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The Two Most Important Skills to Become a Great Sensual Bachata Dancer

Updated: May 11

This audio was recorded by Danny Kalman, the Director of Movers and Shakers Salsa and Bachata Dance Academy. The following text is an unedited transcript of his audio and headers have been added for clarity.


Transcript of Audio:


The most important thing in order to become a great sensual bachata dancer, in my opinion, is body isolations. The second most important thing, I would say, is musicality. I'm going to break down both of these in more detail on exactly what that means and how to do it.


Master Sensual Bachata: The Importance of Body Isolations


So body isolations are important because in sensual bachata, there are all these undulations and flowing movements in all directions, all planes of motion. The more intricately you can move your body, if you can isolate every single vertebrae of your spine in any direction, for example, maybe it's an extreme thought, but theoretically, then you can be a great sensual bachata dancer.  


bachata dancing in los angeles

For some people, if you're already flexible, then it comes more easily. If not, you definitely need to work on that. To create body isolations, a great way to do it is simply in group dance class. Your warmups are one of the most important things you can do, assuming they're doing a good isolation warmup in the class and it doesn't even have to be just bachata class. In other styles of dance, like hip hop, for example, they're usually going to do body isolations as part of the warmup at the beginning of the class. 


To develop great isolations, you need to do two things. You need to develop flexibility and strength, I count those as one thing, and connect your mind to the different parts of the body. That just takes repetition and time.


The Art of Following in Sensual Bachata


For follows on the dance floor, to be the best possible follow, you want to be very tuned in to what's being asked for and follow exactly what the leader is asking for, nothing more, nothing less. I really want to emphasize that. Follow exactly what the leader is asking for, nothing more, nothing less.  


Less would mean that maybe you're stiff or not picking up on cues, doing more than they're asking for. I call them renegade girls, where they're dancing with them, and they just get this idea like, “Oh, I think he's going to dip me. I'm going to go for my dip” or  I'm having a good time then if we start to lead a body roll, then they think, I know how to body roll, and they initiate a huge body roll all by themselves. That's not good following. You want to actually pull back a little bit and just sense what's being asked for and follow only that, nothing more. 


Assuming that it's great leader, and he has a clear communication in the lead. In order to follow exactly what's being asked for, of course, we have to have great body isolations.


For the leaders, this goes for you, too. Instead of just moving the follow around the floor with your arms, any time you have the opportunity to lead from the torso, from the body, it's going to actually be a better connection.  


This is an advanced concept. Hopefully, you have a great instructor or class in your area who can teach you this. I'll just throw it out there that we want to typically lead from the torso on a lot of occasions when we're dancing.


Developing Musicality: Key for Sensual Bachata Dancing


The second thing is musicality, and the beautiful thing about musicality with bachata is that a lot of the music is totally predictable. You may know the song, which is even better.  


If you don't know the song, you may be able to anticipate when there's going to be a break in the music or something's about to happen. I noticed something really interesting. In Los Angeles, California, where I live, there is a bit of focus on musicality but when I went and trained in sensual bachata in Spain, which is where sensual bachata comes from, there was zero tolerance for anything less than great musicality.


Sensual Bachata Lessons: Insights from High-Level Instructors


So for example, I was doing private lessons with some of the highest-level instructors who are from Spain, of course, because that's where it comes from.  

 

When we were drilling a pattern, for example, with music, I started to initiate the pattern, and the instructor said, “No, wait.” Then he counted the music and said, “Okay, now” Even though it was just drilling to get the pattern into my muscle memory, he insisted that we do it with musicality.


In a moment in the song, that was musical. I thought that was so interesting that there was basically zero tolerance for not having musicality. No wonder so much great sensual bachata dancing comes out of Spain. That's so beautiful and that we watching on social media.  


So musicality, I would say, is the second thing to focus on to become a great sensual bachata dancer. For follows, this applies even though the goal is to follow what's being asked for, nothing more, nothing less, there are opportunities to add feeling to the dancing and styling. 


I define styling as any extra movement you create that does not affect the connection with the partner. Maybe they lead you through a turn and you have a free arm and you can do something with that or maybe they're taking you through a sensual bachata movement with a lot of contact points on your body, but you can still, I call it massaging the timing. Go a little quicker in one spot, a little slower in another spot, things like that to add feeling based on what you're hearing in the music. Musicality is a really key component to becoming great sensual bachata dancer as well.

  

Master Bachata Timing: A Formula for Anticipating Musical Breaks


There is a great formula that you can use to anticipate when there's going to be a break in the music. This is the structure of a lot of music in the world, but pretty much any bachata song. When we dance, we divide our counts into sets of eight. 


1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8... 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

The structure is that every four sets of eight, there is a break in the music. So 8 times 4 is 32 counts. On the last four counts, there's typically a break in the music.


So what that means is you would count:


1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8... 2, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8... 3, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8... 4, 2, 3, 4 and then here's the break on 5, 6, 7, 8

and then it repeats.


1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8... 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8... 3, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8... 4, 2, 3, 4 and then here comes the break, 5, 6, 7, 8

All right, so that's every 32 counts and it's amazing. If you go listen to some bachata music right now and counts it out loud, you're going to see these breaks happen again and again. It's like magic. So there's a little cheat for you, I guess you could say, a formula to count bachata music and anticipate more easily what's going to happen in the music.  


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The last thing I would just throw in is fall in love with the process of learning. I always tell students, if you fall in love with the process of learning, everything else will fall in place naturally. If there are two things that I would say are most important to focus on to become a great sensual bachata dancer, one is body isolations, and the second is musicality; and of course, every individual needs to focus on different things. So it's tough to generalize in this way, but these two components are really crucial. So keep dancing and enjoy. 

 

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