My trip to the Dominican Republic was not well timed with the ravages of Cyclone Hanna and Ike furiously beating at the shores of DR and it’s Caribbean neighbours. But the weather was no hindrance to the soul and determination of the people and so we danced! I took the opportunity to shake my booty and move with the true blooded Dominicans and see what it’s like to be led by those who have been immersed in the rhythms of Bachata and Salsa from birth. I was not disappointed.
There is a respect when you dance with a Dominican as I found over the nine evenings during September this year (2008). I hit the dance floor pretty hard in order to learn as much as I could and what I found is it’s not about learning, the dance is enjoyed only through the lived experience.
A Dominican male leads well, although he’s not firm, he listens to the beat, feels it and translates it back to his partner. He gives her the freedom to move and to express her-self just as much as he is able to express himself. He cares for her and gives the impression that in the course of things, she is the most important element in the dance. He wants her to do well, he wants her to let go of her body and any inhibitions she may have. If, like me, her expression is limited then he would coax her gently by exaggerating his movements. He is attentive and through this she feels the joy of dance.
I enjoyed every partner in the Dominican Republic. Especially dancing with the locals at the resorts where tourists tend to congregate. I had drunken old men, suavely agile waifs and buff-built beauties, but what they all shared was the use of dance as a release, a chance to let loose and to connect with the opposite sex in a pulsating yet safe environment.
I found some younger men timid as if I were to break if handled with excess. To most local men and woman dancing seemed to come as easily as breathing. Yet there was an underlying current and a politic hard to grasp on a superficial level.
I was told by Juana (not her real name), 23, a beautician in Sousua in the counties north and who came from a family of eleven children (she herself was a born-again Mormon) that in this highly Catholic culture it is not acceptable for a girl to go out dancing with a variety of men, least of all a foreigner. She said there was more at stake and more expected from both sides through the premise of a dance.
My feeling as a western woman of dancing with a local was that nothing was expected in return. My experiences were often sensual and free yet, strangely enough, always controlled. We followed a social etiquette that was in tune with the other couples on the floor. Most dances left me feeling confident and longing for more.
I attempted to emulate this on my return to Australia but I found the excessive spinning, stylizing and basic showing off disappointing. And the carefree feeling of wanting to dance left me with a dread felt deep in the pit of my stomach.
I can not turn like a professional dancer and nor do I want to. What I want to feel is like a woman who for the brief moment of the song is transported into the realms where anything is possible and a spark is ignited.
The Dominican Republic showed me the potential of dance, just as on the beaches of Rio as on the dance floors of the Caribbean when a person is standing exposed to the world, class, race and wealth is irrelevant. Unfortunately, though it seems, sex is rarely irrelevant and I am especially aware of how extremely lucky I am to have traversed cultural and sexual boundaries in order to enjoy the perfect dance and for this I am forever grateful.
Article written by Kim Balmanno. Kim is a new bachatera in Sydney. You can find he dancing her way around various popular venues in Sydney. She is also a professional journalist, for more articles check www.kimbalmanno.com