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An Article on Kizomba



The dance Kizomba has gained wide international acceptance in recent years. 


The consensus within the social dances’ community has been that it is a dance  of Angolan origin. A claim with much less visibility, however, states that it is in fact a dance of Cape Verdean origin, or a dance of mixed origins. This paper compares elements of Cape Verdean traditional dances with elements  of kizomba. The authors — a Cape Verdean dancer/choreographer and a Mozambican-born academic — are both based in Portugal.


The research took place throughout 2013 and 2014 and took advantage of the authors’ connection to Portugal's African dance community. The research is 'synthesized' in a number of short video recordings linked to the article. The discussion is contextualized within the wider frame of Portugal’s cultural production, specifically with regards to the importance of that country for the dissemination of African culture in the diaspora.




In a recent book, the Portuguese historian Miguel Real claimed that the novel was going through a “golden age” in Portugal. In an interview for the online journal Progredir, the author further expanded this idea to include science, documentaries, illustration, fine arts and cinema in his observations, thus suggesting a phenomenon of cultural discovery crossing the boundaries of erudite production [1].


We are referring to world dances, to the offer in terms of international foods, to yoga and  meditation, among others.


African Diasporas, coming from the Portuguese ex-colonies, have been extremely important in this process. They have brought a number of cultural practices, which have made their way into Portuguese society. This is particularly true of African social dances, which have become extremely popular in Portugal in recent years.


Kizomba is a success story. Kizomba teachers have established audiences in the country and abroad[2], and Kizomba has risen in popularity to levels similar to those of the Latin-American dances in the past. African dances have become — no criticism implied — big business.In spite of the hype there is a noticeable lack of trustworthy information as to the origins of kizomba. Audiences often join kizomba classes and workshops having no information about the cultural origins of the dances they propose to learn, or about their teachers’ training and preparation.


A number of ideas about its history and geographical origins circulate within the social dances’ community but as far as we know, no systematic research exists on the subject. Within the social dances’ community, the most popular theory says it is a dance of Angolan origin; few people consider the hypothesis of a Cape Verdean influence, and even fewer people think it is a Cape Verdean dance.[3] We looked at a variety of sources - from academic, to social networks and tourist guides — they tend to replicate these views. Oyebade tells us that: Stead and Rorisson believe it is a dance of mixed origin, resulting from the fusion of Angolan semba and Antillean zouk: “Kizomba - another very popular rhythm, which evolved in the 1960s, from semba and music from the French Caribbean such as zouk” (2013, p.46). Wikipedia, as well as the popular sites Kizomba Nation and Kizombalove, offer versions of the Angolan origin thesis. Wikipedia[4] tell us that kizomba appeared spontaneously in Luanda in the 1960s, as a by-product of other social dances, specifically: semba,[5] Angolan merengue and kilapanda; Kizombalove[6]  suggests it is a development of semba; kizomba Nation[7] merely states it is a dance of Angolan origin.[8]


None of the sources provide a consistent treatment of the subject. What they  provide is merely a starting point for a delimitation of geographical areas. Thus there seems to be four hypotheses regarding the origins of kizomba:[9] the Angolan hypothesis; the Cape Verdean hypothesis; the Angolan/Cape Verdean mix hypothesis; the Angolan/Antillean mix hypothesis.[10]

In addition to this, and in spite of the divergences of opinions in relation to its origins, it is also possible to make a number of consensual statements about kizomba: it is a partner dance; it is an urban social dance; it obeys dance routines. We also know that it is a relatively modern dance, having appeared around the 1980s,[11] very far from the so-called tribal dances or ceremonial dances performed as part of a ritual.


The four hypotheses, even though there are in disagreement, have in common the idea of an original dance or dances. If kizomba originates from a former dance - or dances - then it should be possible to find elements of kizomba in those dances — this was our departure point. It is important to remember that from the 1970s, Portugal became a common geographical ground for African communities and that, even before, constant migration occurred between Portuguese-speaking African countries. It is a possibility that any dance, from any origin, might bear some relation to kizomba. We chose to concentrate on Cape Verdean dances out of personal preference, as well as due to the fact we thought the extraordinary diversity of social partner dances in that archipelago was a strong indicator of a possible relation. At first we recognised elements that suggested a relation to kizomba in morna, in mazurka and in coladeira. We set out to find (or not) parallels between traditional Cape Verdean dances and kizomba with the objective of contributing to a wider understanding of the origins and development of this dance.




The subject has wide implications. It is not just the dance per se which is of interest, but also what the development of the dance tells us about the parallel cultural development of Portuguese-speaking countries. The subject is also interesting as an indication of the importance of Portugal as a place of convergence of cultural diversity.[12] We shall start with a few a priori methodological caveats. It is important to clearly state the scope of this paper.


Firstly, it is important to clarify that we shall not be dealing with demographic aspects. A study of migrations to and from Lusophone Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries would be of great interest to understand the concomitant migration of cultural phenomena. The flux of Cape Verdeans to Europe and other African countries throughout the 20th century[13] as well as European presence in Cape Verde from the 15th to the 20th century is well documented.[14] The study of migrations is of the utmost importance as it provides the grounds for the hypothesis of a mixed origin. 

This would be an interesting approach, but one that would push this paper beyond its intended size and subject. We shall focus exclusively on elements of Cape Verdean dances we think might be present in kizomba — we shall make the occasional reference to social, historical and demographic aspects.


Secondly, certain aspects regarding the relation between music and dance must be highlighted. Like so many other dances kizomba has appeared in concomitance with the musical genre kizomba. In Cape Verde we will find the dance morna, danced to the sound of morna music, the dance mazurka, danced to the sound of mazurka music, and so on. However, this is not always true in this case, as the dance Kizomba is danced to the sound of kizomba music, though not exclusively[15]kizomba musicians and dancers have produced countless variants.[16] Dancers adapt kizomba routines and styles to other musical and dance genres — they bring personal styles and an understanding of dance to kizomba. It's a form of ‘spontaneous adaptation’ of movement to music. This ‘spontaneous adaptation’ both implies moving away from old forms and an evolution towards new ones. An example of this is Santo Antão’s contradança, which evolved from English country-dance and in which elements of the original dance such as the mandador (caller) can be found (Tavares, 2006, 51).


This ‘spontaneous adaptation’ is relevant to our discussion for a number of reasons: 1 — because kizomba as a music genre provides many clues to the development of the dance kizomba (music release dates are sometimes the only information available). 2 — because it is precisely ‘spontaneous adaptation’ that allows to establish links between elements of traditional Cape Verdean dances and kizomba. We know the mandador was transformed from English country-dance into Cape Verdean contradança, and it is this kind of precedence that is of interest to us[17] 3 — because it results from the previously mentioned autonomy between kizomba as a dance and kizomba as a music. The dance Kizomba has evolved, developing routines and styles not necessarily in response to or in concomitance with kizomba music. Kizomba music is relevant for the study of the dance kizomba but it is not our object of study — our subject is exclusively the dance. In this paper we shall keep a very clear distinction between kizomba music and the dance kizomba.


Thirdly, it is also important to recognize that there is no such thing as a “kizomba dance”. Or at least not a standard crystalized kizomba dance.[18] The proliferation of schools and the growing popularity of the dance have brought in a wealth of styles of kizomba and, with it, a risk of loss of identity. A number of new styles of kizomba have emerged, influenced by Latin American dances and by other popular Angolan dances like semba. Ideas about its origins proliferate in the social dances’ community. There is no clear and universally recognised definition of kizomba either. The need for clarification is one of the motivations of this paper; as part of the social dances’ community we are not standing outside of the problematic - we are within, participating and observing, and we want to be able to better characterize it. We acknowledge a degree of subjectivity in this research. We depart from a personal understanding of what kizomba is, in an attempt to identify resilient characteristics in the dance. This is not however merely the product of a personal quest based on personal practice. The authors of this paper are an experienced Cape Verdean choreographer and dancer, and a Mozambican-born academic and performing arts professional.[19] 


Fourthly it is also important to clarify how the argument is put forward. Some of the dance elements (step transformation, suspension) discussed in this paper are very difficult to describe: how a morna step can be transformed into a kizomba step, for example. For that reason we have recorded some demonstrations in video format. The video recordings show the male partner only. We proceeded in this way to simplify the argumentation as well as for technical reasons — it is much easier to understand the specific points we were trying to make by looking at just one partner, it also renders the movement much ‘clearer’. Towards the end of this paper the reader will find a number of video demonstrations with both partners, so that the links we are trying to establish may be observed in pairs of dancers.[20] Hyperlinks will be provided for those reading the electronic version of this paper; for those reading it on paper, indications are given as to how to access the videos. Watching the video recordings is imperative. The written analysis is short; the essential of the argument is manifest in the video recordings. It is paramount to understand that the writing is only a means to frame the analysis of a set of dance movements taking place physically. The practice of dance and the connection to the African dance community played a role in the sense that it provided the backdrop against which movements could be essayed. It was while dancing that some of similarities between Cape Verdean dances and kizomba became apparent. This wasn’t the verification of a claim, but rather something that revealed itself during its practice.


Fifthly, it is important to highlight a further aspect of kizomba that has methodological consequences for this study. It became common within the dance community to use musical terminology. We are referring specifically to the use of the words ‘binary’, ‘ternary’ and ‘quaternary’[21] , standard musical words for time signatures, which have been adopted by some dancers to designate the step count. Counting is an essential aspect of learning how to dance. Many beginner dancers will be unfamiliar with dance movements and styles, and will learn through counting. Typically, the step count will not match the time signature — two steps will not correspond to a musical binary. Many dancers have no musical training and are tempted to look for a strict relationship between number of steps in dance and time in the music. For this reason we have kept ‘binary’, ‘ternary’ and ‘quaternary’ to describe music and used another set of expressions to designate the step count: ‘base 2’, ‘base 3’ and ‘base 4’ (two steps, three steps and four steps respectively). These are also common expressions in the dance community. It goes without saying that we are referring to the African dance community in Lisbon only. The time signature in kizomba is quadruple. The dance is mostly danced in ‘base 3’ and ‘base 4’; ‘base 2’ is occasionally used. Kizomba dancers compose routines by multiplying and adding ‘base 3’, ‘base 4’ and ‘base 2’ to generate complex sequences. There are no rules for combining steps — it is up to the dancers to create their own routines from these ‘bases’. This is a characteristic aspect of kizomba.




Our analysis will: 1 — zero in on elements of traditional Cape Verdean dances we suspect might be at the origin of kizomba; 2 — focus exclusively on the dance kizomba and not on kizomba music; 3 — start from a personal though informed understanding of kizomba; 4 — consist in a practical observation of elements taken from the three most emblematic Cape Verdean social partner dances — mazurca, morna and coladeira. These observations will be presented in video recordings and complemented by a brief written discussion.






Mazurka is originally a Polish dance, from the Mazuria region. It is danced in France, the Antilles and Cape Verde. Mazurka is danced throughout the Cape Verdean archipelago with a greater incidence in the islands of Santo Antão, São Nicolau and Boavista (Brito, 1998, p.21). There is also a variant of mazurka called rabolo in Fogo. In Aspectos Evolutivos da Música Cabo-Verdiana, Tavares does not discuss the origins of mazurka separately, but rather establishes a parallel between mazurka and contradança, citing historical sources from 1841 referring to contradança (2006, p.51). This suggests mazurka may have appeared in Cape Verde around the same time. Typically, Cape Verdean mazurka is danced around the room reproducing the dance scheme of European mazurka. It is danced in ‘base 3’, the right foot moves forward on the tip and the left foot drags behind.[22] There are two variants of ‘base 3’ in mazurka: ‘base 3’ with time delay (on the count of three, 1 is delayed); ‘base 3’ in a left/right-left/right scheme with alternated stress[23].

The time delay variant in mazurka evokes the ‘base 3’ in kizomba, the difference being the position of the foot — in kizomba the dancer uses the sole of the foot for both feet, in mazurka the dancer uses the tip of the left foot.

The similarity becomes clearer when the mazurka movement is slowed down



Morna has been one of the most recognized expressions of Cape Verdean identity and, as such, has been the subject of a number of theories about its origins. The known record indicates, according to Tavares (2006, p.54), a date prior to 1850. The same author suggests that morna may have originated from the chanting of shepherd slaves on Boavista Island, having later been taken to Brava Island, where it acquired the sentimental tone that characterizes it, and finally to S. Vicente (p.56–58).[24] Today morna is played and danced on the whole archipelago. There are variations in pace in the dance morna. The dancers will speed up or slow down a ‘reference pace’.[25]

The dance pace bears a relationship to the instrumentation. The most common instruments in morna are, by order of importance: guitar,[26] voice, violin and cavaquinho. The guitar sets the ‘reference pace’, while the slower variations are set by the voice and by the violin, and the faster variation by the cavaquinho. The morna dancer responds creatively by choosing which instrument to follow.


In kizomba, dancers will typically produce variations in pace too. However, the relation between the musical instruments and the dance is less clear. There is a reason for this — kizomba, contrary to morna, is produced electronically. The acoustic instrumentation of morna makes it very easy to hear the different instruments and to identify the correspondence between the instruments’ pace and the dance pace. What is characteristic of music produced electronically, like kizomba, is a sort of ‘roundness’ of sound. It is much more difficult to tell apart the different musical paces in kizomba, though that variation in pace is noticeable in the dance. In other words, we are hypothesizing that the variation in pace in the dance kizomba dance is an echo of the variation in pace in the dance morna, and that the variation in pace in the dance morna is a consequence of the acoustic instrumentation of morna music.


Morna is danced in ‘base 4’ and ‘base 2’. There are two variations to the ‘base 4’: abre-junta (open-close) and dois-dois (two-two). In abre-junta the feet come together at the count of two and four, in dois-dois the feet remain apart. ‘Base 2’ is used for the slow variation — the dancers slow the movement down to create a ‘time stretching’ effect. The same variations on ‘base 4’ and ‘base 2’ (abre-junta and dois-dois) can be found in kizomba.

We have already mentioned the variation in pace. This is exactly what wemean when we refer to the ‘stretching of time’. In morna this can be described as a ‘rocking motion’ (embalar). In kizomba it is known as ‘suspensão’ (suspension). Both dances are characteristically melancholy and harmonious, and have a tendency towards suspension.




Tradition says coladeira dates back from the 1940s, in Mindelo city, having proliferated from then throughout the 50s and 60s (Tavares, 2006, p.65). There are two main explanations for the appearance of coladeira music, both of which depart from the idea that it is a development of morna: one explanation states it is just a spontaneous accelerated morna, turning the quaternary into a binary; another states the transition from quaternary from binary is a result of foreign influence (Brito, 1998, p.22).[27] The influence of Latin-American rhythms in coladeira is consensual.


Coladeira also shares steps with kizomba — the dois-dois — though it was something else that caught our attention.


Both the mazurca and morna are danced in a kind of an ‘embrace’ that rendersthe movement somewhat ‘hazy’ — this is characteristic of many Cape Verdean dances. Kizomba is very different from mazurka and morna insofar as it has a ‘clarity’ of movement those dances do not have, while being danced in an ‘embrace’. It is as if Cape Verdean dances had imported the clarity of Latin-American dances. Coladeira is one possible source for that ‘clarity’ if we are to pursue a referential system exclusively from within Cape Verdean dances.

It goes without saying that the‘clarity’ of movement could also have its origin in semba or in zouk.




We began this study thinking that it would be centred on the pairs kizomba/mazurca, kizomba/morna, and kizomba/coladeira — the Cape Verdean dances which have in common with kizomba the fact of being social and partner dances. As we progressed, we were prompted to clarify some methodological aspects, which took on as much importance as the subject of this study itself. For that reason our conclusion should produce an evaluation of the results of the study encompassing both its initial research query and the methodological aspects to which we have referred; at the same time it should identify research paths and ponder on the implications of the research. With regards to the comparison of the dances, this is what we arrived at:


With regards to the comparison of the dances, this is what we arrived at:

  • We identified in kizomba the use of ‘base 3’, which can be found in mazurka;

  • We identified in kizomba variants of  ‘base 4’ (abre-junta, dois-dois) as well as a ‘stretching of time’ that is similar to that found in morna;

  • We searched for a reasonable explanation for the idea of the ‘stretching of time’ in morna in the way dancers respond to the music — following different instruments at a given time; we posited the hypothesis that the dancer’s response may have been passed from morna to kizomba;

  • The ‘clarity’ of movement in coladeira was advanced as a hypothesis to explain the clarity of movement in kizomba;

  • In most Cape Verdean dances we observed a general concern with the harmony of movement, which can also be found in kizomba.


With regards to our methodology and its relevance for the study of kizomba, we have done the following:

  • Established a clear distinction between musical time signature (time in music) and ‘base’ (the number of steps that may - or may not - correspond to the time signature);

  • We academically framed the geography of the origins of kizomba: Cape Verde; Angola; Antilles.


With regards to our initial query, we can say the following: 

  •  There is a strong link between Cape Verdean traditional dances and kizomba;

  •  It is not possible to make informed claims on an exclusive geographic origin for kizomba without further study.


This last point suggests research directions. They are: 

  •  The study of traditional dances from other countries and regions that might have influenced or been at the origin of kizomba — namely: Angola and the Antilles;

  •  The study of migrations to Europe and in between Europe and Africa in the late colonial period.


Furthermore, the hypothesis of a Cape Verdean origin for kizomba implies the acknowledgement of a remote European influence. If the tradition of social partner dances in Cape Verde is a product of European influence, and if what makes Cape Verdean dances strong candidates as ‘influence dances’ or ‘source dances’ is the fact that they are, like kizomba, social partner dances, it should then be possible to relate at least that aspect of kizomba to European dances.


We spoke of the importance of Portugal for the kizomba scene. This in itself is an interesting aspect of this country’s recent history, but it is much more than that: it is an expression of new cultural identities as they emerge in the post-colonial world. Kizomba may not be Cape Verdean or Angolan, but rather a product of a globalized and cosmopolitan Africa.




For reasons of clarity the video recordings show only the male movement, focusing specifically on the legs. Should the reader be interested in watching the same dances in versions showing the whole body and danced in pair, they will be able to so with the following links to a:




Brito, M. Os Instrumentos Musicais em Cabo Verde, Mindelo, Centro Cultural  Português, 1995.


Cardoso, K. A. L. R. Diáspora, a (décima) primeira Ilha de Cabo Verde — a Relação entre a emigração e a Política Externa Cabo-Verdiana, tese de mestrado, Instituto Superior de Ciências do Trabalho e da Empresa, 2004.


Epalanga, K., Kizomba! — A Obra ao Negro. Ler, nº135, Setembro (2014) pp 46–57.


Instituto Nacional de Estatística, Previsões demográficas para o ano 2002, Revista de Estudos Demográficos, nº32, (2002) pp.168.


Oyebade, A. Culture and Customs of Angola, Westport, Greenood Press, 2007.


Peixeira, L. M. S. Da Mestiçagem à Caboverdianidade — Registos de uma Sociocultura, Lisboa, Colibri, 2003.


Ramos, R. História de Portugal, Vol. 8, Lisboa, A Esfera dos Livros, 2009.


Ramos, R., Monteiro, N. G., Sousa, B. V. História de Portugal, Vol. 9, Lisboa, A Esfera dos Livros, 2009.


Saraiva, J. H. História Concisa de Portugal, Mem Martins, Publicações Europa América. 1978.


Stead M. and Rorison, S. Bradt Travel Guides: Angola, Guilford, Connecticut, The Globe Pequot Press. 2013.


Tavares, M. J. Aspectos Evolutivos da Música Cabo-Verdiana, Praia, Centro Cultural Português, IC Praia, 2005.


Olhares Partilhados (2014). Disponível em: [accessed on: May 9th, 2014].




Raquel Alcaria, Isaac Barbosa, Sofia Cochat, Joana Carvalho, Kalu Ferreira, Benvindo Fonseca, Ananya Jahanara Kabir, Kwenda Lima, Afonso Malão, Edgar Medina, Avelina Merkel, Lara Serra, Meyer Stansberry, António Tavares (Tony), Antje Hlawatsch





























[1] “In the cultural landscape there is no such a thing as a crisis in Portugal. In literature, in science, in the fine arts, in film, in documentaries or in illustration there is a new generation of exceptional quality […] they are revolutionizing Portuguese culture and expanding it on a global level.” ( [10-11-2014, at 10:00])









[2] A few examples (in alphabetical order) António Bandeira, Avelino Chantre, Hélio Santos, Kwenda Lima, Pétchu, Tomás Keita; Waty Barbosa, Zé Barbosa.













[3] This is a personal observation made from within the social dances’ community.






[4] (28-06-2014, at 16:43)

[5] A popular Angolan social dance.

[6] (,45 [28-06-2014, at 16:58]).

[7] ( [28-06-2014, at 16:58]).

[8]We have purposely chosen varied sources from academic literature to tourist guides and social networks.




[9] In Cape Verde Kizomba is known as passada.

[10] A fifth hypothesis necessarily results from these four — a Cape Verdean/Antillean mixed origin — we have not found any reference to such hypothesis.




[11] It is difficult to establish a definite date for the appearance of kizomba. It is consensual among dancers that it did not exist before the 1980s.































[12] Epalanga, in Ler (2014, pp. 46–57) narrates his own experience within the African social dances milieu. The most interesting aspect of that article, in our view, is the acknowledgement of Lisbon’s important role in terms of the affirmation of kizomba.





[13] Mostly towards Europe, the United States and Africa (specifically to Angola after 1940). João Lopes Filho alludes to this in Olhares Partilhados (2014). Recent migrations are relevant because they establish the hypothesis of a migration of Cape Verdean dances to other African countries. Of the presence of Cape Verdeans in Angola, the author thinks a community might have settled in that country between 1953 and 1973, coming from Portugal (p.29). According to the same author, there were 45,000 Cape Verdeans in Angola in 1998 (p.29). Cardoso (2004, p.24) produces an account of Cape Verdean migrations and the motivations behind them: “It is the combination of a number of factors — weak economy, land distribution, hunger — that prompted Cape Verdean emigration.” Cardoso (p. 25–29) also provides a list of the main destinations: EUA, from 1830; São Tomé, from 1863 through to the 1870s; Senegal, in 1921–22; Europe, from 1950, and specifically to Portugal, from the 1960s.

[14] The arrival of Europeans explains the appearance of elements of European social dances in Cape Verde. Mazurca, of Polish origin, contradança and the waltz (Brito, 1998, p.21).

[15] The same is true for other types of dance.

[16] Kizomba can be danced to the sound of morna, zouk, semba or coladeira.












[17] In Cape Verdean contradança, the mandador (caller) calls out in French; country-dance arrived in Cape Verde via France, having already undergone some modifications (Tavares, 2006, p.51).









[18] Unlike funáná (a traditional Cape Verdean dance), we believe kizomba has a base, but that many changes are being introduced. We will refer to this later.
















[19] Hélio Santos trained at the Performance Art Research and Training Studio in Brussels, with a grant from the Gulbenkian Foundation. He has been a dancer, choreographer and dance teacher for over a decade. A paramount aspect of his training is the contact with social dances in loco. Hélio Santos was born in São Vicente, Cape Verde. He toured the archipelago as a dancer in traditional dance shows. In 1998 Hélio moved to Santiago, where he lived until 1999. He has been developing his personal method for teaching kizomba for over ten years. Guilherme Mendonça has a double career, as a theatre professional and an academic. He is an actor, theatre director and playwright. He holds a PhD in dramaturgy. His interest in popular culture and the practice of social dances prompted him to investigate kizomba.

[20] Specifically: a kizomba, a mazurca, a morna and a coladeira.


















[21] Binary = double time signature; ternary = triple time signature; quaternary = quadruple time signature.











































[22] The time signature is ternary.

[23] The stressed foot is underlined: Left/right–left/right–left/right–left/right–left/right, etc.



















































































[24] Tavares produces an overview of the theories on the etymology of morna as well as of a hypothetical Portuguese origin in fado. (p.51–58).

[25] Morna is danced in ‘base 2’ and ‘base 4’. The time signature is quaternary.
























[26] In Cape Verde it is called violão. (Brito, 1998, p.80-83)







































































[27] Brito (1998) produces a number of explanations for transition from quaternary to binary (taken from Jorge Monteiro and Eutrópio Lima da Cruz).










Hélio Santos

Guilherme Mendonça

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