What is Bachata?
Bachata is a style of dance that originated in the Dominican Republic. It is danced widely all over the world but not identically.
The basics to the dance are three-step with a Cuban hip motion, followed by a tap including a hip movement on the 4th beat. The knees should be slightly bent so the performer can sway the hips easier. The movement of the hips is very important because it’s a part of the soul of the dance. Generally, most of the dancer’s movement is in the lower body up to the hips, and the upper body moves much less.
In partnering, the lead can decide whether to perform in open or closed position. Dance moves, or step variety, during performance strongly depends on the music (such as the rhythms played by the different instruments), setting, mood, and interpretation. Unlike Salsa, Bachata dance does not usually include complex turn patterns but they are used more and more as the dance evolves. The leading is done just like in most other social dances, with a “pushing and pulling” hand and arm communication. Hand and arm communication is better conveyed when most of the movement is performed by the lower body (from waist down); i.e. hips and footwork. Bachata is commonly known by many as a very sensual dance. To most it may seem that way, however, that is not what it is intended to be taken as. Bachata is a dance, done by a person with another, to express the feelings one has for a specific other. It is believed by most, that the more smoothly and more frequently the hips are used and moved, the more feelings the individual has for the other. With that said bachata originated as a sort of “mating call,” if you were selected for a dance of bachata, you were chosen as a mate, two dances with the same individual, “sealed the deal.”
The original dance style from the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean is a basic dance sequence is a full 8 count moving within a square. Dancers in the Western World later began developing a more simple pattern, also in a full 8 count, but with a side-to-side motion. Both Styles consist of 3 steps normal and then a tap step. The tap is often accompanied by a “pop” of the hips, and is sometimes substituted with syncopations (steps in between the beats – some similar to cha-cha-cha steps and others much different). Bachata music has an accent in rhythm at every fourth count. Often, this is when dancers will tap-step & pop their hips – this is called dancing bachata to the music (because the first step after the pop falls on the 1st beat of the measure). But bachata can be danced to different timings as well if it’s danced to one particular instrument instead. The tab or ‘pop’ is done in the opposite direction of the last step, while the next step is taken on the same direction as the tap or pop. The dance direction changes after the tap or fourth step.
All about Bachata music
The earliest bachata originated in the countryside in Dominican Republic in the first half of the 20th century. Jose Manuel Calderon recorded the first Bachata song, “Borracho de amor” in 1962. The genre mixed the pan-Latin American style called bolero with more African elements coming from Son, and the troubadour singing tradition common in Latin America. During much of its history, Bachata music was disregarded by Dominican elite and associated with rural underdevelopment and crime. As recently as the 1980s, bachata was considered too vulgar, crude and musically rustic to be broadcast on television or radio in the Dominican Republic. In the 1990s, however, bachata’s instrumentation changed from nylon string Spanish guitar and maracas of Traditional Bachata to the electric steel string and guira of Modern Bachata. Bachata further transformed in the 21st century with the creation of Urban Bachata styles by bands such as Monchy y Alexandra and Aventura. These new modern styles of bachata become an international phenomenon, and today bachata is one of the most popular styles of Latin music, even overtaking salsa and merengue in many Latin American dance halls.
The typical bachata group consists of seven instruments: Requinto (lead guitar), Segunda (rhythm guitar), electric guitar, guitar, bass guitar, bongos and güira. The Segunda serves the purpose of adding syncopation to the music. Bachata groups mainly play a straightforward style of bolero (lead guitar instrumentation using arpeggiated repetitive chords is a distinctive characteristic of bachata), but when they change to merengue-based bachata, the percussionist will switch from bongo to a tambora drum. In the 1960s and 1970s, maracas were used instead of güira. The change in the 1980s from maracas to the more versatile güira was made as bachata was becoming more dance oriented.
The first Dominican bachatas were recorded immediately after the death of Trujillo, whose 30-year dictatorship was accompanied by censorship. José Manuel Calderón is credited as having recorded the first bachata singles: (“Borracho de amor” and “Que será de mi (Condena)”) released on 45 rpm in 1961. After Trujillo’s death, the floodgates were opened: following Calderon’s historic bachata debut came more recordings by the likes of Rodobaldo Duartes, Rafael Encarnacion, Ramoncito Cabrera El Chivo Sin Ley, Corey Perro, Antonio Gómez Sacero, Luis Segura, Louis Loizides, Eladio Romero Santos, Ramón Cordero, and many more. The 1960s saw the birth of the Dominican music industry and of the bachata music which would dominate it.
While the bachatas being recorded in the 1960s had a distinctly Dominican flavor, they were regarded at the time as a variant of bolero, as the term bachata, which originally referred to an informal rustic party, had not yet come into use. This term was first applied to the music by those seeking to disparage it. The higher echelons of Dominican society felt that bachata music was an expression of cultural backwardness, and a campaign ensued to brand bachata in this negative light.
The 1970s were dark years for bachata. The music was seldom played on the radio, and almost unmentioned on television and in print. Bachateros were also barred from performing in high society venues – having to content themselves instead with gigs in bars and brothels in the country’s poorest neighborhoods. The music was influenced by its surroundings; sex, despair and crime were amongst numerous topics the genre highlighted. This only furthered the cause of those seeking to tar bachata as a music of the barrios. Despite its unofficial censorship, bachata remained widely popular, while orchestral merengue benefited from the country’s major publicity outlets. However, bachata continued to outsell merengue. Some bachateros to emerge from this era were Marino Perez and Leonardo Paniagua.
By the early 1980s, bachata’s popularity could not be denied. Due to popular demand, more radio stations began playing bachata, and bachateros soon found themselves performing on television as well. Bachata in the meantime had begun to take on a more dance-hall sound: tempos increased, guitar playing became punchier, and call and response singing more prevalent. Bachata style merengues, or guitar merengues, also became an increasingly important part of the bachata repertoire. Blas Durán was the first to record with electric guitar in his 1987 bachata-merengue hit, “Mujeres hembras”.
By the early 1990s, the sound was further modernized and the bachata scene was dominated by two new young stars: Luis Vargas and Antony Santos. Both incorporated a large number of bachata-merengues in their repertoires. Santos, Vargas and the many new style bachateros who would follow achieved a level of stardom which was unimaginable to the bachateros who preceded them. They were the first generation of pop bachata artists and received all the hype and image branding typical of commercial pop music elsewhere. It was also at this time that bachata began to emerge internationally as a music of Hispanic dance-halls.
Juan Luis Guerra‘s Grammy-winning 1992 release, Bachata Rosa, is routinely credited[by whom?] with making the genre more acceptable and helping bachata achieve legitimacy and international recognition. Although he used the word bachata in the album title, none of the songs reflected the distinctive bachata sound.
By the beginning of the 21st century, the bachata group Aventura had taken the bachata envisioned by Juan Luis Guerra in the early 1990s to new heights. Led by lead singer Anthony “Romeo” Santos, they revolutionized and modernized the genre. They sold out Madison Square Garden numerous times and released countless top ten hits on the hot Latin charts including two number one hits “Por un segundo” and “Dile al Amor”. Other big bachata acts in the decade included “Monchy y Alexandra” and Los Toros Band. By the beginning of the new decade, Aventura had split up because group member Henry Santos wanted to go solo, leaving the others to do their own thing. Today, parallel to Bachata music, fusion genres arose in western countries such as the USA, combining some of the rhythmic elements of Bachata music with elements of western music such as Hip Hop, R&B, pop, techno and more. This fusion genre is quite popular among western audiences, and often includes covers of western pop songs played on MTV and non Latin radio stations. Notable artist of the new fusion genre are Prince Royce, Xtreme and Toby Love, among others. By 2011 former Aventura member Romeo Santos also joined the fusion bandwagon, releasing several new albums which became popular in the USA and other western countries. The hip-hop artist Drake in his music video of “Hotline Bling” based his dance moves off of Bachata music.
Bachata Dance Styles
The original Bachata dance style comes from the Dominican Republic where the music also was born. The early slow style in the fifties from where everything started was danced only closed, like the Bolero. The Bachata Basic Steps moving within a small square (side, side, forward and side, side, back) are also inspired from the Bolero but danced slightly different in Bachata and danced with syncopations (steps in between the beats) depending on the dancer’s mood and the character of the music. The hand placement will vary with the dancers position which can be very close to semi-close to open.
The Original Dominican Bachata is today danced all over the Caribbean, now also faster in accordance to faster music, adding more footwork, turns/figures and rhythmic free style moves and with alternate between close (romantic) and open position (more playful adding footwork, turns/figures, rhythmic torso etc.). This style is danced with soft hip movements and a tap with a small “pop” with the hip on the 4th beat (1, 2, 3, Tab/Hip). Can be danced with or without bounce (moving the body down on the beats and up again in between the beats by springs the legs a little). Dominican Bachata is created by the people over many years (from around late fifties) for social dancing and is still evolving.
At some point, perhaps in the late 1980s or early 1990s, dancers/dance-schools in the Western World began using a simpler side to side pattern instead of the box-steps probably due to a misunderstanding of the original steps. The basic steps of this pattern move side to side, changing direction after every tap. Characteristics of this style are the close connection between partners, soft hip movements, and tap with a small “pop” of the hip on the 4th step (1, 2, 3, Tap/Hip). Most of the styling in this style is from Ballroom Dance and Dips are commonly used in this style. This is the first so-called Fusion Style Bachata because it’s not technical or stylistic danced semilar to the Original Bachata because it contains elements and styling from the western way of dancing.
A newer Fusion Style probably from around 2005. This style is widely considered to have originated in Spain, but as with all evolutions of dance style this itself is widely debated. The basics are the same as Traditional Style Bachata, but with added dance elements and styling from Salsa, Tango, Zouk-lambada, Ballroom etc. In the style, couples typically move their upper torsos more, put greater emphasis on the hip pop, and women use more exaggerated hip movements. The most direct fusion influence on modern style bachata dancing comes from the adoption of salsa turn patterns. There is also a even newer modern Urban Style that incorporates HipHop elements but this style basically also have the same technical base as Modern Style.
Fusion Style from the West to with short sequences of Traditional basic steps but mostly Tango steps danced like Tango. The “pop” count is used to add elaborated sensuality and varied Latin dance styles but mostly taken from Tango. Vueltas like Traditional. Although this dance has been used to dance to Bachata, it has evolved to be used to dance to Tango as well. Even though BachaTango is unheard of in the Dominican Republic, Bachata’s country of origin, BachaTango has become popular with foreign instructors outside the Caribbean.
Bachata Sensual was made popular in Spain. Bachata Sensual is a mix between dance and theatre with strict follow and lead principles. The dance is an interpretation of the music with mostly circular movements and body waves, except when the music has stronger beats, when the dance uses isolations and dips.
Fusion Style developed in the West to, for competition dance only, with very extreme hip movements and lots of Ballroom Dance styling. It is used predominantly for Ballroom competitions rather than social dancing. Basic step is based on Traditional.
There are “many other styles” of Bachata from the west, pioneered and promoted by different teachers around the world, each with its own distinct flair. Whether these are considered completely different styles or simply variations of the main styles above is often argued by teachers and students alike.