Looking to improve your bachata footwork?
Bachata footwork might be fun and flavourful, but it can also be tough to do at speed. Fortunately, there are a few simple tricks that will allow you to dance quicker and with more control—and the best thing is, they’re easy to learn.
So, whether you want to hit all the beats in the instrumental mambo section, add stylish syncopations to your basic steps or simply keep up in your regular bachata classes, keep reading. This article will help you become a nimble-footed bachata dancer in nine steps. But first, let’s look at why you should polish your bachata footwork.
Why You Should Work on Your Bachata Footwork
It’s fun. In Spanish, bachata dancers don’t talk about footwork. Instead, they call it “a game of feet”, un juego de pies. This makes sense, because footwork is a chance to be playful and creative. Although it might seem intimidating at first, you’ll soon find yourself having fun with syncopations, slides and kicks.
You’ll develop your personal dance style. Want to look effortlessly cool while expressing your personality? Footwork will let you do that. And as you become more comfortable and confident with footwork, you’ll be able to combine it with hip, shoulder and arm movements for even greater style.
You can be more musical. You’ll be able to highlight what different instruments are doing, from the bass guitar to the güira. Bachata songs call for footwork, especially in the instrumental mambo section. And if you’re struggling to find the rhythm in traditional Dominican bachata songs, footwork classes will soon help you make sense of the different instruments.
Your dancing will become more varied. Want an easy way to expand your repertoire of moves? Take the basic step, and on the second half, add a syncopation on three-and-four. Then, in the next half-basic, switch the syncopation to two-and-three. Now, syncopate on one-and-two. Next, hit all the syncopations. Now dance to the bass guitar. All you’ve done is dance the basic for 24 counts, but each time, it’s looked different. And that’s without exploring all the ways you can vary your syncopated steps through taps, kicks, flairs, cross-overs and more.
You can enjoy dancing alone. Can’t find a partner for your favourite song? Listening to bachata music at home alone? Being comfortable with footwork means you can have just as much fun dancing solo.
Your dancing will become more polished, even when you’re not doing footwork. You’ll learn to dance with more control, musicality and style—and that will bleed over into all your dancing.
Convinced? Now let’s look at how to improve your speed and control when doing bachata footwork.
1. Take Small Steps
The rise of performance dance groups has led many dancers to take up more space on the dance floor. But when it comes to footwork (and crowded dance floors), smaller is better. Although your teacher might use bigger steps so the whole class can see what they’re doing, you should use small steps to help you move quicker and with more control. The faster the song, the smaller your steps should get.
2. Rotate Your Torso
This is pure physics. If your feet are changing directions, don’t try to keep your torso still. Instead, rotate it towards the direction you want your feet to go. For example, let’s say you want to tap your right foot in front of you to the left on beat one, then to the right on beat two, and then you move it behind your (currently) stationary foot to do a triple step on beats three-and-four. So, as you start to move your foot to the left, your torso will also rotate left. As you move it to the right, your torso should rotate right. And you can use the triple step to rotate your entire body in whichever direction you need for beat five.
Look at how Ataca y La Alemana rotate their torsos in this tutorial posted by videographer PhoThomas.
Here’s the same routine but at full speed. The chest rotation is slightly harder to spot because they’re moving really fast (especially from 0:22 onwards), but it’s still there—and it’s part of the reason why they’re able to dance such an impressive routine so quickly.
3. Bend Your Knees
Your dance teacher probably told you to bend your knees in your first ever bachata class. It helps you avoid locking your legs and having stiff body movement. However, it’s even more important when you’re doing quick footwork. You’ll find it increases your stability, allows you to extend your legs further without losing balance and lets you dance quicker.
4. Keep Your Weight Forward
Keeping your weight forward and dancing on the balls of your feet will keep your movement nimble. In your basic steps, you might use your heels to give you extra stability or hip movement. However, when doing footwork, transferring your weight to your heels will only slow you down. Of course, there are some exceptions. You can’t do a heel kick without using your heels. Generally speaking, however, keep your weight forward and your heels off the floor unless your dance teacher tells you otherwise.
5. Dance on the Inner Pads of Your Feet
This tip is particularly useful if you’re doing a lot of fast syncoptations, such as the pico-pico step that syncopates on one-and-two-and-three-four. Instead of connecting to the floor with the entirety of the balls of your feet, try to just use the inner pads. You’ll find you can move much quicker and extend your feet further. After all, if your feet are 10 cm wide, dancing on the outer pads means you’re travelling almost 20 cm more than you need to.
6. Wear Shoes You’re Comfortable In
You can do footwork in any type of dance shoe. However, if your shoes don’t fit you well or you’re struggling with the heel height, you won’t have the balance and stability required to dance quickly. Check out our guide to buying a pair of bachata or salsa shoes and knowing if they fit you correctly. You may also find you prefer practising in lower heels until you’re used to fast footwork.
7. Develop Muscle Memory for Common Footwork Patterns
We’re not being glib when we say that thinking takes time. If you’re stepping one-and-two-and-three-and-four, then you don’t have time to think about what you’re doing on each individual step. You need to memorise the footwork in chunks. Fortunately, there are several common bachata footwork patterns, so learning those will help you cut out thinking time and allow your muscle memory to take over instead. Keep going to bachata footwork classes and practising at home: it might take some time, but you’ll soon start recognising common footwork patterns.
8. Learn Common Bachata Rhythms
Some footwork patterns are designed to highlight specific instruments in certain moments of the song. For example, you’re more likely to hear loud instrumental syncopation on seven-and-eight than three-and-four. The bass step is designed to highlight the most common bass guitar rhythm in the derecho section of the song, i.e. the part most likely to be played during the verse. Breaks are more likely to happen on the fourth eight-count than on the third or fifth.
As such, understanding common bachata rhythms will save you thinking time. You’ll be able to better anticipate what kind of footwork will suit the rhythm. You can also stop thinking about footwork as a series of steps and instead think “dance to the bass guitar”.
To familiarise yourself with bachata rhythms, try attending musicality classes and using resources like Bachata Breakdown and eMusicality. The video below comes from Bachata Breakdown, and it strips away different instruments from Joan Soriano’s bachata song Su lado de cama. It’s helpful for familiarising yourself with the individual bachata instruments and the different rhythms you can play with while dancing.
9. Think About What’s Coming Next
If you wait until you’ve already finished beat eight to think about what you want to do on beat one, you’ll struggle to syncopate on beats one-and-two in time. Every time you start a new movement, consider how it’s going to end and what will come next. Let’s say you’re doing a syncopation on beats two-and-three, followed by two heel taps on five-and-six, seven-and-eight. As soon as you’ve committed to the two-and-three syncopation and no longer need to think about it, start thinking about the upcoming heel taps. You’ll find you can think further ahead as you develop more muscle memory for common moves, but thinking even just a beat earlier will help.
Bachata footwork is fun and a great way to develop your personal style, but there’s no denying that it takes skill and practice. Use these tips, from rotating your torso to learning the rhythms of individual bachata instruments, to help you dance quicker and with greater control.
Ella Baila is the alias of a bachata teacher. She dabbles in most Afro-Latin dances and is blues-curious.