Improvising in TANGO or KIZOMBA

By Jean-Pierre Sighé


In many ways, it sits well to juxtapose the two dances, TANGO and KIZOMBA. They are both walking dances; they are both closed-embrace dances; they both have traveling figures; they both are rooted in the HABANERA, the call-response that sprang from the CANDOMBE; they both are improvisational experiences.

These dances share so much in common that skilled Tango dancers can easily pick up the KIZOMBA movements without affecting its originality. In fact, one could argue KIZOMBA is the quintessence of the early stages of the TANGO, enriched by the MILONGA (as a rhythm). At that stage, the solo dancing of the CANDOMBE had incorporated the couple-dancing with its embrace, thus bringing forth a new complexity to the dance.

Dancing is in essence similar to playing a musical instrument. Rhythm serves as the common platform. Without rhythm, there is no music, thus no dance. I have sometimes heard people in Tango speak of “dancing the melody.” They say this to express what they perceive as a contrast or differentiation to “dancing on the beat.” As a musician, I want to be categorical here: There can be no melody without the rhythm. There is no such thing! Bearing that in mind, the dancer, just like the musician, has the powerful guide of the rhythm, to create or compose. In TANGO and KIZOMBA, understanding the HABANERA constitutes the secret of improvisation for both the musician and the dancer.

The mastery of the scale helps the musician improvise, to which a good dose of sophistication in thought is added. This sophistication in thought will establish the difference between an inspired improvisation and a dull one. This premise will be applicable to the dancer's improvisation.

The dancer of TANGO or KIZOMBA must have a good handle on the Walking experience. This implies a good handle on the balance before any improvisation begins, including the awareness of the common axis (the 3rd Axis) shared with the partner: Where am I? Where is my axis? Where is my partner? How do I relate to my partner? Have I established the CONNECTION necessary for us to dance? What role am I assuming? Am I leading? Am I following? What does it mean and imply?

THE MAGDALENA TECHNIQUE ® addresses very early on these fundamental points.

The clear answers to these questions are essential to the improvisation, thus, the dance.


TANGO dancers have discovered the correct answers to these questions. They were clever in making the Following-Partner the center of the dance. This concept makes the improvisation easier, gentler, inspired, fun, and positively adventurous. These discoveries in TANGO are key to KIZOMBA.

The focus and role of the Leading-Partner is to provide the space into which the partner will walk at ease. In other words, as a Leading-Partner, am I well aware of where my partner is in the individual axis and in the 3rd axis we are creating? From where my Following-Partner is, what step can my partner execute at ease? How can I create a pleasant surprise, during the execution of that step without pushing or pulling my partner into the space?

On the other hand, as the Following-Partner, once I am secured in my axis and into the 3rd axis, am I really assuming the center of the dance? Am I present and not anticipating the next move? Am I ready to walk into the space created for me? Am I confident to embellish my walk? Am I at ease to feed the energy into the 3rd axis when it is my turn to walk?


THE MAGDALENA TECHNIQUE ® equips the partners with the important tool of the concept of MEDIA-VUELTA that actually sets them free from memorizing a bunch of steps. Understanding this concept allows the dancer to create patterns and figures at will! The only effective way to study the MEDIA-VUELTA is to actually study it with someone who has been trained into it. It is simple yet complex. It cannot be studied “a little bit.” One either knows the concept or the MEDIA-VUELTA or doesn't. The concept is applicable in TANGO and KIZOMBA.

The MEDIA-VUELTA reveals the beauty of the curves. It is indeed far more interesting to improvise in the continuous curvy mode than in the flat boring straight line. More pleasant surprises can be created, enriching the dance. The MEDIA-VUELTA reduces the many possible steps into three fundamental positions, steps, or stations: forward, side, and back. That's all! Adding the tweak of the curves gives the ability to instantly creating a variety of figures. Three body positioning of the partners helps determine what step to execute. The three body positioning is: facing squarely each other; being offset with partners walking outside of each other; the same offset on the other side of the body. The skillful switch of weight to create the cross-walking or the parallel walking adds to the tools available for the improvisations.

In a nutshell, the most important thing for the Leading-Partner, is to ALWAYS know where the Following-Partner's weight is. Therefore, know which leg is free and can walk. In other words: “I know where she is; I know which leg is free. From her perspective, where can my Following-Partner go with ease?” There will always be at least two options (the experienced dancer will see three options: forward-side-back). To improvise is to pick one option and make sure it is executable with ease, with no bumping into other dancers or any other unpleasant experience, guided by all the aforementioned tools.

To improvise is to offer a promenade to the Following-Partner and make it as surprising and enjoyable as possible. One step at a time that can be easily executed. There is no useless step in the improvisation. As the Following-Partner walks and looks elegant, so do both partners. This is one of the most beautiful and inspiring experiences available to couples. There are infinite possibilities in the combinations of the three stages or positions: forward-side-back. As the Leading-Partner injects the curves into the lead with the appropriate technique that we teach with THE MAGDALENA TECHNIQUE ®, the experience gets more and more adventurous, therefore...sweet and pleasant!

It does makes perfect sense to rather learn HOW to improvise, in lieu of learning predictable steps, bound to become very boring. This gift is available to anyone who is serious about enjoying TANGO or KIZOMBA.

We are well aware of the resistance to learning the Technique that erupted in the KIZOMBA community, some few years back as the dance started in the San Francisco Bay Area. For the record, our Studio, Tango Magdalena Dance & Art Studio was the place where the very first KIZOMBA group class was taught. The class was taught by Dennis Richards until he moved to Seattle. We knew that the thirst for the knowledge would prevail as people went into the KIZOMBA journey. We know and predict that as the improvisation Technique is learned by the TANGO and KIZOMBA dancers they will come to a place where they want to know how to dance both dances. The TANGO-KIZOMBA Community is thus declared.


© JUNE 2017