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Unraveling the Enigmatic World of Bachata Dancing

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

Bachata is a popular music style and Latin dance from the Dominican Republic. Although developed mostly in last forty years, it has just gained international popularity lately. Nowadays, Bachata is well known not simply in the Caribbean. It becomes more and more popular dance and music style in many countries. So, in order to answer “What is Bachata dance” question, and to understand more Bachata history, the dance and its music phenomenon, it is necessary to introduce historical backgrounds and social groups of origins that Bachata arose from.

Bachata Music History

Bachata is a genre of Latin American music that originated in the Dominican Republic in the first half of the 20th century with European, Indigenous and African musical elements. The original term used to name the genre was amargue ("bitterness", "bitter music", or "blues music"), until the term bachata became popular. The form of dance, bachata, also developed with the music in these over 50 years.

A Bachata band is composed of at least 5 instruments:

Requinto (lead guitar), Segunda (rhythm guitar), bass guitar, bongos and güira; often supported by electric guitar, guitar.

Guitar music has always been a part of the Dominican musical landscape, but the first Bachata recognised as such was recorded in 1961 by José Manuel Calderón. The bachata of Calderón and his contemporaries was virtually identical to the bolero of other Latin American countries like Puerto Rico and Ecuador. In fact many of the songs which these bachateros recorded were covers of earlier boleros, and the music was viewed by society at large in the same way that bolero was viewed throughout Latin America - a romantic music popular with lovers and serenaders.

From approximately 1970 to around 1990, Bachata stood out as a truly distinct Latin American musical genre, fearlessly expressing the underground life of a nation. This unfiltered expression naturally stirred even greater contempt from the Dominican mainstream. Ironically, it was the most scorned of the cabaret bachateros, Blas Durán, a master of employing sexual double meanings in his music, who marked the end of bachata's isolation when he introduced electric guitar recordings in 1987.

Following Durán's innovative approach, the popularity of bachata began to soar. Antony Santos and other bachateros embraced this new style, utilizing it to produce more socially acceptable, romantic songs. The influence of merengue became evident in the rhythm and guitar lines of the music, and it was actually the bachateros who also played merengue that initially made modern bachata popular. Musicians who were admired by the Dominican elites, such as Juan Luis Guerra with his gentle and poetic music, played a significant role in making bachata widely accepted across all sectors of society.

During the 1980s and 1990s, a significant wave of emigration from the Dominican Republic to the USA occurred, and with it, the emigrants carried their music, introducing bachata to the major cities of the Eastern USA, especially in New York.

By the late 1990s, Bachata had gained immense popularity among Latinos in the US Northeast, and these newfound fans, in turn, reintroduced the music to their countries of origin. This growing interest caught the attention of large record labels, leading to substantial investments in polished new bachata productions. In 1999, Monchy y Alexandra achieved significant international success with their release "Hoja en Blanco," which owed part of its popularity to the fusion of bachata with vallenato, a style already highly beloved across Latin America. Meanwhile, young Dominican-Americans formed bachata bands and began incorporating local musical styles like R&B into their music. It was during this moment that the band Aventura catapulted bachata to the top of global pop charts with their song "Obsesion" in 2002, reaching even the first position in countries like France and Italy.

Bachata Dance History

Often referred to in as 'Authentic' or 'Dominican Bachata', the original social dance was created in the Dominican Republic during the 1960s and was danced only in closed position, like the Bolero & Merengue, often in a Close embrace often involving full frontal contact. Due to cross polination from other Caribbean Islands it's no surprise this was also similar to evolutions in dance styles such as French Caribbean Zouk & Kompa from Martinique & Guadalupe & other dance styles like Son & Danzon from Cuba, which all have similar flavours & movements and all influence each other. Yes even Dominican Bachata the dance is a Fusion itself.

The Dominican Bachata basic steps and its variations were inspired by the bolero basic step, but evolved over time to include a tap and syncopations also known as the "Dominican Box Step". The hand placement can vary according to the position of the dances, which can range from very close to open to completely open. This style can be danced on1, on2 on3 and on4. Note: that the Dominicans basic isn't as fixed as the 'Traditional Basic'. This style of Bachata is still danced today in the Caribbean and all over the world, and has been evolving in its own direction for several decades. It is increasingly danced to faster music, adding more footwork, simple turns and rhythmic free-styling with alternation between close and open position.

During the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, as music continued its evolution, so did the dance style associated with it. It was natural for both dance and music to coexist and adapt together. This phenomenon wasn't confined to just one region; it spanned across countries such as the USA, Europe, and Latin America, giving rise to what we now know as "Traditional Bachata." The initial success of Bachata can be attributed to the emergence of its side-to-side basic step, often referred to as the 'Inside Basic Step.' This foundational step made the dance more accessible to a wider audience. Interestingly, this step's development seemed to follow its own unique path in Latin America, the USA, and Europe. A noteworthy aspect of this innovation was its incorporation of simple Cumbia steps, which bore striking similarities. This integration was likely influenced by South American dancers who combined diverse dance styles with the music.

Over time, these integrated steps gradually evolved into the fundamental basic step that has now gained global popularity and widespread adoption.

As a result of the 'Traditional Bachata' evolution, this particular Bachata style gained immense popularity as the primary way to dance Bachata. Its appeal extended beyond Europe and the Western world, finding enthusiastic acceptance throughout Latin America. It was the collective effort of Salsa Teachers and Bachata dancers at Salsa Congresses that truly brought the dance style of Bachata into the world's spotlight. It was normal at Salsa Congresses / Festivals for international dance teachers to not only teach this new thing called Bachata but they also sold their instructional content with their own fusions of Bachata in the form of Video Tapes & DVD's since YouTube wasn't in existence yet.

During the early to mid 2000's a wave of Bachata Variations or Fusions emerged as dancers began mixing other dance styles with Bachata to create new moves. One of the earliest fusions was influenced by infusing Tango elements into traditional Bachata music, giving rise to the unique dance form known as Bachatango, originating in Italy. However, nowadays, Bachatango is a rare sight on social dance floors.

From the 2004-2010 with the advancements of Youtube dance moves interchanged back n forth between various styles such as Salsa, Lambazouk & Tango, contributing to the birth of "Bachata Fusion" which likely kickstarted in Mexico. In this style, couples embrace more pronounced torso movements, body rolls, head-rolls and waves, particularly emphasising the ladies' grace and elegance. The evolution of this dance was greatly influenced by the adoption of Salsa turn patterns & dips, Tango steps all of which became integral to the core of more Bachata offshoot styles like 'Bachata Moderna' and 'Urban Bachata', both of which represent further evolutions and fusions within the Bachata genre.

From around 2010 to present day, Spain has gifted the world an exhilarating dance style that has taken Europe by storm and now enjoys global popularity: the renowned "Sensual Bachata." This mesmerising fusion incorporates even more creative waves and body isolation moves, breathing fresh life into the traditional Bachata. As with all street dances, Bachata continues to evolve rapidly, embracing elements from other evolving Street Latin dance styles and moving in exciting new directions. While it remains essential to honor and preserve the roots of traditional Bachata, we must also make room for the development of new artistic creations that fuel its growth and keep the dance form vibrant and dynamic.

Going Back to the Roots - Recognising the significance of Dominican influence in Bachata is paramount, given that Bachata originated in the Dominican Republic, also known as "Authentic Bachata" or "Bachata Dominica," or simply "Dominican Bachata." Respecting this integral part of their dance culture is crucial.

Thankfully, many well educated modern Bachata dancers now pay special attention to learning and incorporating these authentic Dominican steps into their dance, thereby keeping the traditional essence of Bachata alive and thriving.

Now you might wonder, what defines the true Bachata? Is it Dominican or Traditional? The reality is, both are authentic expressions of Bachata! They both adhere to the same timing and counts, drawing from Bachata Music, and, as evident, have experienced their individual evolutions, occasionally intersecting. They even have the potential to meld into a singular dance style when the dancer is well-versed in both approaches. The intriguing part is that we can absorb all facets of these styles and decide how we wish to interpret a particular Bachata song - this is the beauty of freestyle.

The continued evolution of Bachata is a testament to the dedication of its enthusiasts in honouring its roots while embracing new inspirations from various cultures while giving a much more diverse way of dancing Bachata.

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