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‘You and your partner are one person’: embracing closeness at the annual Boston Kizomba Festival

Dancers are gearing up for a festival that centers on the African diaspora, sensuality, and New England’s vibrant Lusophone communities.

On the Rumba Y Timbal studio floor in Central Square, Cambridge, a dancer wrapped her arms around Anthony Olivier, 28, also known as DJ AO, as part of the Conexao kizomba social on Oct. 16, 2021.Emma Glassman-Hughes

In a video from Montreal’s Kizo Fest this past June, Massachusetts native and dance instructor Charlayne Delgado leaned her body weight onto partner Phillyp Chanlatte. The two were attuned to the subtle cues of each other’s limbs as they floated across the dance floor to the two-one beat of kizomba, an intensely sensual ballroom style born from a mix of Angolan, Cape Verdean, Brazilian, and pan-Caribbean influences.

This Thursday, a growing population of New England’s kizomba dancers will gather in Danvers for the annual Boston Kizomba Festival. The event first premiered in 2019; now, with four days of workshops, late-night socials, and competitions at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel running through Labor Day.


Though kizomba has been a mainstay in Angola and parts of Europe for decades, it’s only recently found more of a foothold in the United States. And, for some, New England — home to one of the largest Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) populations in the country — has become an unofficial hub for the style. Last year’s festival brought in record numbers with an estimated 600 attendees, founder Ceijay Paul told the Globe over the phone. This year, Paul, who moved to Boston from Haiti in 2000, hopes they’ll be able to top it. “I feel a good, good, good energy, even better energy than last year,” he said.

Without many official records of kizomba’s origins, Abel Djassi Amado, associate professor at Simmons University and a researcher of African Lusophone history, said the term “kizomba” first emerged at some point during Angola’s Civil War, which took place from 1975 to 2002. The word refers both to a musical genre and to styles of dance, which include the slow, sultry kizomba semba and the quicker, more athletic urban kiz.

Kizomba semba is distinguished by its celebration of closeness, proximity, and connection. It’s very visual — YouTube videos capture gyrating hips and glued-together thighs — but much of the dance is guided by small, barely visible signals, communicated through fingertips and palms, forearms and biceps, thighs and knees. Dancers are cocooned in their closeness, almost Velcro-ed together as they prick their feet to the rhythm and glide around the floor.


Several instructors, including Delgado, said kizomba first infiltrated New England within the last decade, when international YouTube videos that had racked up millions of views drummed up demand for classes, a festival, and regular events. Despite kizomba’s strong association with Angola, the Boston community is mostly supported by dancers of Haitian and Cape Verdean origin who grew up dancing similar styles — like coladeira and Caribbean zouk — and learned of kizomba later, online.

But for Paulo Ribeiro, an Angola-born kizomba DJ in Boston, the dance style is much more than an internet fad.

“It’s embedded in Angolan culture. It’s part of your DNA,” he said. “Go to Angola and say, ‘Oh, I know how to dance kizomba,’ and everyone’s gonna look at you and say, ‘Oh, so you know how to breathe.’”

Though it originated in Angola, kizomba’s reach is now global. Boston-based kizomba instructor and DJ Jovan Toussaint guesses its appeal stems from the closeness it demands of its dancers.

“You can find it in bachata a little bit, maybe salsa a little bit, but a lot of [those dances are] focused on turns and disconnecting,” Toussaint said. “In kizomba, really, like, 80 percent of the time you are breathing the same air.”


Dancers at the Conexao kizomba social at Rumba Y Timbal on Oct. 16, 2021.Emma Glassman-Hughes

Plans for the festival include multiple workshops during the day and dance parties until dawn the next morning, open to experts and beginners alike. As much as he wants to provide a space for local kizomba regulars, Paul, who teaches classes of all levels at the Multicultural Arts Center in Cambridge, said this festival is an opportunity to expand the community and welcome newcomers. “We’re trying to create an experience for new people to try it and fall in love with it,” he said.

For a taste of the Boston Kizomba Festival energy year-round, local instructors organize semi-regular socials and dance parties, like a pop-up kizomba social on the Providence Bridge this week and Paul’s upcoming Kiz’Thursday event at Moves & Vibes Dancing Academy on Sept. 7.

Delgado, who is currently running a Boston-based eight-week kizomba intensive and will be teaching two classes at the festival, says kizomba is her “mental sanity.” “It’s your break from everything in your world. There are times where you literally feel like you and your partner are one person,” she said. “Like, ‘Wow, we’re just so in sync, we’re one human right now. This is amazing.’”

Emma Glassman-Hughes can be reached at Follow her @eglassmanhughes.