I’ve read that, back in the day, Bachata was frowned upon, because it was danced by Black people in the Dominican Republic. In fact, it was not just a discrimination of colour, but a bias of class, too. So the elitists of that island disassociated themselves from the people who danced this Bachata. That was way back in the mid-1900s.
Fast-forward to 2017 and it’s the same in Joburg. Okay it’s not actually the same, but now I have your attention, LOL.
The thing is Cuban Salsa and LA-style Salsa are the preferred social dances, followed by Kizomba, which is growing fast, thanks to the increasing number of Angolans and Mozambicans living here.
Now the Dominican Republic is 11,000 kilometres from South Africa, so it’s a mystery (for now) how Bachata reached our shores. It was scoffed at in its homeland back then, but the dance is known and enjoyed around the world and it’s slowly gaining a following in SA.
A friend of mine, Leeroy, does this dance really well. He is a Coloured guy from the Cape flats. Leigh is White, from Parkhurst, and she is an awesome Bachata instructor. So, no discrimination here, in terms of either colour or class.
Of course racism is alive and kicking in our country, but among the dance community, that’s not top of mind. I’ll write about the perceived divisions in our kinship later.
So, this Bachata is a dance of intense affection as the music is about love and suffering and you have to hold your partner close. Because that’s what we do when we love and suffer, right.
And in a twist of irony, the word Bachata actually refers to an informal party, a celebration, fun.
Yet, the bourgeoisie used the word, Bachata, to ridicule the dance and the music, to make it look inferior, like the word Tsek, Bachata… but look who won, Tsek.
Let’s TRY to understand why they – this elite social class – looked down on Bachateros.
There’s a close hold between man and woman, and hand actions that involve not only moving her body, but her head too. Imagine this, while perpendicular to your lady, lifting her right hand with your left over her head, then catching the base of her neck and swirling your hand around her face and toward yours.
Yes, if it’s your partner you may kiss her, but rather not. Next, you’re moving to the side to a beat that goes ta-ta-ta-da. That’s four beats. Move to the right, add in some erotic play with her hands and body and that’s Bachata. Basic yet urbane (for some) and sneered at by those people.
The music though, is minimal. A guitar, a little drum beat, some bass and all it asks is that you take four steps left, right, forward and back, did I mention the body rolls? Again, this music was not taken seriously by the upper class, and yet they embraced Merengue?
The Abba song, Chiquitita, was restyled by Bachatero legend, Leonardo Paniagua, back in 1979. That song right there sums up the joy and melancholy of Bachata, as well as the spirit of Bachata and those who fought for it.
The deep lyrics, the flowing beat, the emotion. Who cannot adore such simplicity?
Borne from the barrios, the imagination of labourers, the determination of black people, the passion of Dominicans – the world needs it.
I leave you with some of the lyrics of that illustrious Abba song.
Chiquitita, you and I know
How the heartaches come and they go and the scars they’re leaving
You’ll be dancing once again and the pain will end
You will have no time for grieving.