Why bother with Bachata?

Photo by Jason Haynes, LDC Staff Photographer
Post Views 9,071

I’m a salsero… but I dance Bachata too. It’s kind of like my “other dance”. You know, that thing I dance in between 4 or 5 salsas in a row. Something slower and more relaxed. Something for a change of pace to help break up a night of high energy salsa dancing. I think a lot of people look at it like that.

Now, some people dance kizomba or zouk as their “other dance” and that’s cool too. Of course, they’re different dances but they share some of the “common differences” that distinguish bachata from salsa. For the moment, however, I’m sticking with bachata (how mainstream).

The only thing is, I don’t want bachata to be my “other” dance.

It's hard to deny that bachata is a stunningly beautiful and sensual dance

It’s hard to deny that bachata is a stunningly beautiful and sensual dance

For the longest time (almost as long as I’ve been dancing salsa) bachata has been my side dance, the Robin to salsa’s Batman, the biscuit to salsa’s tea, the popcorn to salsa’s movie… so to speak. What I mean is, I used to go out to dance “salsa” and it didn’t really bother me if I didn’t get to dance something else during the night. Sure, I always considered it a perk if I got to dance a slower, more sensual dance… as long as it was sandwiched in between a hefty hunk of rumba, guanguanco, son or mambo.

I feel differently about things now and a lot of that has to do with moving to Barcelona, Spain. Many of you probably already know that “Sensual Bachata” is hugely popular in Spain and that it’s greatly due to amazing couples such as Daniel & Desiree or Korke & Judith. Don’t get me wrong, I had seen people dancing bachata beautifully before I moved to Spain but when I did get here I saw it in a very different light.

Basically I finally understood what “Sensual Bachata” actually was and how it should look when it’s danced naturally i.e. not in some highly polished choreography created just for a show. To give you an idea of how popular Bachata is here, in Barcelona, for example it’s quite normal for a salsa venue to have a separate bachata/kizomba room which is something you would normally only encounter at a dance congress. In reality you could just spend the whole night in a haze of body rolls and interlocked legs (which many people actually do) if you were so inclined.

So why should you care?
What does it matter if some other people are getting their kicks from bachata? I just want to dance salsa…

If you’ve read any of my articles over on The Dancing Irishman you’ll know that I’m big into nutrition and exercise and I’ve written quite a few times about how I’m a firm believer that any physical endeavor will have benefits for others. Be it a martial artist learning dance or a gymnast learning surfing, learning new movement patterns helps improve our balance and proprioception.

Proprio…what now?
Proprioception is basically the sense which allows you to know where parts of the body are in relation to one another and how much force each part exerts when performing movements. From that brief definition it should be pretty obvious that proprioception is an ability absolutely essential to dance. It is and this is where you can start thinking of bachata as something more than just your “other dance”. This is why learning new styles of dance can help with your performance in others.

Towards a more complete dancer
The importance of dances like bachata or kizomba to your ability as a salsero stems from the difference in the leads employed. Putting things simply, the lead in salsa tends to be much more solid, definite and almost angular whereas that of bachata is much softer, more subtle and flowing. (Before some people jump down my throat for making that statement let me cover my a$$ by saying that I’m aware it’s a gross over generalization but it’s serving as way to simplify a concept. I am a fan of a subtle, light lead in salsa and I’m aware that many moves in bachata need to be performed forcefully to work).

Now that that’s out of the way… story time! Last summer I started taking dance classes again after an education-induced sabbatical from dance. However, I decided to do something I’d never done before and just signed up for bachata classes. Why? Well I wanted to focus on something other than salsa for a while, to give myself a new challenge and learn new skills… and that’s exactly what’s happening at the moment.

Now, I’m not going to say that bachata has completely revolutionized my salsa but I have noticed changes in my dancing in general that I’m very happy with and you should expect similar results yourself. To lead well in bachata, you need to become more familiar with how the body moves and flows naturally and how you can manipulate it while maintain the beautiful flow that is sensual bachata. Leading a body roll, big or small, guide a neck twirl and flick, leading from exotically slow into exotically fast movements… these are all skills that require lots of thoughtful and definite body contact in order to pull them off. Mastering those skills from bachata, due to their subtlety, makes your lead in salsa a touch easier and softer without being weak.

Another benefit I’ve found from dancing more bachata is that it has helped with my musicality. I have always found it easier to match the tempo of my movement with bachata music and dancing it more frequently, like any skill, has improved it a great deal. This is probably due to the slower rhythm of bachata music which gives dancers a little more time to “think on their feet” and employ their musicality. I feel that I now react better to changes in music, especially allowing it to control the movement that my body produces in response.

On top of all this, the type of body movement that bachata teaches is simply beautiful. Some detractors may say that there is a little over-relying on body rolls etc. but I feel that bachata offers much more than just body rolls when it comes to beautiful motions. Those kinds of movement can be translated to other styles of dance to make them look stunning. All in all, dancing bachata clearly has a lot to offer to anyone who wants to dance well, be it bachata itself or any other style of dance. On the other side, learning something as different as hip-hop could even help improve your bachata. As I said before, the skills learned in one are transferable to others.

More than a “side dance”
I started this article hoping to show that bachata is more than the side dance that many would consider it to be in the salsa-dominated latin dance world of today. Unfortunately I tried to show that by explaining how improving your bachata can improve your salsa. However, that just relegates bachata to the role of side-kick or assistance dance again. In reality, it’s much more than that and deserves respect in it’s own right as something more than capable of standing alone (as can be seen from the surge in bachata-centered events and congresses in recent years). If the article itself doesn’t convince you then just check out the videos I’ve added above.

To those of you who haven’t given bachata the credit it deserves as a stand-alone dance, try dedicating a few months to better your skills in it. At the very least you’ll improve as a dancer in general and you might even end up discovering a new favorite dance.

Keep dancing folks

 

 

27 Comments

  • Cristabel Ruiz says:

    I Wish to Dance Someone Professional Dancer Dance with me Bachata I know the Knowledge of Bachata y very sexual Dance I like it

  • David says:

    Before reading it I was going to complain about the article, since I’m the kind of guy who only goes to only bachata parties, but after reading it I have to say that you did a great job 🙂

    IMO, the problem with sensual bachata is that is a relatively new dance and still there aren’t many good teachers.
    Even here in Barcelona, bachata dancers cannot be compared to the ones from the south of Spain, where sensual bachata was made, so in the rest of the world the difference is even greater.
    The mentality is also a bit different, people outside Spain are bit more cautious of dancing with someone they don’t know, probably because most guys don’t know how to dance and are only trying to get close with the girls, which can be uncomfortable for them, as opposed to salsa, which is done in a more open and ‘safe’ position.

    But all of this is slowly changing due to the popularity of the dance and the new artists, maybe there will be a time where people will start learning bachata before salsa, like they do in Cádiz or Sevilla. We can only hope.

  • April Chaney says:

    A wonderful article! I really enjoy bachata as its so easy to pick up as a beginner. Sadly I have a really hard time with The body rolls and hip movements, I think I’m just not loose enough. So any pointer for making those movements more natural would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi April, glad to hear you liked the article. In my experience, freeing up your movements for body-rolls and such is simply a question of practice, ignoring embarrassment and time. I often see people have difficult with flowing movements due to feeling embarrassment while doing them in front of others. To get over that, practicing the movements in front of a mirror at home is one of the best options (with proper instruction, of course). Keep at it and allow yourself to relax into the movement. It will start to look natural as soon as you feel comfortable doing it.

  • Fred says:

    I have a question. How is bachata danced in, say, the Dominican Republic where it originates? It seems to me that it may be a bit misunderstood, especially in the west. Somewhat the same thing has perhaps happened with Kizomba. And really, many of the Latin dances, it seems. Everything seems to get perhaps a bit too sexualized and sensualized, to where some may find it uncomfortable or perhaps even unseemly.
    I wonder whether there’s a problem with some of these dances, whether they’ve been misrepresented or misappropriated.
    I’ve seen events where promoters say to people that it will not be a “dirty” form of bachata or kizomba etc, and it makes one wonder what are these dances really supposed to look like especially where they’re from, say, the DR for bachata.
    I personally have absolutely no problem with a super sensual dance, I love it and as a regular dancer have many friends who would be comfortable with such dancing. However, I usually try not to get too “dirty” with it, if one may.
    I just wonder whether somebody would educate us about these dances, their techniques and whether or not they’re perhaps getting a bit too sexualized, say, for commercial purposes, or whether, indeed, they’re in fact “dirty” dances.

    • Jason Haynes says:

      Hi Fred,

      Check out this article http://latindancecommunity.com/roots-of-bachata-dance/.

      There is a video at the very end of the article that breaks down the basic bachata step that is danced in the DR. The video is done by Adam Taub. He is one of the foremost historians in the world on Bachata music and dance. I think you’ll enjoy it :),

    • David says:

      If you danced sensual bachata you would realize it’s not sexual in any way, neither is kizomba, and they actually are very technical dances.

      What people don’t understand is that dance, like music, evolve with time, so naturally there can appear new styles, specially if the music changes too. Sensual bachata, for example, didn’t start until singers like Prince Royce and Romeo Santos were starting to become popular, whose songs are more pop rather than traditional style.

      Implying that sensual bachata is not ‘real’ bachata would be really close minded, as one could argue that bachata is not really Dominican, seeing that the language of the songs and the guitar are Spanish in origin. The key is evolution.

      • Hi David,
        Thanks for the great comment. I agree that people need to understand that dances do indeed evolve; it’s a natural process.
        This article has received a bit of offsite criticism (mostly from people who just took offense to the title and didn’t actually read the article) centering mostly on how sensual bachata (which I focus on here) is not “real bachata”. Yes, it is different from traditional Dominican bachata but does that make it worse (or better)? Absolutely not. Some people just like to complain and discriminate…. a lot.

      • Slava P says:

        Bwahaha, way to gloss over the huge problem of authenticity here. It’s perhaps an evolution on bachata it and has its own merits in that way, but it’s not “real bachata.” Your language analysis is a bit faulty because at some point these things are no longer mutually intelligible and that’s how Latin became Spanish/Italian/French/etc. If this keeps up, “real bachata” will become a dead language replaced by the western standard and its even more distance form Bachata sensual.

        If you prefer to learn the westernized version (for whatever reason) that’s fine, my problem is that beginners didn’t know when they were learning westernized bachata when the whole bachata thing started and they don’t really know that sensual is even further removed from “real bachata”. They simply have no clue what “real bachata” is when they learn it. If they knew, maybe they’d opt for bachata Dominicana, but they’re not given that choice and that’s the sad part in all of this. It’s about selling a product more than it is about teaching/learning a social dance. I don’t see this as an improvement by any means.

  • Slava P says:

    Richie, I’m sorry to say this, but I couldn’t take this article seriously after you said you danced nights filled with “rumba, guanguanco, son or mambo.” You dance slot salsa, and the amount of any of those in what you do is somewhere between 0 and 1%. Sure it sounds nice for salseros to say this because musicians will say it in those songs and have a rumba/son clave buried in the beat. But just because a small section of a song has guanguanco clave does not mean you’re dancing guanguanco. Go to Cuba and spend a year learning all of these dances (all still commonly danced with the exception of mambo) and stop making such lofty claims.

    This directly relates to your claims of bachata sensual’s merits. Maybe the true reason bachata was your B dance and felt flat was because you never bothered to learn real Dominican bachata? Instead, now you’re trying to pimp an improvement without having learned the original. Therein lies the problem, you keep promoting ideas without having the knowledge of what you’re promoting and where it comes from.

    Please educate yourself before on the dances you’re talking about before you write articles on them.

    • Hi Slava, How are you? Have we met before? Have we danced in the same room before? I can’t for the life of me ever remember having met you for you to know me so well as you claim. It’s a pity because you sound like such an awesome guy. You don’t sound anything like some one who can’t accept the existence of other styles of dance. That would be awful wouldn’t it, someone who doesn’t accept or even hates other dances just because they’re different from his style?… that kind of person would probably hate other people just for looking different or having different beliefs. It’s great that you don’t sound like the kind of person that looks down upon more recent styles of dance (or the people that dance them) as less valid than the original forms because that would be belittling the entire dance community that they’ve fostered.
      Anyway, it’s awesome that you’re nothing like that and seem to be such a friendly, non-reactionary, accepting human being. I hope we get to meet some day and enjoy a nice night of dancing of whatever styles we fancy 🙂 Have an awesome day Slava. I’m sending you a big hug all the way from Barcelona (it sounds like you need it).

      • Slava P says:

        Dance what you want, it’s none of my business. If you like it, you like it. If you like it, dance it! It’s really as simple as that.

        My problem with you starts when you try to speak with authority on issues you don’t understand. It’s problematic when people don’t bother to learn the history before they start teaching/preaching. If you’re believer in theory of 10,000 hours of practice don’t you think it’d be worthwhile to devote even 1% of that effort (100 hours) to learning the actual history of the dances and maybe their basics? Once you have done that, feel free to toss aside son, casino, bachata Dominicana and all of the traditional forms that you seek to improve upon. It’s only fair! But please first learn what you’re talking about.

        Now, maybe I was presuming and way off base… it’s definitely possible since I’ve not met you. You could be a linear dancer who happens to actually dance “rumba, guanguanco, son [and] mambo” and also happen to go to socials on the regular where these are danced, but somehow that seems unlikely. Am I wrong? If so, I’ll gladly admit it. If I’m right, all I ask is a little more research and dedication to erudition on the history and mechanics of the dances that you advocate.

        • You know I actually reread my article just to be sure of this and I can happily say that NOWHERE did I speak with any authority on anything. The line you referenced about the different styles of salsa music, was me giving my opinion of how I like to dance. My articles are my opinion and as such I’m entitled to write whatever way I like (especially when talking about my personal tastes).
          The fact that you took some sort of offense based on your presumption (and yes, it was a presumption) is totally your problem. The article had absolutely nothing to do with dance history nor did the article imply (in any way, shape or form) that one style of bachata was better than another. As you admitted in your previous comments the simple mention of some dance styles (at the very start of the article) set you off and most likely from that moment you had decided that you were going get all high and mighty about how nobody these days knows nothing about the traditional dances. Simply mentioning their names ticked you off.
          The article was about one thing, learning to enjoy different dance styles and how they can mutually benefit your other dances. You, however, were too infuriated by the mention of the “sacred rhythms” to even notice that.
          I’ll leave you with the only sensible thing you’ve said amongst your high and mighty comments “If you like it, dance it! It’s really as simple as that.” Good advice.
          Oh and just for good measure, I’m sending you another, even bigger hug… and you know what a little kiss on the cheek and friendly pat on the tush. Have a good one Slava… and keep dancing what you like 😉

  • Ron says:

    I enjoy reading these discussion out of curiosity. Let’s just say this discussion has been visited and revisited ad nauseum. “Sensual” (or Modern, Sexual, Dirty) bachata has little resemblance to bachata authentica/tradicional or however one wants to label it. Imho it’s not evolution but more like revolution and I find it a bit grinding (sorry no reference to the traditional dance) that the word “bachata” (and I trust both of you know the meaning of the word) is used to categorize both dances. I have been to the DR more than a few times to enjoy the music, dance and associated culture. I’m also sure you both know that bachata has been adopted as a national dance/music that represents the Dominican Republic. Let’s face it – sensual bachata is a dance with sensual and sexual overtones danced to a variety of music – R&B, etc. where songs may have 4/4 timing and sometimes even include traditional instruments, though as the departure continues, these also become less and less represented. Early Romeo/Aventura (and I have seen both live), etc. actually did utilize rhythms and instruments of more traditional bachata music and from there both the music and dance morphed into the sensual/sexual bachata of the modern era. Traditional (sensible bachata – my words) bachata remains much the same over the last 30 years having evolved (not revolutionary) from bolero, son with some other influences. The basic 5 instruments remain, to which at times other instruments are added, but the root 5 instruments remain the same. At some point the modern forms of bachata music departed far enough that it is hard to call it bachata today. Personally (after a lot or studying, reading, listening and dancing), I find using the word “bachata” to describe the modern dances is an inappropriate appropriation of the term. Imho someone needs to come up with a new name for the dance to separate them so that people who are now learning can call it a specific label and bachata can remain being bachata about which they might be curious. It’s the same reasoning that when bolero/son morphed into bachata the term was changed. They do not use the term “son” or “bolero” to describe the music or the dance when someone is dancing to Antony Santos Voy Pa’lla and for the same reason sensual/sexual/modern/dirty bachata should not use the term “bachata.” Perhaps this is a more logical approach. Oh and btw – I don’t need any hugs if you disagree with me – a simple “I respectfully disagree” will do. 🙂

    • No hugs for you Ron 🙂 . I don’t want to agree or disagree with you on anything as this has absolutely nothing to do with my article. Like I already mentioned, in the article I’m not talking about the roots, origins, evolution, misappropriation nor nomenclature of bachata… at all. I’m just saying it’s a good idea to dance different styles.

      • Ron says:

        True Richie and thanks for the non-hugs ! 🙂 The comments did get to the sidetrack for sure so my comment was on comments and not the article per se – I respect that and appreciate that your article and the points it makes. It was good (y) – kudos.

    • David says:

      Music always comes before dance.

      Is Prince Royce, Romeo santos, JR, Kewin Cosmos, Jean, bachata to you? They are defined as bachata, even if they have pop elements, but in no way they sound like traditional bachata.

      If the answer is yes, then it shouldnt surprise you that sensual bachata is called bachata, after all, the dance comes after the music. Sensual bachata couldn’t exist if bachata music didn’t evolve because you can’t do sensual with traditional music.

      Another thing is that you don’t like sensual bachata because it’s different from traditional, and you haven’t even bothered to try to learn it (If you did, you would know that is not grindy or sexual in any kind of way and is actually very technical ).

  • Carlos Rufino says:

    ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. you like bachata how dance in spain, well after spain robbed Dr of our gold now they are attempting to rob out dance to. for your info battata is not bachata and what they dance there is pure garbage. trash, nothing more than trash my friend, they dance sensual(trashy) cause they cant dance like real people simple as that.

  • Elwood Blues says:

    Dance is an art form, and has its beauty when one stops being a stickler on what “correct _______” is. I have a hard time in the Argentine Tango community because of the tango snobs, and I’d hate to see this happen in Bachata. The way I see it, you dance Bachata the best when you have the basics and technical details down cold. But then, you add your own flavor to it: your interpretation to the music, your moves in the dance, your personality. Attempting to dance and lead only the correct form of Bachata ruins the whole experience. And – extremely important – your dancing with your partner, a couple, the non-verbal communication in the lead-and-follow process; not making your partner do this certain move that you want, but dancing WITH your partner to make your two’s own five-minute creation of dancing beauty. That’s when it gets very enjoyable.

  • Way says:

    For all those disputing the “bachata sensual” issue, I recommend reading this article:

    http://zoukology.com/zouk-in-the-bachata-controversy/

  • Not a fan says:

    That’s great and all but Bachata still sucks. The music and the moves are completely corny and all they inspire me to do are to roll my eyes. The only body part I become aware of when I hear it is the rumbling in my stomach as I suppress a desire to vomit. Bodega music was much better when Celia Cruz and Tito Puente were still alive, just saying. Some music “of the people” is great. I don’t include Bachata in that statement. It is the musical equivalent of an eyesore. And by the way, when is the last time anyone won you over on the validity of music with a logical argument?

  • Rodolfo says:

    I don’t really like bachata sensual because I feel it takes away from the basics and connection from how I came to dance bachata years ago (not the DR version but the softer Euro version).

    It’s more about technique and less about connection if you ask me: it’s almost impossible to lead bachata sensual moves to someone that never learned them, whereas it’s perfectly possible to lead “regular” bachata moves to a good follower that doesn’t know the dance (e.g. only knows salsa).

    For me, the distance between the moves and the music is also often too big. It just doesn’t feel right… very big moves when the music doesn’t warrant for it (this is also a problem with Urban Kizz). This is also a reason why a bad DJ can ruin a party. Or a reason why I hate kizomba music that sounds like a 3 minute long intro.

    For some reason the big distance does feel like it makes sense when dancing zouk, but for bachata it’s totally not fitting. However, bachata sensual makes more sense the way people dance it in Spain. More playful, more passionate, less technique. But in northern/western Europe people just do the moves without “getting” them: without actually having a flirty element.

    They also make the most elaborate big moves while the music is really quiet. Quite a shame really and off-putting because people are trying to dance bachata sensual more and more at parties (NL, BE, DE).

    So please stay away from dancing bachata sensual unless you put your heart in it and really feel it. I know people are just trying and I shouldn’t judge that, but somehow it does feel like bachata sensual is ruining the scene in Europe right now (except for the southern part of Europe).

    Don’t want to be negative, but I’m wondering if I’m the only one that feels like this? Also if you have any tips or ideas how my view could be improved (I’m open to looking at this differently!) .. or how the scene should maybe change ideally, please let me know and reply to this comment!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *