It’s all in the hips. That’s the take-home message from dance instructor, Andres Garcia, who, every Wednesday night offers free bachata dance lessons at Seven. Since we live in Bend and not, say, Miami, chances are you are just as unfamiliar with the sexy Latin dance as I was. If, however, you’re already hip to the history of the forbidden dance, it’s Cuban hip motion and international sensation Romeo Santos, you can skip the next paragraph.
Bachata music (not to be confused with bruschetta, a tasty Italian appetizer) originated in the rural areas of the Dominican Republic in the early 1900s but didn’t come to prominence until the late ‘50s and early ‘60s around the time that D.R.’s fierce dictator Rafael Trujillo was assassinated. Nicknamed El Jefe, Trujillo banned the guitar-based music and the associated dance because he, like the rest of high society, believed it to be vulgar and a threat to the region’s traditional music. The music and the eight-step dance, however, prevailed and modern bachata musical mega-stars like Santos are sending the Latin beat to the top of the charts and onto dance floors worldwide.
Being the curious sort, and recognizing that my lady loves to dance, we sauntered down to Seven on a recent Wednesday night in hopes of learning a new dance and giving Trujillo the metaphorical finger. My girlfriend suceeded on both accounts. I, however, did not—my hips aren’t naturally inclined to such sauciness. But, I did meet a lot of nice people and will be going back for follow-up lessons.
At around 9 p.m., Garcia, our knowledgeable and limber leader, started the music and explained the basic moves, which follow an eight-count rhythm.
While dancing, I noticed that the tunes Garcia played sounded more modern than I had expected—and for good reason.
Romeo Santos’ music is a large part of why bachata has blossomed in the U.S. His 2011 hit single “Promise,” featuring Usher, climbed to the No. 1 spot on the Hot Latin Songs chart, and this year Santos recorded a song with Lil Wayne (“All Aboard”), among others. Most in the music industry expect the Latin lover to continue pushing his bachata, hip-hop, R&B crossover style into U.S. markets.
To the uninitiated, like myself, bachata seems very similar to salsa and other Latin styles of music and dance. There are important distinctions. While salsa often involves large groups of dancers who regularly switch partners, bachata is a sensual partners dance—often dubbed a “mating dance.”
For the sake of practice, however, Garcia had us swap partners every time we made it through one full dance sequence—a fairly simple pattern full of hip pops, “booty rolling” (girls only) and syncopated steps done in time with the eight-beat rhythm. My various partners were either fellow first-timers or relative beginners, and their graciousness and understanding was much appreciated as I botched the single-turn move time and again.
Bachata isn’t just gaining traction in Central Oregon, it seems to be a nationwide movement. One of the men attending Wednesday’s lesson was Leonardo Mocci, an Italian salesman visiting from San Francisco. Mocci has lived in Miami, and said he’s noticed an uptick in interest across the country. From New York to L.A., Mocci said he looks for Latin dancing venues whenever he travels. Mocci is a proficient salsa dancer, and though bachata was new to him, he picked it up easily.
“It’s beautiful. Everyone’s doing the same exact step and no one knows each other,” said Mocci of the Latin dances.
Whenever I’d get lost in the steps, I’d look to Mocci for guidance. He was always smiling and hamming it up with his partners, who also seemed to enjoy his enthusiasm.
After about an hour of lessons, which left most of us in a light sweat, DJ ATL assumed the stage and the more experienced dancers took to the floor. We beginners watched in awe as the pros smoothly stepped through the moves while adding extra hip rolls on the side.
As the music pumped and the dresses swirled, we vowed to one day return and with a sultry roll of the hips, shoot a double bird in Trujillo’s direction.
Bachata Latin Dance Lessons
Free. 8:30pm, Seven Nightclub
1033 NW Bond St.