On Sunday, the coldest morning of the year so far, I trekked over to the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance for Ritmo Latino’s bachata lessons. The warmth of the dance studio and the fun, fast-paced music were a welcome change from the bitter cold. I was unsure of what to expect as I had not previously been to one of Ritmo’s dance lessons but the environment was fun and relaxed and I had a great time.
We began by learning the basic step for bachata which, though a little confusing at first, became easier the more I practiced. The basic step can go forwards and backwards or side to side, so the leader has to strongly guide the follower so that they know what is coming next. Next, the followers learned to do a double turn, after which the leaders also did a turn. Finally, we tried a more complex turning movement in which both partners turn into a twisted formation while still holding hands. Once your arms are entangled, the leader spins underneath the arm of the follower to complete the step. When the instructors first showed us this step, I doubted it was possible for me to do something that complex, but my partner and I eventually learned how to complete it correctly and I was pleasantly surprised. We practiced each of these steps individually before dancing them to music. The Ritmo instructors were very helpful and moved at a slow enough pace so that we didn’t feel like we were falling behind. By the end of the lesson the eight or so pairs had learned an entire bachata sequence in just two hours.
The bachata is a form of social dance originating in the Dominican Republic. Other dance styles that influenced the development of bachata include the Cuban Bolero, the Cumba, the Merengue and Salsa. Bachata dance also developed along with the music genre of the same name which combines African, indigenous and European hallmarks. The music was originally noted for its bitterness with the term amargue until the musical association of the sultry dance allowed for the Spanish Caribbean word for a “good time,” or bachata, to become synonymous with this genre. The original bachata of the ’60s is characterized by slow steps similar to the Bolero with variations, including a tap and syncopation. This earliest form is still danced in the Caribbean and throughout the world. However, more footwork, simple turns and freestyle moves have been added to adjust to the faster pace of the music. Other variations of the bachata include the Western “traditional,” Modern/Moderna and Bachata Sensual. The Western “traditional” form developed in the 1990s with the replacement of the traditional box-steps with a side-to-side order. Around 2005, elements and styling taken from ballroom, salsa, tango and zouk-lambada evolved into the Modern/Moderna variation. The Bachata Sensual, aligning body waves and circular motions with the music, was developed by Korke Escalona and Judith Cordero in Cadiz, Spain.
This past semester I have been regularly attending ballroom dancing club meetings and am continually amazed at how easy it is for anyone to dance. The steps in bachata are not as easy as those in merengue, but what I enjoyed most about learning the bachata was how fast and rhythmic it is after you have practiced for a while. My partner, Katherine Shamsie ’16, who was my Junior Advisor (JA) and a member of Ritmo Latino, describes dancing bachata as “a pretty romantic and sensual dance that requires being close to your partner.” Her favorite thing about dancing bachata is “that it is fun to add your own personal twist to it and to share that with your partner.” It was definitely an added plus to the day to be able to catch up with my JA while she helped me learn the correct steps and rhythm.
Bachata was a great dance to learn on Valentine’s Day. I found that the rhythm and beat of the dance followed me throughout the rest of my day, especially when sitting in the quiet stacks of Sawyer writing yet another paper. I would highly recommend going to one of Ritmo’s lessons next time they offer one, as they are a great opportunity to take a break and expand your non-academic knowledge. After all, isn’t the college experience all about someday being able to say that you went out in below zero degree weather to learn bachata?