There are some big differences with how Bachata is danced in the Dominican Republic in comparison to how it is taught around the world. One of the biggest has to doing with Bachata dance rhythm and timing. When Bachata is taught around the world the vast majority of classes teach students to dance "on 1," taking their first step on the first beat of the music and then marking, tapping, or touching the 4th beat. There is nothing wrong with dancing on this timing, but in the DR dancers can, and will start on the 1, 2, 3, or 4 in the measure. It is normal to see a floor full of dancers in the DR dancing to multiple timings. Check out this video I filmed and made before reading on.
As you see in the video, in the DR dancing on multiple timings is not referred to as "on 1" "on 2" "on 3" or "on 4" but it is common to see all those timings danced. It is also very common to have the follow start the dance and thus determine the timing, which is another cultural difference in the dance. Generally, when a couple starts on a certain timing they then attempt to stay on that timing throughout the song, meaning they are not (at least on purpose) switching timings through the song. Another point I want to make clear is that this idea of dancing on multiple timings does not mean a dancer cannot be viewed as "off beat," or "out of time." A dancer may be be considered off beat, out of time, or not dancing with the music while on any of these timings.
Many of you are probably interested, inspired, or challenged that Bachata in the DR is danced on a variety of timings and that there is NO RULE that you have to start "on 1." To some, this info is new, while others were already aware of it, or have experienced it. Some love the diversity of expression, others accept it, while some disagree and have implied that it may be musically incorrect or culturally better to only dance Bachata "on 1." Some of you have been called "wrong" for dancing on other timings before. I want to make it clear that I think its OK if dancers only dance Bachata “on 1” if that is how you or your community learned, feel comfortable and enjoy. I teach many of my classes on that timing if I think it best serves the students. It is however, vitally IMPORTANT that you at least are educated that it can be, and IS, danced on different timings, so that your students have that option, and so they understand Bachata as it is danced in the DR, where it has its roots, and is alive and well today. Many people that dance Bachata internationally do not recognize that they are watching Bachata when they see it in the DR, and will sometimes be critical or consider it wrong when dancers use other timings. This is like not recognizing your own parents when you see them. INSTRUCTORS have a great responsibility, I believe within the first couple of classes to at least expose students to cultural and musical info about Bachata in the DR, the "Roots." This involves more than dance timing, it involves people and culture so if you are teaching a cultures dance you have a responsibility to your students to expose them, the best you can to the wisdom that has developed through the generations as the dance developed. I know it is challenging in an hour or a series. Believe me, I know it can't all be covered in one class! All I'm asking is for teachers to consider it and do the best you can. You don't have to be able to teach on all timings or the structure of how its danced in the DR to at least expose them to the info. Also, PERFORMERS, I would love it if more of you choreographed to other Bachata timings also!
If you have been dancing Bachata "on 1" for along time you may find it challenging to dance on other timings. It may seem "off" or musically "wrong." Perhaps you will decide to stick with dancing Bachata mostly "on 1" for a variety of reasons and that is fine. But you may want to take the journey. Start by asking yourself why YOU dance Bachata "on 1." It likely wasn't because of a conscious, well thought out musical choice you made, carefully considering the music, understanding the music and then deciding that this was the best way to dance it. NO! Rather you were taught that way, or were operating on assumptions, like I was, that it must be danced "on 1" because of your past experiences with other dances, videos, teachers, or your culture.
Dancing Bachata on Multiple Timings May Have Many Benefits!
1. The ability to dance Bachata in the DR, and with Dominicans and others who dance on multiple timings. You can dance with more people and open up your community.
2. Connecting to the culture, roots, and musical elements of the dance. Develop a deeper understanding of the dance and the wisdom in it, that has formed over generations of dancers.
3. Musical insights and understanding that you may not get on one timing. You will hear and feel the music in a new way.
4. Keeps songs and your dance fresh and exciting. That Romeo song that you have danced a 100 times may seem fresh when dancing on a new timing.
5. Who knows you might develop a preference for a different timing? Yes, even after years of dancing "on 1" it is possible. This certainly happened to me. I enjoy dancing on all timings but my normal preference now is dancing Bachata "on 3."
In an informal survey I did of 250 videos in the DR I found that "on 3" was actually most popular! The key point though is that all timings were significantly represented. This brings me to an important point. Dominicans may have preferences on what timing they, as individual dancers might like to dance, but they normally don't view it in numbers, rather musically, with sound. They may have a preference but they do not follow a rule that you have to dance on that timing and generally have the ability to dance multiple timings. Has it always been this way since the beginning of Bachata? We don't know at this point. Also, its important to point out that not all Dominicans dance Bachata or dance it well. Yes, many do, but just because someone is Dominican does not mean they dance or understand Bachata! As I mentioned before just because you can dance on multiple timings doesn't mean that someone is always with the music or "on beat." You can be disconnected with the music, or off beat in a sense, while starting on any of the timings. So what I am NOT saying is that anything goes and whatever you do you will be with the music. Not at all! I'm for freedom in dance and individual expression but it's not without limits within a particular genre.
Recognize in dance and music that its not always about "right or wrong." its about participation, experience and relationship. I learned to dance on other timings by finding musical references and sounds within the music and figuring out where that would now be in relation to my step on various beats. So for instance, that low bongo beat on 4, if I'm dancing "on 3" is now on my second step. I did the same with the bass guitar etc. That is basically how it went. I have continued to go to the DR to film and teach over the years. But your process might be different. Generally Dominicans learn to dance on multiple timings purely through experience and this is another great route to learn.
I'd encourage you remain OPEN to learning and EXPERIENCING Bachata as its danced in the DR and to the RICHNESS and WISDOM that has developed there.
More Bachata Timing & Rhythm Video Resources: