This is inspired by a conversation I recently had with a Dominican Bachata instructor, who has been relatively uninterested in the ‘Sensual Bachata’ trend.

She had decided to come out and give Brazilian Zouk a try, partially to incorporate Zouk-like movements into routines. For example, off-axis turns. Or head movement. Or body rolls and upper body isolations. Like any true professional, she wanted to understand how to do the movements safely and properly before adding it to her work.

After a while, she remarked that she wasn’t expecting the waves, head movement, and isolations to be so relaxing. She explained that part of her hesitancy towards Sensual Bachata stemmed from rough, uncomfortable experiences she’d had with people leading waves, isolations, and head movement.

Let me say one thing: if body rolls, isolations, and head movement are uncomfortable, jerky or rough, something is wrong.

It’s wrong – full stop.

Yes, every dance is unique. And yes, there is usually more than one way to lead isolations, waves, and head movement ‘right’.

But, these movements have things in common. They require relaxation, control, and precision. When isolations, waves, and head movement are done well, they are relaxing. They are a wonderful feeling of connection. When they’re done wrong, they freakin’ suck.

And yes, there is a chronic problem in some dance scenes where isolations are done uncomfortably en masse. It doesn’t have to be that way. I can’t tell you how many people who hated these movements change their opinion when they feel it done right.

Even sharp movements should feel smooth, connected, and comfortable. If they’re not, something is not working right.

No, it’s not your dance’s ‘technique’. It’s wrong.

I’ve yet to find any dance style that boasts a patently uncomfortable, rough or jerky technique. If that type of dance existed, it’s probably long-dead. No one social dances to feel uncomfortable.

If someone is doing a movement that is uncomfortable, rough, or jerky, the technique is wrong.

There’s only a finite number of ways to isolate or move your upper body. All the ‘right’ ways feel good. If you feel that these types of movements are painful, jerky, or rough, you have (unfortunately) experienced them the wrong way.

The one caveat is that if you have a physical ailment that prevents you from executing the movements. For example, I once had a student who had serious complications in her spinal column from a car crash.

These issues turn away potential new dancers

When someone has a bad experience with these movements, they tend to run away and never look back.

In Zouk, we’re relatively lucky. There are some people who do make these movements uncomfortable – but the educational base in most places prevents the movements from being downright bad en masse. This is partially because these movements are so foundational to our dance, so it’s easy to find at least one person who does it the ‘right’ way for reference.

This isn’t the case when I visit a Bachata room at some events. The rise of ‘Sensual Bachata’ is in full force – but the technique to actually execute things like waves, isolations, and upper body movement hasn’t always caught up. The dancers aren’t trying to hurt their partners. But, a lack of knowledge promotes some unpleasant (or even dangerous) situations.

Isolations turn into rough side-to-side jerks. Body waves use wrists or fingers to dig into my spinal column. Head movements throw my weight back beyond my axis, and hair flicks are a quick up-and-down jerk with the wrists.

This isn’t how it’s supposed to be!!!

Regardless of the side that you’re on in the Bachata debate, I think everyone can agree that roughness is not a good thing. Dance is supposed to feel good.

Imagine if I had never danced anything before, and this was my first experience. I’d run away! I’d never want to dance, if I felt like this is what is going to be done to my body.

For those of you who have had the bad experience: it’s not supposed to be that way

  • Are there people who dislike the closeness? Yes, but body waves and isolations don’t have to be super close hold.
  • Are head movements scary to some people? Yes – but they’re also something that should never be forced, especially if the person is new to them.

If you’ve had the bad experience, see if you can find somewhere safe to see what it actually feels like. You may open up a whole new world of experiences.

If you’re a promoter, teacher, or evangelist, keep in mind that it’s our responsibility to keep people safe and comfortable. It’s our duty to make sure that people know it shouldn’t be stressful or painful. It’s important for us to educate people on the gentle nature of these movements.

Regardless of your scene, strive to promote safe dancing. It will improve the environment for all of us.