Tag Archives: #22 Dance bachata with a local in the Dominican Republic.

Bachata en La Republica Dominicana… Wepa!

4 Sep

Bachata is a genre of music and a style of dance from the Dominican Republic. It originated from the barrios and was closely associated with the campesinos (peasants). This brought about a stigma as bachata was considered too crude and rustic to make it to the mainstream. For decades, it was confined within the underground music and dance scene, not being played in the radio nor being danced in public venues. But the growing popularity of bachata could not be denied as it continued to develop in community gatherings and urban shantytowns.  In the 90’s, the movement to bring bachata to a wider audience became imminent through young and talented Dominican artists like Juan Luis Guerra, Antony Santos and Raulin Rodriguez. Today, bachata is recognised both as a music genre and a dance style by diverse social classes not just in the Dominican Republic but also around the world.

I fell in love with bachata three years ago. What started out as a hobby has turned into a way of life. It is both a challenge and a stress reliever, a learning structure and a creativity outlet, a responsibility to share and an opportunity to play… But it doesn’t matter how much training, competitions, performances, workshops, events and social dancing there are, I’m always hungry for more bachata.

It then comes as an easy choice to incorporate bachata in my 30 Before 30 Project. As a bachatera, I’ve decided to go back to bachata’s roots and gain a better understanding of how it is shaped by its land, people and culture.

Before coming to Dominican Republic, Tino and I did some research on Dominican dancers that we can potentially get in touch with and take lessons from. We came across a Dominican TV program on youtube and we just loved the way these guys dance.

Unfortunately, looking them up elsewhere was no easy feat. We couldn’t find information on the show let alone the dancers. As an alternative, Tino also emailed some dance schools to look for other teachers but to no avail. We ended up leaving Sydney with no contacts in the Dominican Republic. We figured we’ll just wing it when we get there.

The Caribbean sun welcomed us to Santo Domingo in the company of blue skies. It was hard to believe that Hurricane Earl was hovering over the island just the night before.

The drive from the airport to the hotel sort of sums up how I feel about the Dominican Republic. It started off with a view of a pretty stretch of malecon with the water on the other side of the road. But as we were nearing the city center, the landscape changed to that of a run down urban area. I truly felt like an outsider looking in as I got my first glimpse of poverty in the Dominican Republic. It didn’t take long before my view from the back seat became pretty again. We had reached the Zona Colonial. Zona Colonial can be likened to an old Spanish town with cobbled streets and beautiful old buildings. I felt blessed to see so much beauty around me but I also felt sad knowing that the outskirts of the colonial zone looked the opposite. They were feelings that would constantly return throughout my time here in the Dominican Republic.

I loved exploring Zona Colonial and taking photos of the picturesque town as well as the local activity. Bachata and Merengue were everywhere and I thoroughly enjoyed having them as the soundtrack to my long walks during the day.

The Santo Domingo Cathedral at Parque Colon in Zona Colonial. It’s the oldest church in the Americas.

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A typical afternoon for locals playing chess amidst the buzzing market stalls at Calle Conde.

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Tino and I made friends with Samuel who works in our hotel. With my mission to dance bachata with a local in the Dominican Republic in mind, we asked him about some recommendations for dancing in Santo Domingo. We learned that he knows of a dance studio that was a short cab ride away from where we were. He ended up driving us and introducing us to Domingo. Domingo is the principal teacher at his own dance studio. After watching me and Santino dance, we sat down with him and had a long chat about bachata and the Dominican Republic. It was such an eye opener to look at bachata from a Dominican’s perspective because for them, it’s never just a dance style and a music genre. It involves a whole myriad of life principles and real everyday situations. I would discover over and over again as I met more Dominicans later on.

The following day, we were back at Domingo’s studio for a 3-hour bachata session… wepa! I’ve finally danced bachata with a local in the Dominican Republic! 🙂

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Back in the hotel, Tino received an email from one of the schools that he contacted prior to our trip to the Dominican Republic. They are based in a province that’s far away from Santo Domingo but they mentioned that a couple of their teachers were in town for the weekend and suggested that we meet up with them. We wasted no time and went to their hotel on the same day.

Upon getting to their hotel, one of the teachers greeted us with much enthusiasm and said that she knows us!!! Apparently she was in Sydney last month and she saw me and Tino dance. She said she liked our dancing and that she even remembers what I was wearing… bless! The world is really smaller these days. 🙂 Pipo and Christine were only in Santo Domingo for the day but they organised for us to meet up with their friend who has just won the national bachata championships. We were so grateful and excited for the opportunity to dance with a master.

We got to the studio the following day and was completely surprised by who greeted us at the door. He was the guy from the youtube video! We found out later on that he also won the competition on the tv program that we saw on youtube.

Here we are in the studio with our maestro, Rodolfo.

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We had the most amazing time! And he was surprised and pleased by mine and Tino’s bachata. I even caught him with my tricks a few times. He had other teachers and students in the studio as well so we ended up hanging out and dancing both bachata and salsa afterwards. So there… I’ve finally danced with a local in the Dominican Republic. As I always say, things happen for a reason and I’m still baffled by how things came to a full circle. 🙂

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Ciao for now!

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Soy Una Bachatera

1 Sep

Salsa will always be my first love. But I’m not going to lie… I’ve fallen head over heels for Bachata.

Three years ago, I heard bachata for the first time in a salsa club in Canberra. It was danced quite sensually by the few couples in an almost empty dance floor. I guess it goes to show how very few people knew how to dance bachata back then. I was nursing a broken heart at the time and whilst it was painful to watch couples dancing intimately, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the new genre of music and the moves that go with it. I later realised that even if bachata is a sensual dance, the songs actually speak of sadness and heartache. It was the perfect soundtrack to my broken heart. It wasn’t long before my friends and I were dancing the bachata basics ourselves… moving side to side with a hip flick on the 4th beat.

Some months later, I came across this video of Moro and Gaby on Facebook and was blown away by their bachata routine. They’ve just come back from the Dominican Republic at the time and have brought back footwork and body movement from the land of bachata. It was nothing like I’ve ever seen before. I remember telling myself that day… I will learn bachata from these guys.

I did exactly that as soon as I moved to Sydney. The bachata songs still spoke of sadness but my heart no longer did. As fate would have it, I met Tino at around the same time and he had just done a routine for Moro and Gaby’s school, Buena Vista Dance. I met Gaby at his farewell and was in their bachata class the following week.

Two years on, I’ve become a bachatera with a true passion for both the music and the dance. Bachata has become an integral part of my life. I listen and dance to it all the time. Every place and every occasion (or non-occasion) is perfect for it. I’m still with Buena Vista Dance and have become part of their bachata performance team. I love love love Dominican style bachata which our school heavily promotes. It’s fun, funky, cute and sexy all rolled into one. Here’s a video of us sharing the love for Dominican bachata at the 2010 Sydney International Bachata Festival.

As a bachatera, I’ve always dreamt of going to the Dominican Republic to gain a deeper understanding of this music and dance style that I love so much. I’ve always wanted to see how the locals who’ve danced bachata all their lives groove to the sound of the guitarra. And with that, I’ve always hoped to get a chance to dance the Dominican way… with Dominicans… in the Dominican Republic. I guess it’s true that there’s hope for the hopeful. Because all those wishes are about to come true. 🙂

Dominican Republic, here I come!