Anya Brodech is a professional salsa, Latin, swing, and ballroom dance teacher in Oakland, CA.
Why You Should Learn to Dance Bachata and What It's Like
Dancing isn't easy, but that doesn't mean that it's impossible! Bachata is one of my favorite Latin dances because it's so unapologetically sexy and intimate in a way that no other Latin dance is (except for maybe Rumba). Even though Bachata is considered more of a "street" dance and not an "official" or "traditional" ballroom or Latin, that doesn't stop people from having bachata competitions and showcases around the world!
Bachata is a great dance to learn because the basic step is very easy compared to some other Latin dances like salsa. Because the steps are pretty simple, dancing bachata really becomes about learning how to isolate different parts of your body in order to get that sexy, sensual body motion.
Also, dancing bachata lets you get in touch with your romantic side and teaches you how dance in an intimate style with another partner while still being respectful and keeping it classy (even though some people may disagree with this).
Finally, even if you don't like to dance, the music is still very beautiful and if you don't know Spanish, this would be a great time to learn, just so you could really appreciate the lyrics!
Finally, Even if you don't like to dance, the music is very beautiful, and if you don't know Spanish, this would be a great time to learn, just so you could really appreciate the romantic lyrics!
Get to Know the Music
Having a good sense of rhythm is crucial for any dance, but especially for bachata because you are holding onto your partner very close sometimes so you want to be in sync with them otherwise it will feel extremely awkward.
Do your homework and become familiar with bachata music. Listen to it regularly and become familiar with at least 20 different bachata songs, preferably by different artists so you can truly appreciate the variety that exists in bachata songs. The more you listen to bachata music, the more familiar and comfortable you will be with it.
The other benefit of getting to know bachata songs is learning when all of those bridges, solos, pauses, breaks, and musical zingers are in the song. A lot of bachata songs have some sort of musical "stuff" that happens at random times during the song that can throw off your dancing or send you into a panic if you are not expecting it. At the beginning you might just try and dance through it and ignore the musical craziness that is going on in the song, but once you are familiar with the song and the steps, you can actually use these moments to add some variety to your dancing and let you have some extra fun with your dancing. It's even better when your partner knows the song as well and does his/her own little thing at the same time. This is just one thing you can do to really make your dancing unique and expressive.
Utilize the Song Intro!
Some bachata songs have really long intros, while other songs have ones that are a little bit shorter. If you are familiar with the song (which you should be if you've done your homework), then you can estimate about how much time you have before the song "starts" after the intro.
You don't want to start dancing right away when a song starts, but rather ease your way into it during the intro. Something easy that you can do during the intro is sway in a figure-8 shape, (kind of the basic in place/stationary basic), but a little bit more toned down, especially if the music is more low-key.
Then once the music starts/gets going, you want to almost throw yourself into your dancing and have a really strong start to your dance for extra drama/contrast compared to the intro which might have been more low-key/subtle.
If you are doing choreography for a performance piece to do at a competition, wedding, showcase, etc. you should utilize the intro to approach your partner and make contact with each other and tease/flirt with each other a little bit and tell a story with your dancing.
For example, "Loco" by Enrique Iglesias & Romeo Santos has almost 30 seconds of intro music before the song gets going, so use that time to build up suspense with your partner!
Accenting the Music With Your Dancing
As I said in the previous section, there are a lot of what I call musical "zingers" in bachata songs. It can be a musical bridge, drum or guitar solo, pause/silence, change of beat (faster or slower), change of style of music (especially in songs that are a collaboration with other artists such as "Odio" by Romeo Santos ft Drake), a guitar riff or some other random stuff. These sections should not be feared or ignored, but rather utilized as opportunities to accent your dancing and do something special that reflects what is going on in the music.
Here are some examples of things you can do with your partner during these times:
- You can use dramatic moments in the song to pull your partner in close and do a dip (after checking that there is enough room on the dance floor of course!).
- You can use sections with weird/difficult timing to do partnered body isolations or body rolls to the new beat in the music, or for when there are a few strong musical chords.
- Another thing you can do is separate out into open position (not holding onto your partner's hands) and do solo shines so you can both jam out and do your own thing and interpret the music in your own way.
- If you know your partner, ladies, you can caress your gentleman's hair, face, shoulders, arms, or chest as a way of doing some playful and flirting styling
- Gentlemen, you can do something similar, touching your lady's hair, face, shoulders, arms, back, or waist as a way to be sensual or seductive with your partner (but be mindful not to touch her inappropriately or in a way that makes her feel uncomfortable)
How to Do Ladies Arm Styling for Bachata
Ladies, bachateras, if you want to make your bachata dancing extra sexy, you absolutely must incorporate arm styling! When you're dancing, you want to be using and engaging your entire body. If you let your arms hang at your sides or flop down, that's not going to look sexy.
Arm styling is really not that difficult in itself; what it requires is an awareness of what your arms are doing, every single moment that you're dancing, that's the hard part. Keep in mind that you don't need to do super huge/big/flashy arm styling every moment, especially social dancing because that's just impractical and kind of annoying to your partner who just wants to dance with you. You should think of arm styling as an extension that complements what you are dancing, rather than a replacement for it.
- Your hands should always be touching you, your partner or the air. Let me explain, what I mean by touching the air is that they are actively lifted and doing something like swirling, reaching, circling, etc. but not necessarily touching you or your partner. I say touch the air because you want to have some weight and purpose behind your arm styling, you don't want to look like you're flailing about or just doing random stuff for the sake of moving/arm styling because that never looks good.
- Ladies, feel free to touch your partner in a fun and flirty way (or maybe in a little bit sensual way) but don't be inappropriate and grab something you shouldn't. Think about touching his face, or tracing your hand down his arm, or putting your hand in the middle of his chest and playfully pushing him away (gently of course!)
- Try and think about keeping your arms/hands/wrists picked up whenever you're dancing. This doesn't mean raise your arm over your head, but rather don't let your arms hang down at your sides. This is good for two reasons, a) Your arms aren't flopping around at your sides, and b) Your hands are easily accessible to your partner to lead the next move.
- Keeping your arms soft and flexible, practice doing the movements by yourself in front of a mirror at home or at your studio, just to get used to doing them and seeing what they look like on you. You don't want to tense up your arms, because that will make it really hard for you.
- Whenever you find yourself with your arm/hand free during dancing, try and do some kind of arm styling movement with it. You don't have to do something big, something small will suffice while your practice doing it.
- Practice, practice, practice until you learn how to move your arms gracefully while dancing without even thinking about it.
Adding Body Rolls to Take Your Bachata Dancing to the Next Level
If you're a more advanced dancer, you can also strategically incorporate forward and back body rolls, which is something you'll notice a lot of couples do when they're performing. Dancing socially, it might be a little too much if your partner is not on the same skill level as you, so I would recommend holding off on the body rolls until you are dancing with a partner that knows how to do them.
If you do have a designated dance partner, I highly recommend learning how to do body rolls. You can ask your private lesson teacher how to do them, or you can sign up for an adult hip-hop class because there's a lot of body rolls in the choreography.
If you watch some of the videos I posted in this article, you'll see both members of the couple dancing a lot of body rolls in their bachata. You'll notice that they usually do their body rolls at the same time. Don't do body rolls on your side steps, because that won't work well, do them while moving forward or back.
You can also do hip rolls as a smaller version of a full body roll. Just think of doing a circular motion with your hips going either clockwise, or counterclockwise with an emphasis on the forward half of the circle.
How to Move Your Body to Become a Really Good, Sexy Bachata Dancer
Instead of jerking your hips around from one side to another, think about moving your ribcage from side to side instead. I'll admit that it is complicated to thing about and you really have to focus, but it's worth it! The results you get from moving your ribcage instead of your hips are that you get a smoother more undulating rather than jerking look. In addition, you also end up getting body motion in your arms and shoulders as well if you keep your arms soft and relaxed while moving your ribcage.
Breathe deeply before you start dancing and relax your body so it's easier for you to feel and sense your partner's movements and move as one with them. You want to relax so you aren't dancing all tensed up because then you'll look very rigid and uncomfortable. Think of yourself as being made of spaghetti that's flexible and easy to move around. However, don't be a whacky-wavy-inflatable arm tube man (like the ones they put out in used car lots) that flaps around in the wind and snaps suddenly and becomes straight. You should feel loose and your movements should flow together in a way that looks and feel fluid and natural.
Get Up Close and Personal
It is not uncommon to find yourself (or to see others) "hug-dancing" during a bachata with their arms wrapped around each other and bodies pressed close together. You might also see people touching their foreheads together while dancing bachata. These are all perfectly acceptable practices, so don't worry that you're partner is trying to come on to you or that you might give them the wrong impression if you do this!
Don't be afraid to wrap your arms around your partner's neck and/or rest your head on his shoulder if you can reach it and gently of course, so they can breathe comfortably and you're not dragging them down. I should note that you should only do this with partners that you are very comfortable with so it doesn't feel awkward.
This move can be incorporated into your dancing when you have come out of a turn or some other move that ends with your hands/arms on his shoulders and you two are dancing close together. You just keep your arms there instead of putting them down and usually he'll get the hint. It's a great way to make your dancing more sexy and intimate, especially when you are doing steps that require you to be very close together. It also helps you feel more relaxed and comfortable and let's you get in touch with your partner's body movements and rhythm.
Generally the more advanced you are, the more often you will find yourself dancing very, very, very, very close to your partner and having your bodies move as one. However, this does not mean that you have to date the person you dance with or that you are interested in becoming "more" than dance partners.
Confidence Is Key
Like it or not, bachata is an incredibly sensual and romantic dance, so if you're not comfortable with that, then stay off the dance floor and choose another style of dance. Bachata is a great dance to really let yourself go in and really feel the music and get close with your partner. Some of the best bachata dancers are the ones who embody the beautiful romantic lyrics and move in a sensual and uninhibited manner.
Confidence is key to pulling off any dance well. If you are feeling hesitant, reluctant, unsure, or uncomfortable in any way; then your body will automatically tense up and it will be visible to those around you! So just relax, take a deep and go for it. Don't worry about messing up; dancing is a lifelong learning process and everyone makes mistakes on the dance floor. If you screw up something, just smile and laugh it off and keep on going! :)
Don't force yourself to be super sexy all at once because it'll come off as unnatural and awkward. It's okay if you're shy or don't consider yourself the "sexy" type. Just find moves that you are comfortable with doing and gradually work your way up.
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© 2013 Anya Brodech
Avery on March 27, 2019:
Good article, good read! Will apply these tips on my dance lessons at Arthur Murray Dance Center.
Kelsey J. on August 09, 2013:
Great article! This is really useful! So happy I know Spanish because the songs are so good!