Thursday, August 14, 2008

Gatta Learn Bachata

Bachata has been the perfect break song for me at the clubs. The song starts, I get some water and rest a few minutes before the salsa fires up again.

They don't play many bachatas, and by the time they do, I need a break anyway. I hadn't bothered learning much about it but I see a tipping point happening. Bachata is replacing cha-cha-cha as the number two Latin dance in many clubs.

I'll go on record as saying bachata will share equal time with cha-cha-cha, and probably take the number two spot in many scenes over the next year.

Many salsa dancers look down on bachata. Just like some jazz dancers look down on salsa dancers, believing it's easy and a street dance. The music is simpler, the bachata basic is not as complicated, and the hip/leg-kick stuff can look downright feminine if a lead is not careful. Not a look most guys want.

I have a salsero friend who hates bachata, mocks the little leg kick thing, and starts swearing about the DJ if they play more than one bachata ever hour or so. When they play two in row, he'll go swear directly to the DJ, asking them when the salsa is restarting.

He just hates it. But I think he's missing the point and swimming against the tide.

The ladies really like it overall (unless an unknown guy gets too close), and they can be lead through an interesting dance by any decent bachata lead. Most guys can be "decent" in far less time than salsa, and like it or not, it's becoming more popular each day.

Edie the Salsa Freak and Jorge Dancing Bachata

Rather than fight the trend, I'm going to work it and I recommend you do the same. At the summer Salsa Mambo Festival, the bachata classes were very popular, and when they played bachata tunes during social dancing, the floor was 70-80% as full as the salsa songs, and right up there with the cha-cha-cha tunes.

That's a big difference from just six months ago, where there was lots of open space during the bachata tunes.

By the time the New Years Salsa Mambo Festival is here, I'll have my bachata chops in order. I've started watching Edie's two bachata DVDs, and realized it's not a big deal if you already do some regular salsa social dancing.

You can dance it real close, real respectful or anyplace in between if your partner is on the same page. Guys, be sure you pay attention to your partners response, as I've seen many guys really turn ladies off by being too close for comfort.

On the other hand, if you're a very good bachata lead, (not that tough in my mind), some are happy to dance closer than I'd expect. It's a matter of making good choices and paying attention to your partners responses.

It makes sense to get your act together, take a class or two, and/or follow my lead and purchase a couple DVDs to get you started. Experienced salsa dancers will be competent in minimal time (compared to salsa), and like any dance, you want to become "above average" because partners love dancing with those people.

If you become excellent, you'll find a wide set of partner choices, because while many are doing it, only the minority are doing it really well. That will change over time, but today is your chance to get ahead of the curve.

It may not have been my favorite in the past, but it's time to move beyond the "it's break time" mentality. I see it as a fun dance, and the challenge is to make a great connection rather than a complex dance.

Taken to a higher level, you'll find a great connection, musicality and body motion is the essence of the dance, with a wide pattern vocabulary a distant third. In other words, it provides an excellent vehicle for improving your connection, musicality, Cuban motion, leading techniques, and timing. All those elements will carry over to improve your salsa.

Time to make it a part of my dance vocabulary and I recommend you check it out too.

Let me know your thoughts on bachata becoming more popular. Are you seeing similar trends in your scene?

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable,
but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.
--George Bernard Shaw


  1. Bachata what a beautiful dance. I started teaching in my club in Ireland and at the start my students didn't like it. They felt this hip action wasn't for them. As the began to feel comfortable with the feel of the music they learnt some moves and now everybody gets up to bachata. I recently start learning at Palm Springs Bachata Rueda which is great. As a lead in dance Bachata for me has the tango lead and as you dance bachata you will find this kind of genre in it. There is a dance called Bachatango. You should listen to zuch that is something similar in the way you hold your lady. Fintan

  2. As I read this post I had to laugh. At many Philly club nights, salsa is played perhaps 50% of the time, the rest being merengue and bachata (and the very occasional cha-cha). And DJs will play long mixes of multiple bachata songs at one go as well. So I quickly got tired of taking so many breaks and learned to make the bachata happen.

    I think there are two schools of thought about the bachata: "oh, it's the bachata, let's relax and have a good time" versus "oh, it's another dance to become fanatically perfect at." I think the latter attitude is always kind of a pain, but especially inappropriate to the bachata. The bachata is not supposed to be hard work, ever.

    Philly does have several diehard salsa nights as well, sometimes on other nights of the week in the same club (Brasils). I attend both kinds of nights. My feet just won't take no for an answer.

    I do tend to skip club nights that advertise bachata, merengue and reggaeton but don't even mention salsa. There aren't many of those but Philly has at least one or two.

  3. In Europe bachata is already much more popular than cha-cha.
    The bachata workshops are amongst the most popular ones at congresses.
    Come to think of it cha-cha is not really played a lot here anyway and in my experience there are a lot more people here that dance bachata than salsa.

  4. Here in the UK 3 years ago bachata would clear the floor - now it packs it and the classes too. Cha cha cha is not nearly as popular - with Merenge and Reageaton of variable but lesser frequency - depending upon the taste of the DJ and the house. I agree with the others here, it is a beautiful dance but it only really works if your hold your partner very close as you lead more with the body than the arms. Partners who don't want to get too close are really missing out on what this dance is about and some moves just don't work properly. Some of my best ever dances have been bachata - at its best it can completely blow you away and take you to another place - it's not called "The Smiling Dance" for nothing.

  5. Joe,

    Great comment!

    I wrote a detailed response to your message, but it became long enough that I decided putting it into an article makes more sense.

    I'll see if I can get that live this weekend.

    I always appreciate the feedback from you and others.

  6. Whoa!

    I've seen Bachata danced a few different ways, and your Edie & Jorge video is yet another variation! In this video, it's difficult for me to figure out how they are dealing with the basic timing. My opinion frankly is that it's very messy. I also think the dance doesn't fit the song very well either. I don't mean to be demeaning - but I am really unimpressed with the video.

    I wonder if Bachata will develop many different regional dialects making it difficult for people from different parts to dance with each other. Not unlike circular v linear arguments or on1 v on2 arguments.

  7. > Regional dialects in bachata,
    > getting as messy as
    > on 1 vs on 2, etc.

    I doubt it... I've seen a lot of people dance the bachata. Sometimes they disguise it more, sometimes they are very close, sometimes they are farther apart... sometimes they kick back on four and eight, sometimes they just tap.

    But everyone seems to agree on two things:

    1. You don't ordinarily step (that is, put your weight down) on the 4th step.

    2. You can start out going either right or left at the start of any 4/4 measure of the music, so long as you're consistent about it once you get moving.

    Tough to go completely wrong with those two rules.

    There are patterns that call for continuing in the same direction into the next measure, but these always involve clear leads to indicate that you're Not Doing The Normal Thing.

    The on 1 vs. on 2 thing is a lot more confusing. Philly is an on 1 town but on 2 is making inroads, George Dennis is teaching it in beginner club lessons lately. He taught us a nifty trick to avoid confusion: when you find yourself slipping back into "on one" footwork, step in place for a set of eight. Stepping in place is the same in on one and on two, so afterwards you can start back on one properly.

  8. YouTube is notorious for out of sync audio/video. This is always an issue on dance clips.

    That said, when I'm watching they seem on the time to me overall.

    I've seen different people have different experiences with the same clip, and I can't figure out if it's YouTube, their Internet connection or both.

    I would make some different timing choices on some of the dips, and I think he does them one bar later than I would in a couple cases.

    I agree they are not slot dancing, and his style is more circular in this example. I would probably interpret some of the music differently also.

    Over time I expect each region will develop their own dialects, just like many other dances.

    Bachata is quickly morphing... adding elements from salsa, tango and other dances. It won't be too long before some will be complaining because it isn't like the original.

    Because the base dance is simple, people are extending it by adding their pet moves from other dancings, modifying them to fit the bachata feel.

  9. If tango was more social then it would be the best dance. Since Bachata has a tango element to it. it is great to get your tango feel into another dance. Bachata is very popular and has a lot of dynamic to it. louds and softs. Fintan

  10. Yes, it's 4/4. However, I feel that there is still call-and-response like structure not unlike Salsa. Thus whether you go left or right at the start of a given 4/4 for standard basic would depend whether the music is on the "call" part or "response" part. In my opinion this Edie & Jorge dance ignores that distinction among other things. I'd summarize which direction they are moving (when they are moving their feet at all, which is very infrequent, which in turn is very unusual in my opinion) as completely random - pretty much 50% chance of predicting the direction of movement correct.

    I have seen Bachata danced in Spanish style, Dominican Republic style and Italian style. In my eyes they looked quite different stylistically. However, in all those cases I never had so much difficulty figuring out which way they were going to move in response to the music.

    Aside from the timing issues, maybe I wouldn't think of this as looking too different if Edie weren't swaying so much - on eleven from start to finish!

  11. As for which direction they are going, that is up to the lead to decide, and he is treating it like tango.

    He decides and even if you and I can't predict, his lead has to be clear enough that she gets it.

    In some ways, rather than being predictable, he's leading her in the direction he feels at the moment.

    You and I can like/dislike that style, but the real question is does she feel the lead and does it make it easy for her to follow?

    On size isn't going to fit all, and you and I can interpret the song totally differently.

    Jorge has danced more bachata than me by at least a 100 to 1, and since I'm far from expert status, I'll trust that Edie likes him for a reason.

    I know she's danced a ton of bachata over the last year, because she told me it's even more popular in Europe. Luis Vasquez told me something similar before he moved overseas... he said he was surprised by the popularity when he traveled, and that was a couple years ago.

    Anyway, there are tons of variations, and I expect more. I still think part if it is the foundation is pretty simple, so experienced dancers take it in lots of different directions.

    You and I will like some much more than others...

  12. When I watch the video closely I see Jorge sticking to the usual alternation of lefts and rights except when he goes for a dip... which isn't surprising, dips usually do stand apart from the regular rhythm until you pull her back in. Jorge just goes for a lot of them here. Probably on account of the fact that he's dancing with Edie the Salsa Freak!

    In general, when he's not following the predictable rhythm, you see his hands controlling her shoulders very clearly. I haven't a clue how to do that, but he obviously does. I have a lot to learn from this guy.

  13. HYH commented about their lack of foot movement. In their DVD, Jorge shows a move he calls "Mark It", where your feet primarily stay in place, and you shift your weight back and forth, combined with side-to-side body movement.

    The weight shift is on the same timing as the "normal" footwork, but you are staying in place.

    A similar concept can go in circles, with minimum footwork.

    On the DVD he says he really likes that move, and I suspect he has a wide set of variations that are between his "Mark It" and standard footwork, allowing him more or less footwork, depending on his partner/mood.

  14. i'm glad this isn't the first bachata i'm seeing, or i'd be totally turned off. edie... this ain't your dance, sweetie.

  15. You can love or hate how she dances in this clip. In the 9 months since it was filmed she's probably danced with 100 different bachata leads at events around the world.

    If this was the only time I saw Jorge, I would be suspect of some of his moves as well. I saw both of them about a month ago and I was extremely impressed.

    Nothing like 100's of additional dances to grow your skills.

  16. I think it rather interesting that soeone coplained of the video, that they were apparently diturbed by their inability to predict which direction they were going to move in from moment to moment.

    Maybe its just me, but I think I'd find watching a dance where I could accurately predict what was going to happen next, a tad bit boring.

    For e, the sponteneity, the very fact that it IS unpredictable, makes it a jow to watch.

    I do think, however, that Edie (all respect due) over did it on the styling. My wife agreed and wondered how she managed to do that without hurting her neck.

    At ties, although I know the styling was all her, she made it seem like he was throwing her around because her head and uppperbody motions were so exaggerated.

    but that's just my dos centavos.

  17. even though you don't like Bachata,it's already much more popular than Salsa...because in most latin clubs they play Bachata,Merengue,Tango but Salsa is not that popular

  18. The reason that bachata is growing in popularity is that it is now recognized as the world's second most difficult social dance, after only Argentine Tango (and not much easier, either).
    The dancing public wants to be challenged, and bachata fills the bill to a "T". Easy dances, like West Coast Swing, are all but dead, Bachata IS, and IS SUPPOSED TO BE, hard work!!!


I love feedback. Your thoughts, feelings and comments are appreciated. Civil disagreements and other points of view are always welcomed!

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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero