Bachata Dance Styles
I am often asked by people to show them how Bachata dancing looks like and each time, I am unable to cope with this request because there is a vast amount of different Bachata styles.
Normally, music styles generate specific dance styles.
This is because people intend to interpret music with motions that fit best.
Bachata music already evolved into many different music styles up to now.
I will introduce different dance styles chronologically by appearance
(which are again connected to these different music styles itself).
This article deals with the core and origin of existence of these dance styles
- not with specific technical analysis which is only a part of a dance style.
If you want to learn dancing them technically, I recommend you going to festivals.
a) Bachata Traditional
Originating from Bolero, the basic step was danced in a square-like manner on 8 counts in only closed position.
With the evolution over time (but still in a romantic setting), people also started to dance in half-open and open positions. Playing with the dance, people also incorporated dance variations such as turns and footwork.
For Dominicans, there is not really a big difference in Bachata dancing as cultural construct. With the urge of reaching a broader audience for Bachata, also different minor Dominican Bachata styles evolved dealing with different moods and expression of these on the dance floor.
b) Bachata Dominicana
Whereas Dominicans only refer to it as "Bachata" since it is their music and their dance, in the outer world it is known as "Bachata Dominicana". A basic step is either still traditionally danced in a square or nowadays on a lateral line like in other countries (or a combination of both). Specific traits are a decent, relaxed, calm introvert dance style which lays focus on the feet (not particularly "footwork"). This can result in a harmonic connection between the musical instruments guira, bongo and guitar rhythms and the mobility of feet. By dancing Bachata "the Dominican way", footwork variations as well as figures like turns are dosed well unlike in Central American and European "overdosed" dance styles. The clear message with this folk dance is that you do not need complex figures to have a really enjoyable couple dance as long as a deep emotional connection to this kind of music is present.
Traditional Bachata music either deals with heart-breaking or romantic stories where looking "towards the ground" is actually not looking anywhere but shutting off your optical sense to feel inside yourself. Of course, with time, different kinds of Bachata music also evolved with its brother merengue: party touch music which results in stronger, faster extrovert dance moves and is also considered as original Dominican Bachata dancing.
Personally, I prefer traditional "landscape made" and romantic Dominican Bachata styles where I feel a deep emotional quality in contrast to "party Bachata" but I also like technically footwork-based Dominican Bachata with interpreting Guitar.
For me, "party Bachata" is a genre where Merengue and Reggaeton fits this purpose better for many reasons.
However, a good mix of different Bachatastyles is always the holy grail of DJing.
Please also note that this is the only kind of Bachata "style" that -by its culture- is danced between all kinds of people of all ages and no matter where or when - as long as there is music somewhere.
c) Bachata Fusion in Central America
With many Dominicans having strong connections to NYC in the U.S. and lots of latin people living in the U.S., dance schools there altered the square-movement to a lateral movement with a simple basic and added turns and dips from salsa and ballroom dance. This is what nowadays could be called as "Classic Bachata" in the Western World. A basic driving force was most likely the need of dance schools (not to mix with the performance of Ataca y la Alemana) to teach more figures in this kind of dance because they are not familiar with other concepts of dancing than social athletic dances. Where Dominican Bachata did not seem to offer enough variations, other dances were used as a source of inspiration - especially Salsa patterns. This kind of Bachata style was mainly aimed to be taught to younger generations but still addresses all kinds of people.
d) Bachata "Dominicana" in Europe / Central America
As mentioned, overdosing and concentration of positive emotions are common traits especially for people from rich Central American as well as European countries where wealth oozes out of every pore. Everything has to be exceptional and thrilling to feel anything anymore - having lost the idea of quality in decency and modesty when you do not own much. Having a look at how Dominicans dance from an outer "dance school perspective", it seems as they concentrate on footwork. That is why people took that technical detail and made it to a principle "how to dance Bachata the Dominican way". Now, that is good news and bad news at the same time:
When musical people now use footwork, they can interpret music and make it visible.
When non-musical people use footwork, they only introduce noise into a dance.
That is why teaching footwork in a proper musical way (that is not only technically but also how to use it) is utmost important.
In addition, "footwork" does not equal "footwork". Some footwork can be lead in a couple, some footwork is simply freestyle, some footwork is decorating the basic step due to musical variations. Not each footwork pattern is connected to a guitar interpretation.
In the mind of European Bachater@s, Dominican Bachata is just this very fast dry footwork-based style but as previously shown; as explained, this is not Dominican Bachata dancing - rather Europeans dancing to Dominican Bachata - which is simply different.
The clue with improvising Dominican-based Bachata is taking the best of both worlds:
- learn how to feel dominican bachata songs with your soul and body
- learn how to let music interpret through your feet as a single person
as well as in a couple dance.
e1) Bachata Urbana/Moderna
The notions Bachata Urbana and Bachata Moderna are not well defined and show a gradual transition. Again originating from new Bachata music styles, elements from hip hop, dance hall, contemporary as well as many other popular dance styles are used similar to Bachata Fusion some time before. The first Urban Bachata styles were probably introduced in the U.S. with parties mixed with Salsa and the rise of Urban Bachata Bands.
Nowadays when regular dance teachers merge figures taken from various other styles or do not put effort into how to name their specific dance class, it is most likely one of these two notions.
The list of external sources is practically endless where again, there can be well matching merges but most merged dances are bad dances in Bachata -why ist that so?
Firstly, the most basic element in Bachata is still a couple dance in a romantic setting, an interaction between two people. When music becomes too "independent" of this interaction setting, it can still be danced but there is no need to dance it in a couple.
That is why there still needs to be a tension in the couple: if it is not romance, it has to be others like sex, hate, dance competition between the partners, ...
Secondly, other emotions need a whole different setting of interpretation and understanding of feelings. There again, different emotions and artistic basics are way more demanding. Simply putting dance patterns over music that do not fit do hinder bachata dancing. Even in my examples here which are already a high level of interpretation, the contrast between strong edgy music and soft sensual moves are clearly visible.
The big chance, however, is that Bachata can be extended to even other moods and techniques of totally different music if adapted properly. Therefore, Bachata Urbana and Moderna are very demanding Bachata Dance styles. There are very few Urban Bachata teachers and even fewer good ones due to that reason.
Strictly spoken, Bachatango also belongs to Bachata Moderna. I will have a separate view because the background is a different one compared to other Urban and Modern Bachata styles. Bachata and Tango Argentino have a similar historical as well as technical background but differ in dance mood. Both stem from poverty and bitterness in their own countries and originate from African and Latin influences. Both follow a leading-following principle with free music interpretation and have a similar timing. By merging them, one creates a Bachata dance that goes more in an artistic direction with decorated elegant movements from Tango. With a more serious and focused setting of Tango and a corresponding style, Tango also basically contradicts the natural simplicity of Bachata. Maybe this as well as a lack of good technical teaching is the reason why Bachatango never really made it far in social dancing. People love single workshops but I have never met a couple that dances Bachatango extensively.
e3) Bachata Sensual / "Bachazouk"
The - by far - most popular Bachata dance style nowadays in Europe is Bachata Sensual, also strictly spoken belonging to Bachata Moderna. The majority of Bachata dance teachers around Europe teach this style either primarily or exclusively. Originating from Cadiz in Spain, dancers mix Bachata basics with basic body movement elements similar to Zouk, Contemporary Dance, Salsa and Hip Hop and make them danceable and directly leadable in a couple.
This style is especially popular with younger couples in European countries that enjoy a dance where you can closely feel your partner and at the same time play with music in an aesthetic way. That is also the reason why Bachata Sensual is an important pillar of Bachata styles to get young people into couple dancing - which is not as popular as it could and should be.
There are countless disputes if Bachata Sensual is only a bad copy of Zouk or can be considered as Bachata dance at all. For many people, here, to notion "Zouk" does not only stand for the optical part of dance elements but also for "free interpretation" in a less restricted dance music pattern. So to say "Is this still allowed in Bachata?"
My answer to if Bachata Sensual is still Bachata begins with another question:
How does Bachata Sensual alter Bachata Dancing?
Technically, Bachata Sensual is a mix of a Bachata Moderna Basics as construct with Zouk body movement and Contemporary elements. While leading the body, there are no basic Bachata steps or only necessary steps (e.g. to shift weight)
- so to say not much left of Bachata dancing as a construct.
Emotionally, with Bachata Sensual, the setting matches very well a romantic, introvert dance style like in Dominican Bachata, a clear connection between the three actors: leader, follower and music. However, the expression is simply more voluminous compared to Dominican Bachata (also compare Zouk with Kizomba, both introvert musical settings with a different expression strength).
Personally, I think these dance styles are already critical from a Bachata definition point of view but respect the idea, musicality and couple interaction of Bachata.
The major problem with this style is that people connect big movements with an extrovert setting like in Salsa and why people are attracted to this style that do not fit the soul of Bachata. Dance contests in Bachata are per se a contradiction - this is also valid for the Dominican Republic! Nevertheless, they are necessary to promote Bachata as a dance and strengthen its position towards other dances in a commercial dance scene.
My intention is not to blame extrovert dances (as I myself really love Bachata Urbana as an extrovert Bachata style) but to show the difference in what the core of Bachata means and what Bachata Dance Styles have to fulfil to be a worthy variation of Bachata.
Teaching different Dance Styles
Depending on individual teachers, their heritage and their perception of music,
there are different reasons to teach a dance style.
I will give reasons and equivalent dance styles which teachers could prefer.
- the practical one: On dance parties, everybody dances it like this standardized system and you have to adapt to this system: "get you going".
Teaching: A mix of Bachata Fusion and Bachata Moderna.
- the cultural one: "Where I come from and where this music style comes from, it is danced like this" often named as "authentic" or "traditional" where a clear border between Traditional, Authentic and Modern is never agreed on.
Teaching: Modern Basics and Bachata Dominicana with a mix of European Bachata Dominicana
- the optical one: "That moves look sexy, elegant, meaningful, .... I want to dance like that." This is only an dance-aesthetic point of view, unfortunately not yet connected to music at all at this stage of thinking.
Teaching: Bachata Moderna and Bachata Sensual or pure Bachata Sensual (which arises as a problem)
- the artistic one: As a professional dancer, music-feeling-technique are strongly connected and people love to connect these three elements.
Teaching: Not restricted to a style. Can be used in all styles.
There are many ways to express music based on these reasons, but there are clearly better ones and worse ones.
The best way to understand what is important to teach and what is not is to think about what is necessary to execute a move which will make most sense.
Conclusion: Which Bachata Style is my Dance Style?
The real deal is not a self-centered one:
"This is my Bachata style! I want to be like this!" Rather, a music-serving one
"Can I interpret this Bachata style the way I am?"
Our character structures are predestined for certain styles due to our development in life. If my character does not match a style, I will most probably not be good in it. However, if I really want to learn a style that does not fit my character, I need to learn the feeling for that style, first. P.S.: I'm the Zombie :D
"dance your prefered style"
- true but one can also see: only technically and emotionally educated people
fit their prefered Bachata style well
The Birth of Bachata Dance Styles:
black: Roots of Music
red: Path of Dance Style Development
green: Distribution of Dance Styles
throughout America and Europe
Bachata "Dominicana" in Spain:
Musical Footwork 2015 /
Ronald y Alba
Bachata Sensal Workshop
in Spain / Korke y Judith
The origin of Bachata Dance / Adam Taub
Salsa-inspired Bachata Fusion made in USA 1998 /
Ataca y la Alemana
Bolero-inspired Traditional Bachata Step
Modern Bachata Fusion Step
made in Norway / Gatica og Keskia
Bachatango performance EmiSabrina
Dance on Fire
Footwork does not equal Footwork
explained in the U.S. 2013 / Carlos Cinta
Couple dancing Bachata
in the Dominican Republic
Bachata Urbana Dance Workshop
in Spain 2016 / Gregory y Jessica
"Artistic Bachata Sensual" performance
in Paris / Daniel y Désirée
Salsa Cabaret World Champions /
Ricardo y Karen
Bachata Urbana Dance Class
in the U.S. 2011 / Jorge&Serena
Bachata Urbana / Salsa Performance
made in California / U.S. 2009
Get you going
on the Dancefloor
What about you?
Which Bachata Style is your Style? ;)