Experiencing Kaya International Dance Festival

Participating in Kaya Dance Festival, Maputo

First impression of Kaya Dance Festival

Asking the Kaya festival if I could come and cover them for my blog has probably been my best decision so far this year. Here are the reasons why! It is probably the most dancing dance festival that I have been to, ever, and what I mean by that is that it breathed dance. People came to dance, to teach dance and to learn dance. No drama. No politics. Very little creeps. Just creating something amazing together through this passion of ours: dancing. I think the best thing I got from Kaya, besides all the amazing dances and connections, was the insight of what happens when the majority of the participants, artists and students alike, are conscious about the energy and culture they contribute with: it completely cancels waiting! This is probably the only dance event where I never felt like I waited. I think one major premise for this feeling is the accountability the majority of leaders took to, with joy, dance with every follower. It was beautiful to see how this in turn enabled relaxed, happy, generous followers, who instead of waiting, engaged in conversations and dancing with each other. I don’t know what Kaya’s secret recipe for this culture is but I hope we can buy it on bottle soon and import it to Europe, Lord knows we need it there!

 

At the end of the festival, I had slept so little, danced so much, had so many incredible connections, that my body was just vibrating endorphins. All the emotions present and just an overall sense of pure joy, intense happiness and abundance coursing through me. It did not start there though haha. When I arrived in Maputo just before the festival, I was exhausted. I had been working on a new project in a new environment for 25 days straight and when I arrived at the festival I was feeling the effects of my choices. But it did not take long before the festival did what dance festivals do: energizing me. After the first two hours at Opium, a club in Maputo where Kaya held its opening night, I had to pinch myself. Every other person I danced with was either an artist teaching at the festival, a dance professional participating in the festival or just a great dancer. Even the people who shyly invited me to dance, saying they were beginners, had both rhythm and presence. Yoh. When I tell my friends back home about the quality of dancing I got to experience they are all in awe. I have never been at a festival where the level of dancers was so consistently high, nor so consistently kind. Having danced salsa and kizomba most of my grown-up life, I realize that I’ve been sleeping on the abundance of talent and festivals in this part of the world. I marvel as I realize that this is what lies in front of me now, experiencing the best of the best of what the African festival scene has to offer and sharing it with you. How lucky am I?!

Theglobalentity at Kaya Dance Festival 2023
Kaya Dance Festival is a destination festival as much as it is a dance festival. Click the photo to see the video of what was on the menu this year! This picture was taken on Saturday at the artisinal FEIMA market in Maputo.

Kaya Dance Festival for solo travelers

Whenever I’ve had the chance to travel to Africa previously, I have often been met with fear and prejudice from others. “Are you really going to THAT country? Alone?!” is a very common reaction both from my European people but also a surprisingly common sentiment between the different African nations. My experience is generally that the countries and contexts that I visit are a lot more nuanced, safer even, than what the media and the general discourse teaches us. A lot kinder too. Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world but that says very little to how free and safe I have felt here. As a woman, I feel well prepared on how to think, strategize and try to create security, just from having been taught that from an early age. That does not mean that security is not a stressful point of daily consideration when I move through different contexts. Mozambique does not have the, for me, normal taxi apps. Instead they have their own: Yango and VivaTaxi, two apps I frequently use and are free to download. What you do need is a local sim card, which is super easy to get at almost any cell credit vendor on the streets of Mozambique. Just make sure to bring your passport and they will help you set it up. I always buy extra credit to carry in my wallet as I have found myself in positions where my data is finished and I’m suddenly dependent on a friend to get home. A position I’ve learnt to avoid.

 

The Kaya festival had arranged a festival shuttle between the main event location, Casino Polana, and the two recommended hotels. I think that when a festival is big enough to justify this, it does make things simpler for the participants. Especially if it is your first time in the country and you don’t know how the local transport system or internet systems work. Even I, who did not stay at the recommended locations felt seen and cared for as the festival still wanted to know where I would stay. One of the nerve wracking things about traveling solo is that you never know how you will be perceived, included or treated. The levels of openness and inclusion always varies from context to context. What I have realized is that the level of inclusion also matters differently to me, sometimes it is vital, other times it doesn’t really matter. But for a festival, and a dance festival at that, inclusion and openness matters. It is an essential part of creating the festival experience and what most of us will remember far better than any specific step that we learnt at the workshops. When it comes to having the vibes, Kaya Festival passes the check! I don’t even know if it was a conscious effort from the organizers or a natural consequence of operating in the socially warm context of Mozambique that enabled the culture of inclusion but whatever it was, I loved it! 

Coming alone to the Kaya festival was an absolute blast! There was an openness amongst the participants to talk and connect and I felt free to mingle between the different groups and clicks, which suits my Aquarius persona perfectly. The care from the festival organizers as well as the infrastructure of the festival made me feel safe. The locations of each activity was easily accessible even for somebody like me who does not have a car. I usually took the Xiapa (public transport, mini bus) to the parties and then ordered a taxi home in the early morning hours. Only once was I not able to get a taxi home within the first ten minutes of requesting. I think it was because we were a little outside of the city center and it was five AM. But as I was sitting outside the venue, waiting for the taxi app to connect me to a driver, another participant saw me on his way to his car. “Are you alright?” His question was sincere and he even stopped to listen to the answer. He immediately offered me a ride and when I hesitated, not wanting to be a burden, he insisted it was not an issue.

 

When we sat in the car he asked why I had not asked him for a ride straight away. Normally, I would have said something about the safety precautions and solo traveling as a woman. But since this was a man I somewhat knew, it wasn’t that. No, my hesitation this time had a lot more to do with the way I was raised, to be independent and self sustaining. As great as independence is, and as much as I still strive for it, if there is anything I feel that Mozambique is trying to teach me, it is trust others and the ability to ask for help. Or perhaps, on a grander scale, that we all need each other. Both for rides home, becoming, growing and being. When we finally arrived at my porch, the sun was just about to come up. My body was still buzzing from all the endorphins so I went straight up to the rooftop and danced my gratefulness out. As I look out over a pink, sleepy Maputo, I start feeling it, this is my life now. It is happening!

Participants of Kaya Dance Festival, Maputo

Connection in Kizomba

Ever since I started learning Kizomba back in 2018 I have learnt that there is connection, and then there is Connection. Yohh. The first is about flow and joy. When I dance with connection there is a flow in our movements, the communication is effortless, everything understood, and the result is a fantastic dance where every element of what we as dancers want to express gets to be with. It is an amazing experience that elevates you as a dancer and makes people around you look. Very far from the poor guys who saw me shining on the salsa floor and wanted to have the same experience, only to find out that I am clueless when it comes to LA style haha. Well, well, not everything flows in the beginning. Some classes should rectify that! Anyhow, we also have the latter Connection, the one with capital C. I have only experienced it on a few occasions but those have been such powerful experiences, such transformative moments, that I remember and cherish them till this day. Those moments are best described as the meld of our most inner beings. A transfer of energy through movement, understanding and compassion. It is something so special, even writing about it is hard. Because I have no words, I have learnt no expressions to describe the kind of energetic exchanges. The level of intimacy that we as kizomba dancers experience is often minimized to a sexual one, which to me seems really limiting. Yes, attraction is an exciting, possible element of dancing but Connecting through Kizomba is one of the most powerful, human experiences I know. It grounds my spirit into my body and at the same time elevates my energy to the extent it reminds me I am spirit first and foremost. A spirit having a human experience. 

 

I’ve noticed that Connecting with somebody in Kizomba has very little to do with the steps. It is not about doing the most complicated steps or most advanced turns. No, it is about the shared moment. Finding space within you to create the level of trust it takes to meld with a perfect stranger on the dance floor. Festivals are usually a great enabler of these Connections as the parties are longer, we are together for several days in a row and people allow themselves to dance longer with each person. From the socials that I have attended in South Africa and Mozambique so far, my impression of the dance culture is that people in general, the leaders in particular, are aware of the importance of everyone getting to dance and feel included. This results in a dance culture where we dance a maximum of two to six songs together. I prefer this culture in the dance scene as it makes for a lovely, inclusive, happy group of people that feel seen. In other words, it creates the essence of a good party: inclusion. But, I must admit that I still long for the other type of Connection, the kind where you melt together somebody and suddenly look up to realize that you’ve danced through three DJ’s together without noticing. On Sunday evening, just after two AM, a man invites me to dance and I can feel it happen. Half way through the first song, we Connect. The flow is complete and the dance is filled with so much tenderness. I feel held. The music speeds up but he slows our movements down, changing the dynamic, accentuating our sensuality. He discreetly places his hand in the space between my shoulders and neck and I shiver. I want to be here.

The last time I got to experience this was a Mother City Dance Festival in Cape Town almost a year ago. I don’t remember his face, I don’t even think we exchanged names. We danced only once, but it felt like a beautiful eternity. I didn’t see him again until I was on my way home on the last night. Somebody grabbed my arm, it was him! I recognized his shoulders rather than his face, we don’t really look at each other much in kizomba. Without a word he takes off his bracelet and puts it on me, squeezes my hand and lets go of me. It was such a beautiful gesture. I have carried that bracelet on me since that day. It is a reminder of why I do what I do, a sign that I am on the right path. An affirmation even that divineness is within us to bring out; something to be created, not something that is bestowed upon us. I should have asked his name but at the time the anonymity made me feel comfortable, it made the Connection feel untouched. A shared, soul melding moment, saved only in my memory. This time, at the Kaya festival, I made sure to ask his name and establish contact. I never want to miss another chance to experience this. This is what it is all about!

 

The next evening, when I see him enter Broadway for Kaya’s afterparty, my heart makes a jump of joy. When we dance again I can feel my energy embracing his. I feel like he is known to me. On an energy level, I know this person… but how? Hours later, in the taxi home, I am editing some footage from the evening and my eyes fall on my right hand wrist. The bracelet I’ve been carrying on me since last October, the one that was given to me by my perfect, mystery Connection, has gotten a bit loose and I put the phone down to attach it better. That’s when it dawns on me, my Kaya Connection is my mystery Cape Town Connection! It must be. That’s how I know him. I smile, feeling like Cinderella. What a crazy, full circle moment this festival is!

Participating in Kaya Dance Festival, Maputo
Three smiles from three different countries! Kanimambo amigas!

Fellow Kaya participants...

What do you do when every dance becomes the best dance ever? That’s how I felt every day and every night at the Kaya festival. The level of the dancers was so high that when something was off in the dance, it was solely because of my tired feet. Luxurious is how I would best describe it, to have the opportunity to dance with so many passionate, dedicated, talented dancers for a whole week. Amazing! By the end of Saturday’s workshops I was jumping up and down, like an excited kid. The energy of joy coursing through my body was simply too much and I could not stand still to save my life. This energy overflowed into all aspects, I was smiling and talking to everybody and everywhere I went people were reciprocating. I learnt recently that joy is one of the most vulnerable emotions for us humans to show. I think about kids when they are bouncing up and down of excitement and how one sour comment from a parent, or even worse, indifference, can wipe that smile quicker than the child even realizes what has happened. I think we as a society do that almost systematically to each other, at least in the west where I grew up. When it comes to dance communities, my experience in Sweden has been similar unfortunately. So many times that I come into a social, filled with joy and excitement, only to be met with indifference or even rudeness. Anything from a side eye, a comment to take me down a notch or the most common one, a cold shoulder. There is nothing that brings joy down as the sensation of being too much or even invalid. 

 

This was not my experience at Kaya, however. Anywhere and everywhere I looked, I was met with smiles and people wanting to connect. At one point I felt I didn’t even have time to dance because of the connections and conversations I was having with the incredible women I was meeting. I want to bring this up now as I know you will be reading this and I want you to know what a difference you made in my experience. I am very good at writing about the dysfunctionalities of our dance communities but I thought I would take this opportunity to really raise the role of the participants. You made my whole festival! The way you met me in joy, celebrated with me, shared and connected… I wish every festival participant becomes aware of the impact we can have on one another when we are kind and generous to each other. This is what it is all about. Kanimambo. To conclude, when it comes to my experience at Kaya as a participant, I can warmly  recommend it! Yes, there will be delays and changes in the schedule, and yes, it is going to be excruciatingly hot BUT with a little bit of flexibility and a lot of water, I promise that the minor inconveniences won’t even matter in comparison to what you will get to experience at Kaya. Kaya means home and I feel that. I’ve been invited back for next year and I cannot wait! If you want to join me in Mozambique to share this experience, Kaya has a special offer of the first 20 tickets sold. Get yours today and come dance with me! I promise you, you won’t regret it.

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