Just like salsa, Bachata Dance is becoming progressively popular not only in the United States, but in the world. But there are some dancers out there that instead of rejoicing over bachata’s popularity, they have become prejudiced to whomever is dancing bachata dissimilar to the way they dance. Perhaps I can partly elucidate in this article on why bachata is where it is supposed to be going.
It’s called innovation. Innovation in Latin Dance is really not a modern phenomenon. In fact, dance innovation did not begin and end with Eddie Torres or Francisco Vasquez. Although Eddie was one of our foremost contemporary dance innovators, innovation is as old as the Cuban Son or traditional Bachata themselves. In fact, all of the Latin Dance is a product of innovation. The annals are full of examples: Cuban Son, Rumba, Cha Cha Cha, Cumbia, Bolero, Merengue and Mambo are just but a few.
To define innovation, a device or process created by study and experimentation, the creation of something in the mind.
Since constant innovations of street dance such as bachata is not new, there is a very troublesome trend developing among many of today’s bachata dancers. It is the tendency to launch cavalierly off to proclaim true style of bachata dancing, supposedly each better than the last. In fact, far too many of these so-called teachers and dancers are motivated for all the wrong reasons. Some seek ego gratification, money, or fame. Others simply lack the discipline to persevere in a particular dance style while some are just close minded, not to mention territorial, that they refuse to recognize (in a thinking term) other “colors’ except black or white.
Many dance teachers are unaware of the inherent complexity, responsibility and sacrifice of valid dance innovation. They fail to realize that innovation is an evolutionary process of methodical modification and refinement, rather than a revolutionary product rendered out of whole cloth. It takes serious passion and countless experimentation. Motivation must come from deep within the soul, heart, and mind.
I hope to give my readers an unbiased look into my own search for and acquisition at dance innovation. I will try to provide a logical overview of a Dance Infrastructure, Dance Thesis, and Dance Research necessary for a logical dance style innovation. I will also share a brief history of how I came to dance the style I dance with bachata.
THE INFRASTRUCTURE OF A DANCE
It is ridiculous to think of developing a new style of dancing without an extensive infrastructure or background in body movements. By infrastructure, I am not referring to superficial excursions into various dance styles. I am speaking about the foundation, core knowledge, and a cornerstone. A knowledgeable foundation can be built only on consistent training, theory and practice. All great innovators were obsessed with experimenting and constant practice, and each had an extensive foundation in the art before even considering innovation.
International Latin Ballroom dancing has played a large part in my early dance history. During those years I have been perfecting the skills and techniques necessary for excellent dancing, and they have helped me understand the complexities of dancing in general. Prior to Ballroom, I’ve trained extensively in the Martial Arts, studied and familiarized myself with body dynamics and kinetics earning myself a 4th degree Black Belt and a certificate in Fitness Training. For many years, I have been teaching others these same techniques and principles, helping them reach their social or competitive goals. While I embarked myself to spread the bachata dance, I also specialize in other dances like salsa dance, I don’t practice ballroom no longer, since I prefer to dance free rather than in a structured manner.
A strong foundation establishes the physical, mental, and creativity of a great dance style. Extensive dance training develops and refines the attributes of the dance (i.e., speed, power, timing, balance, accuracy, fluidity, grace, partner- ability, etc.). A broad intellectual grasp of various dance techniques are critical to any effort to modify and refine. Theoretical and conceptual analyses are touchstones of innovation.
Finally, a strong foundation will begin to open the dancer’s inner self to the creative component of dancing. The innovator must become his art. Simply put, there are no shortcuts! Every dance innovator starts at the bottom and works his way up. The greatest were beginners. If you are unprepared to embrace the principles, forget rushing ahead to modify and create. A dance innovator can only succeed with a deep conception of the various movements, techniques, and related elements of dancing. Innovation requires that you learn to walk before you can run.
THE THESIS OF A DANCE
Innovation in every major field is based on a thesis. The thesis may be an aphorism, a concept, a rule, or any other valid reason to modify and go beyond that, which has already been established. Generally speaking, a valid thesis is the culmination of an analytical process. It is not something “thought up” or created on whim or fancy. Every foundational thesis for innovation has origination in what has gone before. For example, in science Einstein’s theory of relativity would not have come about without Newtonian physics and the significant prior discoveries in electromagnetic physics. In art, the cubists and abstract expressionists owed much to the discoveries of traditional realists. Bruce Lee wouldn’t have had developed his style, Jeet Kune Do, if he hadn’t extensively trained in the art of Wing Chun first.
The same is true for dancing! Modifications and innovations in the sciences are based upon scientifically established thesis. Theses for dance innovation may be the result of cultural eccentricities or any number of other factors, including geography, culture and topography. For example, salsa historians attribute the development of mambo timing steps to the clave beat or tumbao. In the same manner, the rapid salsa shines are attributed to the bongos.
Given the important role of the thesis for innovation, it is disturbing that far too many so-called “innovators” set out to create and promote new dance styles without the background, study, and analysis necessary to formulate a valid reason for modifications. I know for a fact that some of these self-proclaimed experts are motivated for all the wrong reasons. For example, the “so called innovator” would discard the origin of the dance because his knowledge of history, tradition and culture is minimal. He develops a modified dance style according to his limited knowledge.
In my case, I have devoted more than 8 years to practicing, studying, researching, and analyzing bachata dance styles. I extensively studied the music, history and culture. My 15 years of experience in the Latin Dance (salsa on1, on2, timba, son, casino, merengue, paso doble, rumba, chachacha, samba, tango) helped a great deal since I came to know bachata dancing at a Dominican Restaurant in New York city. I have watched countless bachata dancers in the clubs and social parties. I have also carefully observed numerous Dominican dancers and even befriended some of them. These experiences led me to the awareness that many essential concepts, methods, and potential styles were NOT being taught or established in the so-called bachata dance classes and workshops. More and more it became alarmingly obvious to me that accurate information was being neglected. My primary concerns centered on the concept of hip movements, partner- ability and basic steps. Side steps became electric slides. Hip movements turned into grinding or humping. And dance partner-ability became stiffly robotic with no sensuality and passion.
Originally, the concept of the bachata dance was formulated based on simplicity, sensuality, sexuality, romance, heartaches and was danced at house parties, backyard celebration, whorehouses and bars. Of course, eventually, bachata music evolved to a more acceptable romantic and passionate music. Thanks to innovators such as Anthony Santos, Juan Luis Guerra, Aventura, Frank Reyes and others. They helped innovate bachata music to what it is today.
THE DANCE RESEARCH
Research is a continuous and painstaking process of observing, analyzing, testing, and documenting information relevant to the innovator’s thesis. There are two broad categories of research that, in reality, overlap in very significant ways: academic and practical research.
Academic research is a process requiring dedication, patience, and an insatiable desire to learn. The innovator truly must want to know all there is! Once again, his thesis enters the picture in the all-important role of a beacon, directing him to information that has some relevance and bearing on his ultimate goal. Without this direction he is likely to waste time sorting and separating valuable data from a tremendous amount of junk and misinformation.
Research involves rapacious reading and observing all kinds of dancers. An important thing to note is that the body of printed materials on Latin dance, particularly; salsa dance has evolved geographically over the last 20 years. Instructional DVDs and the Internet have added a whole new and interesting database, and workshops are offered around the world. Bachata information on the Internet is catching up. But let me offer a word of caution: the innovator can’t just expose himself passively to these sources. Literature must be dissected and noted. Videos must be viewed over and over again. Music must be listened to and understood. Strategically sound and weak points should be recorded and analyzed in personal journals. And finally, workshops and training programs should be attended with an open mind, balanced with healthy skepticism.
Realistic research thus begins. The innovator’s information has been analyzed, cross-referenced, and refined to theoretical applications. It’s time to break away from the black board and head for the lab. Obviously there are some difficulties in approaching simple and sound practical or experimental research. Somehow, somewhere, the innovator has to get it right. The dance club is the answer. The innovator will need innumerable social dancing, with all kinds of dancers to test the result of his new dance concept. This is the only way to test the innovator’s hypotheses. The bottom line is – the innovator must have the on-hands experience of dancing in the clubs with all kinds of dancers, if he is going to preach it! He must walk the talk!
Finally, once the innovator’s academic and practical research have been compatibly merged and his hypothesis adequately tested and proven, he will be in a position to crystallize and articulate a dance truth, in this case, his own style of dancing bachata. Over time this process and the resulting truths will build and evolve. Eventually, if successful, the innovator’s research and experiments will lead to the structuring of a complex array of truths. This will be the innovator’s dance style and teachings. This may sound easy to some, but I can tell you that it isn’t. It didn’t come easy for the Mambo King, Eddie Torres to develop Modern Mambo. It wasn’t an overnight revelation for Frankie Martinez to develop Abakua style. And certainly, it didn’t come easy for Francisco Vasquez with his electrifying LA style of dancing on 1. Of course, last important factors with your innovation; did people like it? Did you like it? Did it make sense? Or to be more specific, did your partner like it?