Bachata : A Short Introduction of The Dance From Dominican Republic

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One of the most popular social dance that is gaining worldwide attention is the bachata.

Tracing back its roots from the Dominican Republic, the bachata is sensuous and rhythmic. It often pulls the hearts of many people by its lyrical content that portrays a sense of longing and heartbreak.

A proud cultural element of the Dominican Republic, you can find bachata music being played at friends and family gatherings.

There’s so much more to bachata than just history and style. So here’s a short introduction to bachata!

Origins and History of Bachata

The bachata origins are derived from popular Cuban music and dance traditions. It started in the early decades of the 20th century; however, it wasn’t widely accepted.

The name originates from a word for a raucous party. It was similar to informal parties, or impromptu gathering of friends. Often times these parties involved music, dancing, and drinking. These parties were a usual activity of the common folk, but they were viewed as vulgar and immoral by the elites.

In addition, it was repressed by the dictatorial Trujillo regime. And because of this, bachata music was not openly played to the public because many were looking for societal acceptance and propriety.

This led to having a negative connotation among the people and was seen as part of the less desirable elements of society until the 1970s and 1980s.

However, it gained its popularity at the end of the Trujillo regime as national pride grew. Many people began to accept and openly enjoy the music and dancing of bachata.

Today, its popularity rivals the more well-known Dominican dance, the merengue.

Bachata’s Cuban Roots: The Bolero

The bachata music and dance can be traced to its origins in neighboring Cuba and the Cuban dance, the bolero. (Take note: it is not directly related to the Spanish bolero.)

The lyrics of bolero songs are often romantic, and it involves sensuous movements between the partners. For some, the bolero is often called the Cuban “dance of love”.

It was the wandering musicians, also known as trovadores, who would travel across Cuba to play music. A trovadore who plays a bolero should be playing his own composition on the guitar while singing poetic lyrics. Pepe Sanchez, widely known as the father of the bolero, was one of the first great trovadores in the late 19th century. Up till this date, his style continues to live on to characterize the genre.

The bolero song is in 4/4 time. It is slow but rhythmic and involves light percussion. Most of the time, the lyrics have an undercurrent sadness or a sense of longing.

 

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The Development of Bachata

Bachata began to grow as the bolero was spread to the neighboring islands and regions. Soon after it developed into the bachata in the Dominican Republic in the early 20th century.

In the beginning, the music was first labeled amargue, which meant “bitterness”. Think of the bachata as the Dominican equivalent of the blues where the lyrics portrayed longing, sadness, and heartbreak.

The Shared and Different Characteristics of Bachata

Many of the characteristics of bachata dancing are shared with the Dominican merengue dance and with the Cuban and Puerto Rican favorite salsa. Often times, these three dance genres are grouped together.

The first shared characteristic is in the counting. Although the merengue is in 2-4time, salsa and bachata are both in 4-4 time which resulted in having more steps danced than the merengue. However, bachata differs in salsa because it is danced at a slower pace with similar movements.

Other than that, the instrumentation for the music also differs in these genres. The merengue music is characterised by saxophones, whereas salsa tends to emphasize on drums and horns.

As for bachata, it is charactierised by the use of guitar and güira. The güira is a Dominican percussion instrument which is also used in the merengue. It is used to add a beat to the music instead of having the overwhelming of the drums.

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Instrumentation and Lyrics of Bachata Music

Bachata music was first widely ignored because of its origins that were looked down upon. It was not considered appropriate for public consumption because of its association with brothels and barrios. As a matter of fact, the first music was only recorded after the death of the repressive regime of the dictator, or “El Jefe,” Rafael Trujillo in 1961.

However, bachata has grown and now gone mainstream. The once acoustic guitars have now turned to electric in the 1990s which further gained its popularity with the new sound.

In total there are five instruments typically used to play bachata music, which includes the lead guitar, the rhythm (or segunda) guitar, the bass guitar, the bongos, and the güira. Sometimes maracas are also used to substitute the güira. In this case, it is more traditional but the player will have less control over the beat.

A common bachata song often portrays heartbreak, sadness, loss, and sense of longing. As it has a slower tempo, the lyrical content gels perfectly well with the music.

How To Dance the Bachata?

Bachata partners have the option of either dancing in an open (where only the hands are touch) position or a closed (bodies are held with close proximity). There will be one partner leading the other. The leading partner uses hand and arm movements to communicate to the other partner on how they are to move.

The movement of one’s feet is dependant on the rhythm of the music so there are actually no set dance steps. When dancing the bachata, it is counted off in sequences of eight beats with the dancers dancing their steps in a square.

For example, when a dancer takes three steps forward, the dancer takes the fourth step with just a toe-touching tap usually accompanied by a pop of the hips. This is repeated when the dancer steps backward, and that brings to a total of eight counts.

Currently, there are much flashier moves from salsa dancing that is being mixed with the basic elements of bachata. The new developments of bachata show more alternation between open and closed positions, with dancers doing more foot movement, syncopation, and turns.

Check out Daniel and Desirée (two times world champion) dancing bachata!

Everyone can dance the Bachata now!

Bachata is now loved and enjoyed all over the world! It is still rapidly growing its popularity and is danced by many despite its humble origins in the Dominican Republic.

If you’re looking for a dance to have fun, connect, and enjoy with your loved ones, give bachata a try!

Are you ready to pick up your dancing shoes? We definitely are and we’re looking for bachata classes.

If you’re a dance studio owner, dance teacher, or you know a place that teaches bachata, comment below and share it! We can’t wait to drop by.

If this is your first dance class, don’t worry! We’ve got you covered in our article on 7 helpful tips to prepare for your first dance class.

Author

Grace Rundi

Continuously searching for an artistic voice, spotting muses, and drawing inspirations.

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