There are few bachata dancers as well-known and admired as ATACA y La Alemana, or Jorge Burgos and Tanja Kensinger.
From their first choreography, which made shock waves back in 2008 (and has now collected just under 1,000,000 views on YouTube), they have become known for their characteristic musicality, footwork, and playfully affectionate and sensual connection.
They have inspired countless dancers, through their academy (Island Touch Dance Academy, run with business partner El Tiguere del Mambo); their hundreds of festival appearances and workshops; their worldwide network of performance teams; and their digital presence, which includes online classes and footwork challenges.
At TOP Bachata Festival in Lloret de Mar, Spain, we had the chance to sit down with them and ask them a few questions about social dancing. Here’s what was discussed.
Note: These answers have been lightly edited for clarity.
What for you is the key to a great social dance?
La Alemana: For me, personally, I feel like a great social dance is really about connection and having fun. Actually, and I’ve said this plenty of times, some of my favourite social dances are with beginner dancers because they’re not too worried. I mean, some are, but mostly they’re not too worried about impressing with cool new tricks and moves to [the point] where I’m challenged and I can’t enjoy the song.
So for me, personally, I like dancing with beginners because they tend to do more basics and I can enjoy the song a little bit more, but they’re also a lot more fun and they’re smiling. So, for me to have a good social dance, regardless of the level, it’s the connection and just having fun.
ATACA: Yeah, I think for me it’s always been more, you know, do what the song tells you to do, right? I see a lot of dances sometimes where they’re just doing moves together. But what’s happening is you’re completely missing the beauty of the song and the lyrics and the breaks.
So, I think the key component for me has always been, whatever song I’m dancing to, to try and connect to it. Let her, you know, obviously feel beautiful; have a good time; smile… At the same time, connect to the music, whether it be hits, giving her an opportunity to style.
So, that’s what I really focus on. It’s number one, her: I want her to have an amazing time. I want her to feel beautiful. And then two, I want to connect to the music.
ATACA y La Alemana perform. Credit: Island Touch Dance Academy, MABBO, Bachatu
You have a distinctive style, with lots of musicality, footwork, and connection. How would you advise people to develop their own style?
La Alemana: I think one, it takes time. We didn’t dance like this, the way that we do now [at first]. We’ve been doing this for so long. It takes practice to feel comfortable. I think the confidence comes in and the creating your own style happens when you’re confident.
So as long as you’re taking classes and you’re practising and you’re constantly trying to improve your craft, then the confidence comes in and now you can start adding your own style.
There’s some people that will do it naturally and they’re just like, “I don’t care what I look like.” They just go in and that’s their style. But in general, I feel like the style comes when you’re comfortable with what you’re trying to execute and not trying to look like anybody else.
And that’s the problem: a lot of students will come to class or they watch a lot of YouTube videos and they want to look exactly like ATACA or they want to look exactly like this other dancer, when you’re not that same person so it’s not your style. That’s somebody else’s style that you just tried to steal.
So, it’s making sure you’re comfortable in what you’re doing, but adding your own personality into it once you’re comfortable.
ATACA: Yeah, because once you’re comfortable in the dance, your personality comes naturally. When you’re not comfortable with the dance, you’re stuck. You’re so focused on the dance, so the natural you can’t come out.
So I agree. I think the first thing is: walk into every social dance and get to the point where you’re like, “I’m a badass. I’m good. I’m confident. I’m here.” Because at that point, you don’t have to think about the moves. They just come out naturally. And then, now comes a playfulness. Now comes the flirtiness and all that stuff.
And you know, people have to also understand too, you know, I could be flirty but that doesn’t mean I’m also trying to get into your pants, right? It’s just, you know, I know that when girls dance with me, they want me to dance with them like I dance with [La Alemana].
Certain things I can’t do with girls that I could do with her. So, when I’m social dancing and I kiss her, I can’t do that with someone else. But there’s definitely still another vibe that I can still provide them to make them feel like, “Wow, he is really giving me, you know, a very similar feeling to when he dances with Tanja.”
Now obviously, with her and I, we’ve been together now for 11 years so that’s just all natural. We obviously enjoy dancing together. We’re very playful, we’re very much in love. So obviously, we’re very flirty and touchy-feely.
La Alemana: I think that also translates in the dance. It just depends on what kind of person you are. If you’re a super introvert, then chances are you’re not going to be goofy in your dance. You’re probably going to be a little bit more reserved and that’s okay. You don’t have to be out there and, like, crazy.
Like, for example, Desirée Godsell: she’s a very goofy and fun person. So, that comes out in her dance. There’s other people… I’m somewhat reserved but I can also be fun and I have my moments. Sometimes, I’ll be very feminine and reserved and sometimes I’ll just go crazy. So, it’s just allowing your own personality to come through and that’s where your style comes from. It’s from your personality and you don’t share the same personality with everybody else.
ATACA: And I’m super smiley, so I’m constantly smiling during the dance. Sometimes, it’s a little bit too much. Some of the girls are like, “Wow, you smile a lot”. I’m like, “Sorry, I’m just having a good time.”
ATACA y La Alemana social dancing. Credit: Island Touch Dance Academy, MABBO
What’s your biggest tip for developing as a dancer?
La Alemana: In general, classes. It’s the age of the internet and a lot of people think they can learn to be a professional online and, although maybe you can get some education online, it’s always best to do something in person.
Go to the workshops, take privates with instructors. The professionals are masters in their craft and can then tell you what you might be doing wrong, as opposed to you being at home by yourself learning off of YouTube. You don’t know that maybe you’re stepping on the wrong foot or your weight’s wrong or something’s different, your technique’s off, and doing that in person with an instructor who, one, you respect but that’s also just respected in general, a master in their craft – that’s where you need to learn from.
That’s what I think: to become a better dancer, you have to take the classes and you have to practice. You can’t become a professional with no practice.
ATACA: Yeah, you just got to put in the time. You have to put in those those 10,000 hours to become that master that you want to be. You know, obviously, there’s no shortcuts to success. So you have to obviously put in the time: social dance, take classes, really immerse yourself into every possible component that helps you become the dancer you want to be.
And don’t be afraid to put yourself in uncomfortable situations, especially at the beginning. You know, as a male leader, you don’t want to ask someone to dance because you’re not really comfortable. You’ve got to break that barrier. Do new things, like with the BachataNama competition here. There’s a lot of people that don’t feel comfortable with footwork, but you got to break that barrier because, if you don’t start somewhere, then how’re you going to get there, right?
So, I think that’s always been: put in the time and –
Alemana: Be courageous. Take a chance.
ATACA y La Alemana perform. Credit: Island Touch Dance Academy, MABBO
What would you like to see more of on the social dance floor?
ATACA: To be honest, I’d love to see more connection to the music. You know, I feel like… the word is adaptability. I would like to see more adaptability on the dance floor. For instance, I feel that people have this certain music that they like and they stick to that.
You know, my goal is… I just want to continue seeing dancers that have styles that are adaptable to all genres of bachata music, not just one, to where if traditional music comes on, they don’t feel like they could dance to traditional music. I’d like to see more of people being able to adapt to any song that’s played but still be them. I’d like to see that.
And I’d just like to see more connection to the music. I feel, you know, that there are people who have been dancing bachata for a really long time and don’t even know what la segunda is, which is a key instrument.
And so, you know, study their instruments and I like to see people be playful and… I just literally want to watch someone and be like, I understand what they’re doing. Or, at least, I understand what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to… here, he’s nice and slow, I get it. Because of how the music sounds, they’ll [dance] slow. That’s what I would like to see more: adaptability and connection to the music.
La Alemana: Yeah. I agree. I’m probably just speaking from a professional standpoint, just [what I’m] noticing at the socials is just spatial awareness. Because it does tend to get a little bit out of control and I get it. Us as beginner dancers, we we were at fault for this as well. We’re so focused on either impressing our partner or making a show that sometimes you forget there’s other people on the dance floor with you.
So I think it’s very important for both the lead and the follow to be aware of space, because I’ve been hit in the face by styling. I personally, when I first started, I hit people in the face and that’s how I learned. I learned the hard way and I’m trying to keep people from having to learn the same way that I did. It’s making sure that you’re aware of your spacing.
But I do agree as far as just musicality, enjoying it… It’s a social dance and it’s a social dance floor. So let’s keep it social as opposed to showy.
If you want to do a show, do it on stage. Become a professional and do it, you know, for money or whatever… but on the social dance, it should just be social. We should all have fun.
Nobody should feel less than or anything like that, which sometimes I see. Mostly the ladies, they get intimidated by the guy and I don’t like seeing that so we just we got to keep it nice and friendly, I think.
What would you say to people who feel intimidated by the idea of dancing with you or taking your classes?
ATACA: So I think we’re definitely in the world now where, one, you know, I feel when it comes to the followers, there comes a point where you have to really take charge of your own destiny, right?
If you’re going to sit back and wait for guys to ask you to dance, then you’re not going to put in the hours that you want. You know, girls have to be very proactive. They have to go and, if you see someone you want to dance with, ask.
So, I think we’ve broken that barrier now. New people coming in still haven’t really understood that that’s where we’re at, like guys sometimes don’t really get that you can ask everyone. So [dancers] need to be proactive and take initiative and think “if I want to dance with ATACA, then I’m going to go get him”. And that’s what I always tell people: when you see a circle, go get me. Don’t wait, because it’s not going to happen. Take initiative.
From a leader’s perspective, for me, it’s always been preparation. You know, the one thing that really helped me gain my confidence was, [before] I walked into a social, I would sit in my car and I would go over like a couple of turn patterns, watch videos, and I’d tell myself, “Okay, these are the three turn patterns I’m doing all night tonight.” And at least I walked in with a plan. If I don’t have a plan, my confidence is shot. And I would do that for like the first year. And then, at that point, those moves became second nature to me to where I broke that barrier
La Alemana: And I think, for the class, there’s some people, they’ll look at our classes in there, they’re a little bit more difficult, and you know, a lot of times we do intermediate-advanced classes. But our all-level types classes, they’re usually geared towards every level so if there’s a student that’s like, “oh, I don’t think I can”… you might not be able to do all of it, but you’ll at least get something out of it.
I think the fear is that people are afraid to look stupid nowadays, or just always, as human nature, but you can’t be afraid of that. You have to step out of your box and out of your comfort zone in order to get where you want to get to.
Obviously, be honest with yourself: if you’re a beginner dancer, you’ve only been dancing for a month, maybe you don’t want to go to an advanced class. That might not be the best idea. You don’t want to be delusional about where you are level-wise.
However, you should challenge yourself and the same thing goes with the dances and the social aspect. When you want to dance with an instructor, it’s about challenging yourself. Not necessarily about challenging yourself and making ATACA do all kinds of crazy moves, it’s not that. It’s just stepping out of your comfort zone because you now you’re dancing with an artist and that alone can be fearful for someone.
ATACA: I think also, too, you have to understand that some certain settings make you feel uncomfortable, right? Take privates. Take privates where you’re in a closed setting. You break that barrier of having to feel like people are watching you, when the reality is that’s a personal thing.
People have to understand that no one’s looking at you. They’re too busy about themselves. Nobody cares. They’re not looking at you. They’re dancing themselves. So once you really understand like, “wow, like no one’s really watching me, this is cool”, then you’ll start to gain that confidence.
But I’ve always told people, all the time, if you don’t feel comfortable with people around you, it’s okay. You’ll build into that. Start with private lessons, do some smaller group classes, and then eventually make your way into [regular classes]. Because if you don’t do that, then you’re always is going to be like, “There’s too many people, I don’t want to do that.”
Like, well, when are you going to do it? Because that is, obviously, the next step. You’re going to have to take these classes with all these people and go from there. But that’s always been a helpful step for them.
Is there anything you’d like to share with SDC’s readers about upcoming events or so on?
La Alemana: We do have an online class. It’s IslandTouchOnline.com So, like I mentioned before, you can learn some things online but obviously, also, do things in person. So, we do have online classes where we give material, whether it’s lady’s styling, footwork…
IslandTouchDance.com is our website where we sell merchandise or our calendar and you can email us.
ATACA: Yeah, I would definitely say to go on the website because also we provide music. We also have a component where people can be a part of our family. We have a franchise component where we have directors around the world that have their teams, but we just added our Virtual Touch. So basically, now you don’t have to necessarily be a part of an actual city or team. You can do from the comfort of your own home.
So pretty much you could join our virtual team and what that provides is basically, you learn these choreographies from your living room. So, that’s called Virtual Touch. You can get on the all the information on our website.
All of our social media is obviously, like our Instagram, you know, we’re very present in those things so obviously we just tell people to follow us, but I think the website honestly just has all our information, it has all of our handles, what we’re doing, our online classes, different schedules, all of our events.
Enjoyed this article? You might also like our Bachatapedia