DANCE SPOTLIGHT ON BACHATA: Dancer & Teacher, Maria Lavandier

How were you first introduced to Bachata?

I was born in the Dominican Republic.  My family was very much into Spanish music, so growing up there was always Merengue music playing at home.  This was the popular music and dance at that time.  I started dancing at a very young age at home and at parties in front of my family and friends.  I danced popular Merengue but I also learned the Merengue Tipico which is the more folkloric version of the dance.  When I was a teenager, Bachata became the new craze and I picked up the steps quickly.  I loved the music and there were so many footwork patterns (shines) and turns which made the dance so interesting.  Bachata became the new dance at clubs and parties, alongside Merengue and Cumbia, and Salsa which also started becaming more popular in DR at this time.

How did Bachata originate and why did it become so popular in DR?

Bachata was influenced by the Bolero and local African rhythms.  Every country has their “blues” and Bachata is the Dominican Republic’s version.  The lyrics talk about longing, relationships, love, heartbreak and sadness.  The music and the dance originated long before it became popular in DR.  It wasn’t until the 1980‘s that the dance became mainstream.  Another factor that added to it’s popularity later in the 90‘s was the switch from the acoustic to the electric guitar.

Describe your own personal dance experience.

I first learned to dance old style Bachata which was danced much slower and focused more on hip movements.  I would go out to the Cabo Club in the capital city of Santo Domingo with my cousins, my mom, my uncles and some friends.  We also danced a lot at neighbor’s parties. I was so inspired by the music.  For beginners, Bachata has a very simple basic step which is very easy to learn.  For me, however, Bachata was so new and different and challenging.  I was learning so many steps and turn patterns.  Bachata is also a very passionate dance in the sense that people dance it with emotion and feeling.  It can be danced in a close embrace or open embrace by just touching hands.  It it not necessary to dance it so close that it feels like grinding.  In fact I never saw this in DR. I only saw this when I moved to the US.  You don’t have to dance that close with your partner unless you feel comfortable.  The embrace has changed over time because of the younger generation.  It is a very beautiful social dance where both partners have a chance to execute their own embellishments during the basic partner steps.  When I became an accomplished dancer in DR, I started teaching and choreographing routines for dance partners, for solo line dances and for exercise workouts.  I won several awards in my country and I competed throughout my young adulthood at various Latin night clubs and later at competitions in the New York tri-state area.  I also love Middle Eastern dance which I practice and incorporate into my Latin dancing.

What are your goals for students who come to your class?

I bring a lot of joy and positive energy to my classes!  I want to teach students to feel good about themselves and to have fun while they’re dancing.  I show students how to move their hips and I teach partnering skills so that they feel more confident on the dance floor with different partners.  Once students have a good solid foundation, I like to organize outings.  Bachata socials offer a fun and friendly atmosphere and are a great way to get out and meet people. We are having regular socials at our new studio in Pleasantville, and Bachata is part of every social, so you can easily practice what you learn in my class.  What’s also great about my class is that I teach movement and steps that you can use to dance solo or with a circle of friends.  I also use different types of warm-up rhythms in my classes such as Reggaeton, Cumbia and Merengue and create routines for simple movement of the hips and the whole body.  Everyone says I’m the life of the party!  Well, I think if you could learn some of my moves, then ... you could be the life of the party too!