(This is the first part of a 2 part article)

Mention the word bachata and you’ll probably get stares from the general public as to what foreign language you’re speaking. Foreign it is, but not so foreign to the large community of latin social dancers here in Malaysia.

Bachata is a dance, originating from the Dominican Republic, a dance well known for its sensuality as well as cheekiness and fun. It has set its roots here in Malaysia for well over 10 years and is currently growing stronger every year. Even globally, bachata is growing at a rate not seen in years since it was first danced in the latin clubs. International bachata festivals and congresses are popping out everywhere since the first of such an event was launched in Sydney in the year 2008.

If you’ve lost your love, you listen to bachata in a bar until the tears flow. If you’re with your love, you dance bachata until your hips ache. It is called musica del amargue, which means ‘music of bitterness’ – the Dominican blues – touchingly used by those who can’t read or write to communicate their feelings or ‘sentimientos’. It is the music of the heart and of the soul, the music of the poor and disadvantaged, sung usually by men in a nasal voice (voz anonada – meaning ‘spoiled/ruined voice’), accompanied by a powerful tenor and baritone harmony-duo chorus.

Malaysian latin social dance community mainly comprise of the salsa dancers and in the clubs where salsa is the mainstream, you will always get to hear the melodious tunes of the bachata being played alongside the salsa songs.

Bachata in Malaysia is mainly danced in the traditional way, comprising of a series of simple steps to produce a back and forth or sideways motion. The character of the dance is achieved through sensual hip and body movement.

In recent years, bachata is seeing a modernization in the way it is danced and in Malaysia, one dance school has taken it as a mission to promote this new and fun way of dancing the bachata. Bachata is now no longer about simple movements from side to side; it has started incorporating new steps which include crosses of the feet , changes in the lead and styles of movement that makes bachata even more interesting to dance to. Elements of other dances are incorporated seamlessly into it; dances such as zouk, kizomba, tango.

Rhythm Identity became the first dance school in Malaysia to start the Bachata Moderna style; a form of the bachata dance which is becoming very popular in Australia as well as Europe. And for this, one of the pioneer of the Bachata Moderna was brought into Malaysia for a full weekend of workshops, party and performance to introduce the Malaysian dance community to this evolution of the bachata dance.

Juan Ruiz is the director of Bachateros in Australia and also one of the organizers of the Sydney International Bachata Festival; the first of its kind in the world. He is a world renowned bachata instructor who is said to be the “father” of Australia’s bachata. He has made the transition from the traditional style bachata to the modern style bachata and is now one of the leading expert in this field of dance.

(Wonder how the workshops went? Don’t miss out the second part of this article…)

Written by Jaxen Tan. Jaxen is the director of Rhythm Identity in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Jaxen is a dedicated and motivated latin instructor pushing and promoting new rhythms and styles such as Bachata Moderna and Zouk in Malaysia.