Bachata Sensual: Why so difficult as a social dance?

We have leading and following, and we have leading and following. In dance styles like Cuban Salsa and Bachata Sensual the concepts of leading and following might be the same but the reality and challenges as experienced on the dance floor are as different as night and day.

A leader can lead Cuban Salsa literally speaking. The Follow needs to know nothing except her basic steps and the concept of following. It is a common saying in Cuban Salsa, I have heard it so many times, that the only thing a Follow needs to know and to have trained is Vacilala steps, and even if she doesn’t know them and just turns around like in X-body Salsa, it is not a disaster on the dance floor. For the rest, she can just close her eyes and follow her leader (slightly exaggerated).

Leading and following is qualified in Bachata Sensual. It is not enough that the Follow picks up the lead, she must also know what it means, and she must have practiced what is expected of her often a hundred times.

In Bachata Sensual the exceptions to literally being lead, comparable to “Vacilala” in Cuban Salsa, are almost endless. In Bachata Sensual the stuff a Follow must know and must have practiced is closer to being the rule than to the exception to the rule.

No wonder that a poor Bachata Sensual Lead gets into trouble unless the Follow is at a very advanced level or is someone he has danced with many times before. No wonder that it can be equally frustrating being a Follow, constantly experiencing that she isn’t as good as the Lead expected.

Lessons learned

Understanding how demanding Bachata Sensual is for the Follow has huge consequences for how a Lead should approach a social dance unless he is dancing with a partner or with other Follows he has danced with a lot. Let us take the most exiting type of social dance as example, dancing the first dance with the mysterious, unknown Follow, not even knowing her name or level.

  1. The Lead should be extremely conservative, only leading the Follow into things, he senses she can do.
  2. The Lead sometimes knows right away that he can throw anything at this Follow but if in doubt, the Lead should build in testing the Follow at the beginning of his dance. If she can do a perfect simple head roll or dip, go for a more advanced one next. If she can step a Dominican type of Square at ease, she can also do it with arm waves added next time. If she can do simple arm tosses, throwing her arm behind her back will probably also work. If simple waves work fine, try full blown body rolls next.
  3. Repetition. When ever the Follow is not perfect the first time around, and it is obvious that she can actually do what you want her to do, give her a second or even a third chance, now when she has understood you.
  4. Backup plan. A Lead should be very conscious about anything that can go wrong, and he should train how to rescue moves likely to fail with some Follows, just like I have described in the blog post Bachata Sensual: How to rescue Titanic.
  5. Attitude. Don’t blame the Follow for what she gets wrong. In a final analysis the Lead is always the main culprit like in Cuban Salsa: The Lead wasn’t clear enough in his leading or simply an idiot trying to make the Follow do things above her level.

Unlike Cuban Salsa, the most likely reason for the failure of the Follow is simply:

That she hasn’t yet learned what is expected of hear, that she hasn’t had enough social dances to pick up the meaning of even the most outspoken lead, or hasn’t had the time to practice those “body rolls” sufficiently to just get them right at any moment to the music.

The role of Lead and Follow

The success of a Bachata Sensual dance depends much more on both Lead and Follow than in the average Cuban Salsa dance. It is a 50/50 situation, a mutual effort demanding as much of the Follow as of the Lead except that he still provides the frame. It is still the Lead’s dance, his repertoire and choreography.

Cuban Salsa can be danced 99% Lead dominated, or, if the Lead is good, with much more room for the Follow. But still the Follow doesn’t need to have trained anything special, she just needs to be good at following and walking her steps. On top of it, we also have the option of dancing Rueda de Casino in Cuban Salsa.

In Cuban Salsa we even have music driven free styling Casino with Lead and Follow as fifty-fifty equal as in Bachata Sensual. But still a very different experience. Cuban Salsa at its best is mostly improvisation with little Complicado or other trained skills. It is pure musicality with body isolations and styling from within. Of cause you somehow need to train that too and quite a lot but it is seldom as concrete and explicit as skills in Bachata Sensual.

In Bachata Sensual, because the Follow always contribute half of the dance as mostly learned and trained skills, leading and following is much more difficult and likely to go wrong, and for the average dancers the success rate is much, much, much lower than in Cuban Salsa, unless you have already danced a lot with that partner.

Bachata Sensual is so difficult as a social dance, that I recommend for the average Lead even at advanced level, to dance a lot with the same partners in order to get almost semi-choreographed dances with a good chance of success. It takes much better Leads and Follows than in Cuban Salsa to dance successfully with anyone.

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