How to Go From Sensual to Dominican Bachata: Some Tips

Man and woman dance Dominican bachata in park

So, sensual bachatero or bachatera, you’ve decided it’s time to learn Dominican bachata. Perhaps you’re fed up of waiting on the sidelines when Joan Soriano or Juan Luis Guerra plays. Maybe you’re fascinated by Dominican bachata’s playful nature.

Or it could just be that you want to become a more rounded bachata dancer—someone who can dance with anyone, has a greater range of body movement and bachata moves to draw on, and a wider understanding of bachata musicality and history.

Regardless of why you want to learn Dominican bachata, one thing’s for sure: while you’re bound to enjoy it, you’ll also find it easier if you bear some of these tips in mind.

What’s the Difference Between Sensual and Dominican Bachata?

This topic deserves a whole article, but we’ll try to give you a quick overview.

Dominican bachata—which some people prefer to call authentic bachata—is the original style of bachata. It emerged as a party dance done to live bands. As it became popular around the world, however, it started to evolve. Developments in the dance and the music went hand in hand.

The first major evolution was the emergence of bachata moderna, or “modern bachata”. As many Dominican bachata dancers will tell you, this isn’t the most accurate name: Dominican bachata isn’t old-fashioned. Leaving aside issues with the name, however, bachata moderna shows greater cross-body salsa influences. For example, extended arm styling and faster turns are common.

Then, in Cádiz, Spain, in the early 2000s, Korke y Judith founded a new bachata style: sensual bachata or bachata sensual (as it’s said in Spanish). This is a variant of bachata moderna that has arguably become even more famous than its “parent”. Some people prefer to call it “Spanish bachata”, thereby turning the tables on the label Dominican bachata. However, this isn’t a common name for it.

Over time, sensual bachata has been influenced by many other dances. Some of the main ones include Brazilian zouk, ballet, lyrical, contemporary and ballroom dancing.

So, what are the main differences between Dominican and sensual bachata?

4 women dance bachata in outdoor class

Credit: Nicole Glass Photography / Shutterstock.com

1. The Shape of the Dance

Dominican bachata was traditionally danced at a local party, with everyone occupying their spot on the dance floor (just like you do in a regular night club). This is likely why the Dominican basic, the box step, is square-shaped and moves tend to be less ostentatious.

Bachata moderna, however, is linear or occasionally circular: it’s easier to do salsa-inspired moves when dancing in a line. And since sensual bachata is a variant of bachata moderna, it too is typically done in lines or circles.

2. The Music and Musicality

Dominican bachata was traditionally danced to live music, so musicality often means playing with the sounds of the different instruments and rhythms. This is normally done with footwork or body movement. (Don’t believe the stereotype, however: Dominican bachata isn’t all fast footwork.)

With sensual bachata, the melody often sounds more unified, the voice plays a greater role, and the introduction and breaks typically last longer. This lends itself well to flowing body movement with more limited footwork. But that’s not to say there’s never any footwork!

3. The Sensuality and Theatricality

Dominican bachata dancers sometimes complain that their bachata can have plenty of sensuality. However, we’re talking about a different kind of sensuality—one that can be turned on or off depending on who you’re dancing with.

As for sensual bachata, its most famous representatives are often romantic partners as well as dance ones. Take Daniel y Desirée, for example, or Cornel and Rithika. Yet even when you’re not dancing with a date or significant other, this style lends towards sensuality.

Part of the difference is where and why the styles are danced. Dominican bachata is a cultural activity done by children and adults alike. And in the Dominican Republican, the way you dance with someone will likely reflect your real-world relationship with them—whether they’re your date, friend, or family member.

Meanwhile, sensual bachata is a hobby that takes place only in certain locations: the dance school, social or congress. This allows it to be performative and theatrical. You can act out the dramatic romance in the music, knowing that it doesn’t have to mean anything with the song ends.

Couple dance sensual bachata

4. The Cultural Relevance

Dominican bachata sits at the centre of questions over national identity, class, race, and community. The Dominican dictator Trujillo disapproved of it, and in earlier years, it was associated with poverty, a low social class, and lewdness. Yet today, UNESCO recognises it as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and describes it as “a vernacular cultural manifestation” in the Dominican Republic.

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Meanwhile, most dancers—even the Spaniards dancing “Spanish bachata”—don’t have the same cultural connection to sensual bachata.

Of course, these aren’t the only differences between Dominican and sensual bachata. You’ll discover more as you start taking classes and diving into the world of la música de amargue. But this quick overview is probably enough for now.

How to Dance Dominican Bachata

If you’ve come from a sensual bachata background, there are some things that will be more challenging for you than others. Here are some tips for picking up Dominican bachata, along with explanatory videos.

1. Listen to the Music—A Lot

As we’ve already said, the music is often different in Dominican bachata. It can sound busier. The bachata instruments, polyrhythms and sections (mambo, derecho, majao) might be more evident, especially if you usually dance to a lot of pop remixes and sensual boleros.

The best way to get used to Dominican bachata is to actively listen to it. Find a playlist on Spotify (like the one we’ve embedded below) and dedicate some time to listening for the changes in the song. Notice how the energy increases and decreases. Dance along with it. Try doing a whole song with just the box step or variations of it, and see if you can still express musicality.

Looking for something more technical? Read this excellent breakdown from iASO Records, and if it’s useful, consider buying their DVD and CD. Download this bachata musicality app. You might also like the Interactive Musicality Breakdown from Pierre Henry (although a lot of the songs on it are sensual or fusion).

2. Practise the Dominican Bachata Hip Movement

There’s more to bachata body movement than just the hips, but they’re a good place to start.

In your sensual bachata classes, you’ve probably been taught a subtle figure-of-eight hip movement. In Dominican bachata, however, the standard hip movement borrows more from merengue. (After all, merengue is one of bachata’s parents on the “dance family tree”.)

When you step and change weight, you should bend one knee—the one your weight is on—and keep the other leg straight. This will lead to an upwards hip movement in the straightened leg. As you dance your basic, your hips will draw a semi-circle or a smile rather than a figure of eight.

This type of hip movement is more connected to the ground. And the more you push down, the greater your hip movement will be. Just look at how Carolina Rosa and Samy El Magico move in this video from Dali Perez:

Practise this until it becomes natural and the movement flows. You’ll find this helpful later on, as you learn more complicated steps.

3. Rethink the Leader/Follower Connection

In sensual bachata, the lead takes creative responsibility for the majority of the dance. While the follower should be able to add some styling (if they wish to), this is normally a relatively small part of the dance.

Meanwhile, in Dominican bachata, far more space is given to the follower to express their personal style and musical interpretation. You can see how Jorjet Alcocer does this while dancing with Víctor Obregón in this video from reken77:

But that’s not the only difference in the connection. In sensual bachata, the leader will use the follower’s arms, hips, back, rib cage, thighs, shoulders, and at times even the sternum or forehead to indicate moves (although the last two should be done with caution). The follower is used to paying attention to signals coming from numerous parts of their body.

Meanwhile, in Dominican bachata, a greater percentage of the moves are indicated through the hands, arms and frame. Partners often spend longer in open hold. And this can sometimes make it harder for sensual bachata dancers to pick up on the indicated movements. After all, they’re used to having a lot of signals—even if those signals can be subtle.

So, try to stay in tune with your partner and pay close attention to any changes in tension, pressure or movement. Don’t be afraid to ask for more information about how to give, recognise or interpret a lead in class. And be patient with yourself and your partner—connection isn’t always easy.

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4. Prepare for Breaks

When you dance sensual bachata, especially as a follower, it’s easy to mark the more dramatic breaks by doing body rolls or chest isolations. In fact, you probably do this without even thinking about it.

Unfortunately, that’s not going to work so well in Dominican bachata, where playing with footwork or stillness is more common. For example, in this video, Argenis y Carolina handle a dramatic break with a sudden change in distance, stillness and some hip movement on Carolina’s part:

Your teacher will be able to show you several moves you can do to mark a break. But our advice is to pick just one of them and practise it until you can do it without thinking. This will make it much easier when you hear a break approaching in the music. You can let muscle memory take over without resorting to a body roll.

Once you’re confident using that move, you can then start experimenting with different ways to mark the break. But in the beginning, it’s better to thoroughly learn one move than struggle to remember several stylish ones.

5. Get a Good Grounding in the Technique

Did someone tell you that Dominican bachata requires less technique than sensual bachata? Whether it’s bachata, salsa, or kizomba, it’s an unfortunate and problematic stereotype that traditional dance styles are more basic than the North American and European versions of them.

While sensual bachata requires good technique to avoid hurting your partner, Dominican bachata also has its fair share of technique that will help you look and feel better. Not all teachers spend a lot of time on this, especially those who have picked up the dance as a child and consider it intuitive. However, search around because there are plenty of teachers who can break down the technique for you.

6. Practise, Practise, and Practise Some More!

This one’s simple: the more you practise, the better you get and the more you can enjoy it. The less Dominican bachata you do, the more likely you are to come out with sensual moves without thinking. Muscle memory is real, so use it to your advantage!

7. Focus on What You Can Do, Not on Your Mistakes

It’s common to feel more frustrated by your level when learning a different style or role. You’re used to being pretty good at this dance, but now you’re starting at the beginning again. And it can take a while for Dominican bachata movements to feel natural or for you to override that automatic habit of adding body rolls and sensual styling.

Relax: this is okay.

Start off simple and slowly build up the difficulty. Take pride in your accomplishments rather than dwelling on your mistakes. And most importantly of all, have fun. Dominican bachata emerged as a party dance, remember?

Feature photo credit: Nicole Glass Photography, Shutterstock.com

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Ella Baila

Ella Baila

Ella Baila is the alias of a bachata teacher. She dabbles in most Afro-Latin dances and is blues-curious.