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.
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.
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