sprinkle the dance with Semba type moves to add some interest and diversity.
    True Kizomba is danced to music which makes you feel like you are floating, music which tells a story with the tone of the singers voice, mostly with real instruments, guitar, drums, piano, etc etc. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQIJOhYI-tg. Is a good example.

  8. says: ken want

    Kizomba is a form of tango (full of passion & attitude) like all dance each partner has the choice either to accept or reject ,if “connection ” is not acheived ,then it aint gonna work for either dancer.please try tho & enjoy !!!!

    1. Well I’m not sure we can say it is a form of tango, but there are similarities! I agree that both partners share in establishing what kind of connection there will be.

  9. says: laura

    See, I’ve tried Kiz many, many times… and it is the creepers that ruin the dance – specifically the inability to avoid them.

    In Salsa, Swing, Brazilian Zouk, and the rest of the styles I dance, creepers are mitigated by the fact that I can create the space I need to keep the comfort of non-invasive contact. If they full out grope, I have a great excuse to walk away.

    With Kizomba, I think dancers need to be empowered to walk away from an uncomfortable dance – especially since the dance culture usually does multiple dances in a row in Kiz. I have felt many, many erections on my leg with hips pushed forward and arms not letting me escape… which is why I very often avoid Kizomba now. Even at a Zouk event, I’ve had Kizomba dancers start dancing and pull me into that same uncomfortable space.

    So, I think the way to get rid of a lot of that negativity is to really promote leaving partners that are making you uncomfortable… because right now it feels like I can’t leave without being an ass.

    1. I hear you. I don’t think kizomba is unique in this area – I’ve had people hold me way to close in bachata and blues, and be rubbing all up in between my legs. Ick. I don’t know about the teachers in your area, but I promote good consent-culture behavior, and I hope to see it catch on more and more. Here’s a quick overview:
      1. People should ask for a dance, not grab someone
      2. You can always say no. A simple “No, thank you” is sufficient if you don’t want to share the reason why – making up excuses is counter-productive. There are about a hundred reasons someone might not want to accept a dance, and “I think you’re a creeper” is certainly one of them
      3. Communicate when you’re uncomfortable. Now I know a lot of ladies lack confidence in this area but we can’t assume that all “creeper” behavior is intentional. Sometimes it really does stem from lack of body awareness or control. Options are:
      a) ask for a modification. I have asked my leader to hold me less tight, asked to dance in a more open embrace, given a reminder that upper body forward is more effective for leading, physically lifted the right hand on my back to me higher, etc.
      b) end the dance. Say thank you and leave the floor. I rarely have someone confront me about why.
      c) If you just can’t bring yourself to end a dance or ask for a change, you can dance defensively. Get your forearms against the leader’s shoulders. Now you have leverage to create space. That won’t help their next partner, though…
      4. If you are afraid of any confrontation but are concerned by an individual’s behavior, let someone know. That could be the organizer or instructor, or just a more established follower that you think would be better at handling the situation.

      The other thing you can do to improve your experience is go and ask leaders to dance. Ask the ones that you see other people asking, regardless of their level. Intentional creepers often pick those sitting on the side, who may be too timid to protest their behavior.