Bachata Sensual as a social dance
If learning Bachata is to be a nice experience, it helps a lot to understand how it is different to learn compared to other social dances. The learning curves are different, and some dance styles are much more difficult to lead at a given level, or requires much more of the Follow to work.
Almost a rehearsed dance
There are many impressive Bachata Sensual videos around, and my instructors in class and workshops dance quite well. But the dancers are often partners, or they know one another, having been schooled for a long time in the same local dance community.
This is true for any social dance. But if we set up a scale for lead-ability, to what extent a Lead can make an average Follow on same level dance in a certain way, she doesn’t know in advance, Bachata Sensual scores in the very low end among the social dances.
A lot of what I see in workshops and masterclasses look if not as a choreographed dance, then at least as a rehearsed dance or as a dance that will not work at all if the Lead dances with the average dancer in the room before she has actually seen and rehearsed the combination.
Beginners and improvers
Bachata Sensual works like most other dance styles at Beginner and Improver level. Everything you learn in class as a Lead, you can use immediately in social dancing. Not only with your class Follows but with any Follow, even with beginners only knowing basic steps.
At intermediate level there is a watershed of change and challenges. The disparity between what you learn in class and what you can use in social dancing is mind blowing. You are likely to become rather frustrated when you go social dancing, at least for a while.
Almost everything you learn at intermediate level is impossible to do with the average Follow on Beginner and Improver level. Body rolls, head rolls, dips, hand tosses, arm swings, push turns, slides, break turns, and changing direction and positions.
And it is even worse. All what I have mentioned doesn’t even work with the average Follow at intermediate level unless she has actually learned the exact same thing in class or workshop.
Salsa as contrast
In Cuban Salsa, a Lead should as a general rule adjust his level to the Follow to make her not just survive the dance but with grace and elegance. But a good average Lead can make most of the advanced stuff he knows well work in an acceptable manner with any Follow at any level. If he decides to do so, and the music is not too fast.
It is the opposite in Bachata Sensual. Even when I have danced with the Follow before, even when she is a class mate, even when she is an average advanced level, I must play it extremely safe and conservative to avoid disaster in social dancing.
Forget about anything that is not easy to lead, that she might not know. Even a lot of what is theoretically easy to lead, like break turns, or anything that breaks the normal or expected flow, doesn’t work most of the time. If the Follow hasn’t learned it in class or workshop or hasn’t experienced it for a while or doesn’t have it at the forefront of her muscle memory.
Cuban Salsa is probably the ultimate social dance. Almost every time I go to a social, I dance with at least one Follow I haven’t dance with before, often I haven’t even seen her before. I give her my best dance and we end up thanking one another for an excellent experience. Often it is ecstatic, if not the heavens. The level of the Follow is not that important.
Bachata Sensual in contrast, for the average dancers, has a strong tendency to become mostly dance exercises. We don’t expect a magic experience but a lot of trial and error. A lot of smiles and fun on the dance floor, all right, but even when it really works in Bachata Sensual at intermediate level, the average couple are likely just to agree: “this was not that bad”.
I am tempted to call Bachata Sensual for a social training dance. Most of the time. It is full of stuff that only works if the Follow has already tried it at least a couple of times. And for some of the body rolls it takes ages, both to learn to lead and to follow.
Cracking the code
When I dance Bachata Sensual with beginners and improvers, I break the traditional rule of social dancing, of not to teach on the dance floor. It is a training dance, period. I teach hesitation, slides, hair combs, hand tosses, wind mills, and even the easiest body rolls like the cradle and head rolls. I am successful. Beginners are almost queuing up.
When I dance with intermediate and advanced level, much depends on my past experience with that Follow, and the music. Most of the time I decide for dance exercises except that I don’t teach but we might end up discussing something. I start with safe combinations, that in theory can’t go wrong, and if I am successful, I add more difficult stuff and accept trial and error, and to repeat a combination or two if something goes wrong.
If I sense a strong Follow on advanced level, and the music is right, I might aim at a social dance for real, as I know it from Cuban Salsa: I will give her my very best and all of what I have of musicality, and I will focus on connection, flow, drive and determination all the way, and I will strive at perfection with no errors or missteps and adjust my dance to the Follow accordingly.
Dance background matters
Bachata Sensual is especially frustrating if your background is only Cuban Salsa originating as a people’s dance not requiring formal training. The biggest difference in Cuban Salsa, when an advanced Lead dances with a beginner or with a Follow on advanced level, is not the moves but flow, musicality and connection.
Learning X-Body Salsa, on the other hand, is in many ways more similar to learning Bachata Sensual, an artificially constructed social dance, than to learning Cuban Salsa. Most advanced combinations don’t work at all with beginners or intermediate Follows, not even with Follows on advanced level unless they are very good.
We must simply accept that some social dances are more social than others. That some social dances work well also with weak Follows. Other social dances requires a strong Follow having a skill level higher than the Lead, or that the Lead is very good at adjusting to the level of the Follow.