Ladies & Leadership Interview: Lucia Nogueira

Lucia Nogueira is an international kizomba teacher with the distinction of being one of the very few women teaching on her own merits. While she has partnered most famously with Eddy Vents, she has a huge number of solo projects, including training programs specifically for female teachers.

By the time I met Lucia for the first time, we had already had several extended conversations online. From the role of women in the kizomba world to teaching strategies to business development, we had so much to talk about!

There was a period of a few years when she and I were both teaching kizomba, traveling from city to city and country to country and never overlapping. I was thrilled when we were finally able to meet up in San Diego in 2016 and share a meal and some dancing.

Actually getting a formal interview would take even longer than that, though. For someone going it on her own, Lucia seems amazingly unconcerned about having the public know her outside of her classes.

So, definitely take a class from her if you have that opportunity, but in the meantime here’s a chance to get to know a little more about her!

As always, I have adapted Lucia’s own words to suit the format of this blog. Any mistakes are my own.

Early dancing

Lucia was born on Terceira Island in the Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal, and lived there until the age of 18. Growing up on a very small island in the middle of the Atlantic, she did not have access to the kinds of dance classes and activities we take for granted in Europe or the United States. However she grew up listening to music and dancing, because hers was a family of musicians. Music, dance and theater were always present in her life.

When she was a child she did a couple of performances with her dad, but “I was incredibly shy so that did not last much.”

Lisbon, Angola, and Kizomba

Lucia moved to Lisbon in 2001 to go to university. There her cousins introduced her to kizomba music for the first time. “After that a few colleagues of mine from University started to introduce me to morna and coladeira and started to take me out dancing.”

“The first structured dance classes I attended was around 2003: a few hip hop, west coast swing and salsa classes.” But these dances were not to be the ones that captured her heart.

“In 2003 I went to live with a friend from Angola; she taught me a lot about her culture and would take me out a lot to the PALOP* clubs along with many other friends from Uni. I had the chance to meet and be friends with a lot of people from the PALOP community, some amazing dancers, some with a profound knowledge of history and culture, and all of them were in fact my teachers, each of them in their own way. I am passionate about cultures and languages, I feel that the best way to learn about a new way of life is to be culturally immersed.”

*PALOP stands for Países Africanos de Língua Oficial Portuguesa, or countries where the official language is Portuguese. People commonly use the term to refer to people coming out of those countries as well.

Becoming a Teacher

Lucia started teaching kizomba after the 2012 Africadancar competition where she met Bonifacio. “Mukano Charles who runs the Kizomba Competitions in Angola invited me to partner up with him, because Conceicao his dance partner at the time was not available to travel, so we started teaching together in 2012.”

Having studied Public Administration and Management, at that time she was working in Portugal as a Team Leader for Swisscom Hospitality.

Then in 2013 she moved to the UK to work as an adjudicator for Financial Ombudsman while continuing to teach. She had been teaching up to that point only as a follower. At the urging of Eddy Vents, she started teaching as a leader as well. “Moving to the UK was an eye opening experience for me. For me it was spectacular to see so many women teaching solo in the UK, such as Riquita Alta, Tania Mendonca and many others. That was something you would not see in Portugal.”

In November 2014 teaching dance became Lucia’s “one and only activity.”

Collaboration with Eddy Vents

Lucia worked with Eddy Vents on various occasions before becoming official dance partners in 2015. Even so, they have always kept their individual projects and interests.

She spoke warmly of their collaboration, saying it “always involved mutual respect, friendship, and the way we can bring value to one another. I learned a lot from my collaboration with Eddy and in turn I could bring to the UK a lot of knowledge in terms of the new generation’s way of dancing and teaching Semba. Organizing workshops and trainings is not something I had ever done before having met Eddy, so I also learned a lot in this sense.”

This style of partnership was one of the things I had so admired in Lucia. Rather than serving as an assistant or trying to build up a joint brand, she remained an independent woman who was part of a collaboration. She shared: “We always put our friendship before business and we always have each others back. I tend to joke with it saying it is an open relationship, however it truly means we are free to pursue our own individual careers and coming together to work whenever we have the chance.”

Leading as a Woman

Lucia had no particular plan at first to dance as a leader, but one day when the guys were busy, she started dancing with a friend. “Before, PALOP men would always come to separate us as if we were dancing together only to get their attention or maybe they felt that it was their obligation to dance with us.”

Lucia doesn’t accept the argument that ladies who lead become heavier followers: “This is not entirely true and will not happen if there is a good understanding of body dynamics as a lead and as a follow, if you give your body time to adjust to each role and balance out the amount of leading and following. Of course our body will adjust to what we do the most: muscle memory will not lie. If for example someone does 80% leading and 20% following, their body will be a direct reflection of what they do the most. This goes not just to leading and following but also when we do different dance styles, or anything that requires movement. It takes a deeper awareness in order to change our body to fit a different motion.”

While Lucia did have support for dancing as a leader, she has also faced a lot of criticism. She offered an example related to gender presentation. “Women would often say that I looked too masculine when I led and men would wonder if I am gay because of my posture when I lead. For me kizomba and semba are dances focused on gender, so the positioning of the body is a reflection of that. I lead with a masculine feel because for me it is the only way to do it, plus I do not want my male students to have feminine traits when they lead, nor my female students to have male traits when they follow, unless they are doing it on purpose as a playful element. I have this video with Riquita that was shared a lot in Angola and the kind of comments are very interesting, from people surprised with the level of dancing, some tagging their friends, to also having a lot of sexist remarks due to the fact that it is two women dancing and in a more playful manner. In Angola when women dance together it is more contained.”

Lucia hasn’t let the criticism bother her, though: in fact, she sees it as an opportunity for activism. “As an artist these comments do not bother me because I do want to be able to play, transform myself and that also includes interpreting different roles in dance. I believe these comments also stopped bothering other artists in the same position and sooner or later nobody cares and the comments stop. However it makes me consider how we discriminate against each other based on sexual preferences, gender, skin color, religion, etc. Mostly I feel as human beings we fear anything that is different and as artists we can be a portal towards acceptance through our dance if we choose to do so.”

Understanding Kizomba

Lucia is well known for being hired at festivals that focus on kizomba, semba, and the cultures around them. She shared, “Understand the cultural elements connected to the music and you will see how the dance starts making sense. Every element in kizomba has a reason to exist.

“For me the only evolution in kizomba is seeing how different the old generations (the kotas) dance in comparison with the new generations. If we are talking about dance fusions and urban kiz I do not consider this an evolution but rather a detachment from kizomba, a branching out into something else. I do not think it has to be controversial as long as there is respect, we understand one another and call things by their own names.”

Advice for Women

Lucia is a strong advocate for women in the kizomba world and shares my frustration with the imbalance present in our scene. “Women are often overlooked in classes but just having a female teacher or assistant present would not change this aspect unless she invests in her own progress and is able to observe the class, correct and voice the required elements and technique in terms of following and dancing.”

Lucia teaches regular partnered classes as well as teacher training programs in which “both male and female students are seen as neutral elements of the classes and able to convey knowledge in both leading and following.”

However, the project that caught my attention and is closest to her heart is her Teacher’s Training for Women. “In this course you still have the same element of having a teacher as a neutral element in class, adaptable and understanding both dynamics of leading or following, however it goes further out into becoming an empowering though knowledge training for women, as well as a leadership program in the sense of giving women more tools to be leaders and role models in their local communities. The way women are often treated in Kizomba lacks often the respect it should be given (this goes both for instructors as well as students) therefore it is my hope that these kinds of courses can help bring more balance to our dance scene.”

As this very interview series has tried to illustrate, leadership can mean a lot of different things. Lucia explained her view: “For me the way I see leadership goes way beyond leading a dance partner. I believe that it’s important that women are not afraid to step up as leaders of their communities. Throughout history we have always had a role of nurturers of our families and of our communities. I feel that if we are able to tap into this sense of giving we can build healthy and well balanced Kizomba communities.”

I’ll end here with Lucia’s advice for building a solid reputation: “work hard, be persistent, love your craft, strive to be better each day, do not turn your back on big challenges, work with different people and build solid interactions, share knowledge, listen to good advice, use criticism as a platform towards self-improvement, be true to yourself, have character and have your words match your actions.”

Honestly, that’s just good advice for life in general! Regardless of what kind of role you are pursuing, these principles won’t lead you astray.

Follow Lucia on Facebook.