What is Bachata?
“The term “Bachata” was used by higher society in the DR in an effort to insult the music and the dance, but musicians and dancers alike embraced the term.”
Bachata is a dance that has its origins in the Dominican Republic. The basic step is easily recognized as a three step basic accompanied with a tap and hip movement on the 4th beat.
Like Salsa, Bachata (the dance) grew from Bachata (the music). A music form that developed in the early 20th century, Bachata music has its origins in Cuban son, boleros and Afro-Caribbean rhythms. In its infancy both the music and the dance were considered (by the general public) crude and not fit for regular society; couple that with a stifling dictatorship in the DR, and Bachata was largely kept “underground” until the DR was released from the ruling dictatorship in 1961. As such Bachata was only able to take hold in communities outside of the DR within the last 25 years.
Once the era of oppressive censorship ended in 1961, Dominican musicians were able to start recording Bachata music (although, in those days Bachata was known as a slowed down version of Cuban bolero). The term “Bachata” (which is actually the term for a casual party) was used by higher society in the DR in an effort to insult the music and the dance, but musicians and dancers alike embraced the term, with musicians calling themselves “Bachateros”.
The original form of Bachata (the dance) is very different from what is danced today. Originally dancers in the DR were confined to dancing and performing in low-class establishments. Despite the efforts of upper class society to push the music and the dance form down, Bachata continued to gain popularity in the DR and finally, in the 1980’s the popularity of Bachata could not be ignored – radio stations in the DR began to play more of it on a regular basis and the music and dance form began to gain wider acceptance. As a result of this new widespread popularity, more Dominican musicians began to take part in the Bachata movement and the music and dance began to evolve.
As Bachata (the music) began to spread beyond the borders of the DR, so did the dance – coming to North America in the 1990’s, Bachata was taken up by Latinos and non-Latinos alike, with many communities taking the simple dance form and putting their own stamp and flavour on it.
Bachata: The Dance Styles
“Even though Bachata has been around for over 100 years in the Caribbean, it is a relatively new dance to the rest of the world.”
This is the original style of Bachata. The basic step moves within a small dance space (a square) with syncopated steps to express the music (guitarra). Embraces in Dominican style bachata vary greatly from Cuban style open hand hold to a very tight closed embrace, depending on the dancers mood, familiarity with their partner, and nature of the song they are dancing to.
Distinguishing characteristics of Dominican style is footwork – playful syncopated steps – and strong hip movements on all counts (not just on the 4th or tap step). Dominican style, that we know today, is the style that experienced Bachata dancers will use for the faster, more “punchier” Bachata music. Strong percussive beats and guitarra lines lend themselves to the strong, syncopated style of Dominican footwork.
Western Traditional (developed in 1990’s)
When Bachata started to gain popularity beyond the borders of the Dominican Republic in the 1990’s, the only place that non-Latinos would get exposure to the dance and music would be through a ballroom or salsa school.
Instructors at these schools began to simplify the dance in order to make it more accessible to their students – the basic was changed to more straightforward 3 step side-to-side or forward-and-back basic with a tap step on the 4th beat. The tap step is accompanied with a hip “pop” or check and the direction of the side-to-side or forward-and-back step changes after the tap.
Distinguishing characteristics of the Western Traditional style of Bachata is a very simple side-to-side basic (1-2-3-tap/hip) and soft hip movements at all times. Turn patterns are minimal but dips are common.
Modern/Moderna style (2005)
This fusion style has its foundations in the Western Traditional Style of Bachata, but with added dance elements and styling from Salsa, Tango, Zouk-lambada, and Ballroom. Moderna style Bachata figures emphasize the use of “the slot” (like in Salsa) but also incorporate circular figures that allow couples to travel and use more dance floor space. This style puts a larger emphasis on upper body (ribcage) movement on counts 1-2-3, while keeping the signature “hip pop” on count 4.
Distinguishing characterics of Moderna style Bachata are the use of many turn patterns (similar to salsa turn patterns). There is much more body movements, isolations and arm styling for ladies, which is not common in the Dominican or Western Traditional styles of Bachata.
Other styles (2005 and beyond):
Even though Bachata has been around for over 100 years in the Caribbean, it is a relatively new dance to the rest of the world. As such, Bachata is still in its infancy and new fusion styles are continually being created – influences of other partner type dances (even including non-Latin dances like West Coast Swing) is evolving the dance well beyond the basics of the original Dominican style. In this way, it can be argued that Bachata is a true dance “of the people” – reflecting the distinct flair and style of a region and being shared across the world, creating a wonderful diversity in the dance, while still keeping it universally accessible to all dancers.
New fusion styles that have been developed in the last 10 years include:
Urban Bachata: Hip Hop influenced
Bachatango/Bachata Tango: Argentine Tango influenced
Touch style: a very sensual fusion of Moderna and Dominican styles
Music – Diversity in Styles
“New Bachata artists have brought in influences of Mariachi, Argentine Tango and Hip Hop to the music.”
Just as Bachata – the dance – has evolved into many different styles, so has the music. One Bachata song can sound very different from an other song, with more traditional Dominican style Bachata and modern Bachata Pop sounding like music from opposite ends of the spectrum.
Unifying characteristics of all Bachata music is the instrumentation: the underlying Bolero rhythm and the syncopated guitarra line. Instruments in a typical Bachata music group are: lead guitar, rhythm guitar, electric bass guitar, bongos and güira.
New Bachata artists have brought in influences of Mariachi, Argentine Tango and Hip Hop to the music.
Examples of Modern Bachata artists:
* Romeo Santos – Former lead singer of Aventura, and known singularly as the “King of modern Bachata”.
* Prince Royce
* Toby Love
* Frank Reyes
* Daniel Santacruz
* Leslie Grace
* Henry Santos
* Monchy y Alexandra
* Elvis Martinez
* Carlos & Alejandra
Examples of Classic Bachata artists:
* Edilio Paredes, One of bachata’s founding fathers.
* Eladio Romero Santos, a pioneer of bachata’s merengue de guitarra.
* Leonardo Paniagua, father of romantic bachata.
* José Manuel Calderón, the first artist to record a bachata.
* Antony Santos
* Luis Vargas
* Zacarías Ferreira
* Joan Soriano
* Juan Luis Guerra
Today Bachata music is still pre-dominantly created and performed in Central and South America. Its popularity in North America is growing, but the presence of the music and the dance in other parts of the world is almost non-existent. However, like Salsa, the recognition of legendary DR artist Juan Luis Guerra by the Latin Grammy Awards has brought Bachata into the limelight several times since the 1990’s.
Although Bachata is still lumped into the overall category of “Tropical” music, it is slowly defining itself as a musical genre unique in sound and energy, and as such, continues to evolve and gain widespread popularity.
Bachata artists that have won the Latin Grammy award for Best Tropical Song and Best Tropical Album:
* 1992 Juan Luis Guerra for the album “Bachata Rosa”
* 2008 Juan Luis Guerra for the album “La Llave de mi Corazon”
* 2009 Jose Feliciano for the album “Senor Bachata”
* 2010 Juan Luis Guerra for the song “Bachata en Fukuoka”
Music – How To Tell If It’s Bachata
“Bachata does not feature harsh sounding percussion instruments like claves or timbales.”
Bachata music has an 8 beat phrase. Distinguishing characteristics of Bachata music that differentiates it from other Latin music are:
* The prevalence of a continuous, syncopated guitar line (guitarra)
* Note the absence of any “hard” percussive line (unlike Salsa, Bachata does not feature harsh sounding percussion instruments like claves or timbales). If a piano is present, the musical line is usually very melodic and “flowing”
* The “heartbeat” of the music is kept in tempo by bongos (a higher pitched drum than congas) and a guiro or maraca type shakers
“Most brand new dancers choose to learn Moderna style – the slotted, smooth style of Bachata made popular by Salsa dancers in North America.”
You went on that cruise (or to a resort in the DR) and you fell in love with that hypnotic rhythm and pure steam coming off the Bachata dance floor – you love that rhythmic guitar and the connection of two dancers sharing their own moment, completely absorbed in the music and each other. Now you’re back on Canadian soil and you’ve been in a Latin club, seeking out that same hypnotic music and while the night is mostly hard hitting Salsa tunes, finally you hear that tell tale guitarra sound and you long to get on the dance floor…. but you find yourself executing the “1-2-3-tap” basic step on the side-lines, completely frozen to the spot and unable to ask someone to dance.
So, how do we get you off the side-lines and into the Bachata action?
It’s time for lessons.
With so many studios out there and different styles to choose from, where does a complete newbie start?
Most brand new dancers choose to learn Moderna style – the slotted, smooth style of Bachata made popular by Salsa dancers in North America. It is the most prevalent style in North America and a good place to start for basic Bachata steps and turn patterns. Eventually, when dancers become comfortable with Moderna style they might wish to diversify to another style like Dominican or Touch, which involves more footwork patterns and developing musicality.
Some dancers prefer to stick to one style for a long time; as with Salsa, it all comes down to personal preference.
Luckily, in Canada the Latin dance community is very diverse and you’ll find at least two or three styles of Bachata on pretty much any given Latin dance floor. The beauty of Bachata is that (unlike in Salsa) you can mix the styles – as you gain more experience and diversify your dance vocabulary, you will be able to “mix it up” by adding in Dominican style footwork patterns when you feel like it.
No matter which style you choose it’s important to stick to that style until you’re very comfortable with the fundamentals of timing, body rhythm and foundation move execution before considering “switching” styles (if you want to). Like any new skill it’s always best to focus your efforts into developing muscle memory in one discipline before moving on to another.
Once you embark on lessons be ready to commit time and energy to learning how to dance – in general it takes a complete newbie (i.e., someone with little or no dance experience) about 6 months of actively taking lessons and going out and practicing at least twice a week to get to a point where pattern execution starts to feel “natural”.
Choosing a School
“Look for a school that has lots of events and ensure that these events are friendly towards new and learning students.”
Finding a great Bachata dance school take just a bit of time and research. Some different avenues to find a great dance school include:
1)Online search through Google for popular schools in your vicinity – look for schools that have lots of classes, make up options should you miss a class, convenient locations that are public transit accessible or offer parking options, and have an opportunity for you to watch a class free of charge
2)Friend referrals – do any of your friends take dance classes? Why not ask them and see who they recommend
3)Facebook Bachata communities – Facebook has become an amazing way for dancers to connect. Check out what is happening in the Bachata community on Facebook and see who posts regularly, which schools have the most events, the most fun photos and the strongest Bachata community
4)Latin dance clubs – try a dance class at your local club or ask around and see where some of the dancers have taken classes at or recommend.
It is important to ask if the school is progressive. Some dance schools just offer drop in classes where students of all skill levels can drop in to learn. This can be good if you just want to pick up a new move but in general look for a school that progresses you through levels and builds a solid foundation, allowing you to grow and develop your dance skills.
Look for a school that has lots of events and ensure that these events are friendly towards new and learning students.
You can learn more about the classes Toronto Dance Salsa offers on our classes page.
What to Wear / What Not to Wear
“Bachata and Latin Dance addicts tend to buy “dance friendly” outfits and shoes that you can wear both on and off the dance floor.”
Students are always surprised to note that Bachata dancing is a workout! You can get hot and sweaty fast especially because you are constantly moving, turning, bending and you are dancing close to a partner who is doing the same in a room full of dancers. With this understanding, try to choose clothing that is light and comfortable and fast drying. You want clothing that doesn’t hinder your movement especially at the shoulders, elbows and knees. If you are unsure of how warm you will get just layer your clothing.
If you are attending a social or a practice you can basically wear whatever you like (as long as you cover all those parts that should be covered!). Socials are very casual so most people can be seen wearing t-shirts, tank tops, jeans, leggings, shorts, exercise clothing, etc.
If you are attending an evening out at a club or outing or party you may want to consider “club attire” but remember to keep it comfortable and dance friendly as you don’t want to feel uncomfortable. For women a recommendation is to do the “salsa check” at home which involves shaking everything that your Momma gave you to ensure the clothing stays in place.
Most Bachata and Salsa dancers are concerned with footwear. What shoes are best? If you are just starting out dancing you can hold off investing in dance shoes and just try to wear shoes that have slippery soles such as smooth leather or plastic. Once you’ve established your Bachata addiction it may be time to think about a pair of dance shoes. They can range anywhere from $60 to $200 a pair (depending on the make and materials of the shoe) but they are a great investment as they support your feet and allow for easier movement. They are much lighter then street shoes and usually have suede soles for easy spinning.
Stick to casual, easy, comfortable and lightweight clothing like tees and jeans or clothing that you would wear to a Yoga class, breathable and moisture-wicking. You may want to bring an extra shirt to change into in case it is very hot.
Most people dress up a bit more to a club with nice jeans or dress pants, dresses for women or camisoles. Again keep it lightweight, comfortable and moisture-wicking.
Most men prefer dance sneakers. Companies like Ballo and Jinga produce stylish shoes for men that resemble the look of a Puma sneaker and come in a variety of colours and styles. These shoes can have a suede or a smooth rubber sole that make it easy to spin and move on the dance floor. They look sporty and don’t have the look of a typical Latin dance shoe.
This shoe is comfortable and offers great support. The sole splits in two which allows for more flexibility and the plastic sole is good for spinning on all types of surfaces and will not get ruined if you wear it outside. Bloch and Capezio both produce good jazz sneakers.
Both very lightweight and extremely flexible, jazz slippers are made of supple leather that fits like a slipper and come in slip on or lace up versions. They come with a suede sole which is more suitable for multiple turns as well as plastic split sole which is easier to maintain but not as easy to spin with.
Most female Salsa and Bachata dancers stick to high-healed ballroom shoes especially when out at the clubs. They are the most formal salsa footwear and have suede soles. Remember that they are higher maintenance as they need to be brushed after every usage to maintain their quality. Men’s ballroom shoes are not very popular in the Salsa and Bachata community as they have a higher Cuban heel.
Getting Past Being “Just a Beginner”
“The fun is in the learning!”
Sometimes it can feel frustrating learning how to master a new skill. Everyone’s learning curve is different. There are many great exercises that you can do even on your own to accelerate your learning while attending classes and practicing at socials and events.
Practice your body movement and basic steps and turns to slow, medium and fast tempos. Really concentrate on isolating different body parts like the rib cage, shoulders and knees to build muscle memory.
Watch Bachata videos online and see if you can pick up any new tips, tricks or skills.
Listen to as much Bachata music as possible with varying tempos and try to drum out the beats and the accents.
As a newbie to Bachata it can be confusing (and challenging) to figure out how to build a good Bachata playlist. With a diverse selection of “types” of Bachata, where does one start to build a playlist? We’ve divided some of our favourite Bachata tunes into four categories: Slow, Contemporary (varying tempos, but feature influences of hip hop, Mariachi and even Argentine Tango), Fast (mix of traditional and modern artists) and Traditional (old school Dominican style).
From these three styles you should be able to start a solid and diverse playlist.
Please remember that these are only recommendations but by no means the limit to which Bachata artists to check out. When you go out dancing and hear a song you like, remember to visit the DJ IMMEDIATELY to find out the name of the song!
* Juan Luis Guerra “Bachata Rosa”
* Juan Luis Guerra “Bendito La Luz”
* Mana “El Verdadero Amor Perdona”
* Toby Love “Hey”
* Prince Royce “Memorias”
* Jesse and Joy “Corre”
* Bachata Heightz “Me Puedo Matara”
* Prince Royce “Incondicional”
* Jashel “Mas Cerca”
* Toby Love “Buscando Una Nena”
* Xtreme “Te Extrano”
* Aventura “Mi Corazoncito”
* Toby Love “Tengo Un Amor”
* Leslie Grace “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”
* Romeo Santos “Promise”
* Angel y Khriz “Carita di Angel”
* Aventura “Cuando Volveras”
* Son by Four “A Puro Dolor”
* Dominicanada (Ricky Franco) “My All”
* Antony Santos “Me Enamore”
* Joan Soriano “Vocales de Amor”
* Zacarias Ferreira “Sobran Las Palabras”
* Antony Santos “No Te Puedo Olvidar”
* Zacarias Ferreira “Dime Que Falto”
Going Out – Club Night vs. Outing vs. Social
“So many great events, so little time!”
As a student you can start enjoying Bachata events immediately. There are three different types of events that you can attend that will great practice for you as well as allow you to meet new people, exercise and have a blast.
There are Latin dance club options in most cities around the world and each club hosts a club night. Sometimes they are themed or geared towards a certain dance. Often they offer a free introduction class to get patrons up and dancing. Sometimes the classes are just beginner classes and sometimes they offer mutli-level or intermediate level classes. Certain clubs feature live music although most stick to a DJ.
Most clubs, unless it is a specified specialty night, play a mix of Salsa, Merengue, Bachata and sometimes Cha Cha, Kizomba and Reggaeton. You can always ask the DJ for a request and most will accommodate you. Check out the club website for detail on class times, instructors, DJs, music styles, themes and more.
Consider dressing a bit more upscale for a club night.
“Outing” or “Parties”
If a dance school has a great culture and community they will host dance events called Outings or Parties at a local club or special event venue. There will be a lesson or multi-leveled lesson included in the cover and taught by instructors from that dance school.
These events are usually open to the public but are mainly attended by the school students, friends and family. It is a great way to get dance experience in a real dance club without the pressure of not knowing anyone or feeling intimidated.
This is a great opportunity to attend a lesson and see if you like the way the school teaches, how friendly the staff and students are, and the type of culture they offer and encourage.
Some Outings are special events and they are a great opportunity to watch live Salsa and Bachata and other dance style performances, get dressed up and meet people. Halloween, Valentine’s Day, and Christmas are some of the most common Salsa and Bachata dance themed events.
Practice sessions are called Socials. They are usually held at dance studios, community centers or less formal dance halls. This is a very casual afternoon or evening and dressing up is not necessary. There is usually no class offered and is simply an opportunity to practice your dancing in a very casual, comfortable, fun and friendly environment.
Socials are usually open to the public, not just students, but are usually compromised mostly of current and formal dance students of the school, their friends and family. There are lots of varying levels of skills from absolute beginner to advanced season dancers. Make sure if you don’t know you Bachata basics that you attend a class before attending a social as there is no class during the evening so most dancers have a minimum of the dance basics.
Bachata Etiquette – 10 Simple Rules
“Just like Salsa and all other social activities, there are guidelines for do’s and don’ts on the Bachata dance floor.”
Since Bachata can be a very intimate dance, it’s very easy for a newbie to inadvertently cross the line that determines whether or not a dancer is someone that makes the guys and girls swoon on the Bachata dance floor or someone who makes them feel “creeped out” after a dance.
Follow these rules and avoid the creepiness, my dear Bachata lovers!
Have a solid foundation and good timing
The beauty of Bachata is that it can be as simple (or as complicated) as you want it to be. Ultimately the key to a great Bachata dance is clean execution of the basics and in time to the music. Without this the dance will feel awkward and out of synch! Gentlemen, learn how to find the “1” in Bachata music – if you don’t know how, ask for help from more experienced dancers! Don’t worry so much about what turn patterns or figures you know (or don’t know) – the ladies always appreciate someone who dances on time way more than being “wowed” with all the turn patterns you learned in class that day!
Two words: Body movement
Friends, learn how to move your body properly to the Bachata rhythm. Gentlemen, your frame will always tell the lady where you want her to go next – it will keep her protected and in synch in with you. Ladies – learn how to adapt your body movement to each leader. Some are more subtle with their body movement and some are stronger. Try not to “do your own thing” when it comes to body isolations, rather, respond to the way that he moves.
Embrace your partner, don’t put them in a vice.
The closed embrace should be like a hug, not a waffle iron!!!! Gentlemen, approach your embrace with your right arm around the lady’s ribcage like you’re hugging her and relax your wrist and hand. Ladies, try not to cling on for dear life – gentle pressure with your closed side (left) and adjustments between turn patterns and footwork figures will do wonders for how you feel as a follow.
Not all Bachata dancers are created equal. The most important thing is to start a dance in open hand hold and if you’re dancing with someone new (or barely know), stick to a spacious closed embrace (rather than just going for that chest to chest connection). Gentlemen, your lady will give you subtle hints if she is uncomfortable in the embrace – if she does not respond to your body movements or you feel VERY strong resistance to your frame, it’s probably a big hint to ease up. Save the big dips, bodywaves and super sexy moves for people you know!
Heat is good, but sometimes it’s nice to simmer
Some dancers are really into the Bachata grind – who can blame them? But most dancers are more about connection, which doesn’t necessary mean being all up in each other’s grill for an entire song. Subtlety is nice and appreciated. Leave something to the imagination, friends.
Hold the garlic, please!
Bachata is an intimate dance. ‘Nuff said.
Safety before sexy.
Let’s be real – the ladies LOVE a sexy dip here and there – but guys, be sure that you have stability and good knowledge of your dip technique before forcing your lady into that backbend for 2 counts of 8 beats. Ladies, the guys LOVE all those bodywaves, rolls and hip movements, but overdoing can make you feel….wiggly. Learn how to be smooth as possible in your execution and choose spots here and there in your dance for styling.
Not all dancers are created equal
Remember that not everyone wants to be dipped 100 times in a song. Or even just once in a song. Some people want to dance in the closed embrace the entire time, and some would prefer that you keep your distance. Learning how to gauge how your partner is feeling in a dance or being considerate of other people’s comfort levels is just as important as everything else. Small courtesies like watching out for your partner (gentlemen, this also means being traffic cop and not running your partner into other couples) goes a long way to an enjoyable dance. If your partner can trust you for those 3-4 minutes on the dance floor it is more likely that he/she will dance with you again.
Relax, it’s just dancing
If you’re just starting to dance Bachata, concentrate on your fundamentals and body rhythm more than anything. Like any closed embrace dances (Argentine Tango and Kizomba are other examples), the beauty lies in the connection, not in how many moves you know. Enjoy the moment, friends!
Relax, it’s just dancing
Like with Salsa, this rule bears repeating. If you’re a beginner, don’t worry about not having “all the right moves” – everyone has to start somewhere! Even experienced dancers have “off” days – it’s important to remember that we’re all allowed to have “bad” days or “off” dances – the key is to keep embracing your strengths and strengthening your weaknesses.