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First of all, I would like to say that everyone has different personal borders. What may seem OK to me, may not feel OK for you, or the other way around. We are distinct individuals, but yet we need to find an agreement on our social behavior in the dance floor.
Why did I start to address the topic of sexism in Bachata about a year ago?
You know how we were all doomed to sit at home during lockdown? It gave me the time to think more deeply about sexism and how it shows itself in Bachata. Since I am a psychology student, I always try to look for the why in our behavior and how we could change it. I felt the need to say something out loud, because I couldn’t find any bigger public discourse about it on social media. That made me wonder: if it happens almost everywhere, how come people don’t talk about it?
The story behind it:
A few weeks before I decided to put questionnaires addressing this topic on our Instagram stories, I was at a Bachata Party in Hamburg, Germany. I was happy to get to know Hamburg’s Bachata scene, since it was my first time dancing there. So, I danced a lot and then it happened. I danced with a guy (I was following) and he made me do one of those large dips with the big cambrè starting from a position in which we were both facing each other. Suddenly the following occurred: He put the side of his hand in between my breasts and drew a vertical line with it down towards my belly. When I finished coming back up and realized what was going on, I immediately asked him what he thought he was doing, and that he couldn’t touch me there. I was so upset. Even though he didn’t touch my breasts I felt so used and vulnerable. “How dare you touch my body in this way when I’m down in the cambré not even able to escape?”, I thought.
So many things started coming to my mind, I was wondering if I should slap him, finish the dance angrily or quit the dance immediately. I decided that I would finish the dance angrily and never dance with him again. Obviously, I didn’t enjoy the rest of the dance and neither did he. I should have quit the dance, I thought later on. I was shocked. Shock sometimes makes you do funny things and later on you wonder why you didn’t do or say something else.
That’s exactly what made me take the decision to address this topic publicly a few weeks later – do Bachata dancers know when a line being crossed? Apparently not everyone.
Let’s take a closer look on the Bachata scene. Bachata is a sexy dance, right? And most of the people just want to have a good time and enjoy their dances. One of the thoughts and doubts I had concerning the situation in Hamburg was: “He didn’t mean it… don’t overreact… it was just a dance move…” And that reaction, thinking that you are maybe overreacting, obviously is not just one that occurs exclusively on the dancefloor.
I talked to a lot of girls and many of them told me that they have the same thoughts going through their heads in these kinds of situations on and off the dancefloor. This made me conclude that it is a problem in our society, not just in Bachata.
I also talked to a lot of guys and a reasonable number of them confirmed that they find it hard to imagine something like this happening to them. Most of them told me that they would probably punch the person who would do that to them. Luckily the number of males who have experienced sexual harassment or assault (talking about reported crimes in our society) is way smaller than the number of girls.
But wait a minute… is this even sexual harassment? How did we get from Bachata parties to criminal behavior? Well, obviously we are all part of a society. And human behavior remains human behavior, whether it’s on or off the dance floor.
This means that the Bachata scene is just like a reflection of our society.
We carry the problems, and they don’t wait outside the doors until the festival is over.
Was this an act of sexual harassment? I’ll get back to that question later.
You probably have also seen a lot of similar situations on the Bachata dance floor.
I’m talking about the moments when we get uncomfortable as an observer because we are exposed to too much sexuality. I feel like most of these moments have no consequences. Why is that? Well, I learned my lesson and it required, unfortunately, various experiences for me to finally speak up about it and to be able right away to tell people, like this man, that it’s not ok.
So, I guess I’m not the only one having this problem. Don’t be fooled, it’s not easy and it remains a challenge to a lot of people, to deal with line-crossing behavior in situations that you originally felt safe in and were caught by surprise. And it really upsets me, to see that still too many dancers don’t respect each other. Unfortunately, the sexual harassment is mostly observed from male dancers towards female dancers, which, and I want to make that clear, doesn’t mean that it’s not happening the other way around or in between same sex situations.
My thoughts on this? We all should speak up about it. If there is a behavior that we witness, which is obviously crossing the line, then we should all take actions and offer help.
The erotic aspect about dancing Bachata is something that we all love, but we have to be careful with it and protect our values. And that is the tricky part which answers the question of why we barely realize any consequences of line-crossing behavior on the dance floor. Since we all know Bachata is a very sensual dance and, since we are looking for the fun we feel through the closeness and the uniqueness of this, we might sometimes lose the sensitivity for what is ok, and what not. And that’s a problem.
Which takes me right back to the “dance move”
I figured then, that what the guy in Hamburg did was without the intention of touching my breasts, because he could have easily done it in that moment but he didn’t. That led me to the conclusion that he thought what he was doing with his hand was some kind of dance move or at least a decoration of the dance move. And to be honest, I have seen this “move” in videos of famous and not so famous Bachata dancers and teachers before. It made me angry that a random guy thinks he has the right to do that to a stranger and claim that it is a dance move without any bad intentions. How can that happen?
And that’s the point: Bachata can be a very sexy dance, as I already claimed. And Bachata Sensual is obviously intended to be sensual. And we all know that Bachata gets steamy and erotic sometimes, depending on the song, who you dance with and what kind of connection evolves from that. BUT dancers have to know and understand that there are “moves” or gestures which are a symbol of a profound closeness, trust and connection or even intimacy. Some moves are even just used in demos by famous teachers to entertain us. We are presented the perfect image of a couple which is deeply in love and is striving for each other’s affection.
But: just because some famous dance couples do this move and/or sell you the illusion of the most romantic moment, doesn’t mean that everyone can use this move with anyone in any situation. This is not just a styling. Bachata dancers have to understand, that these movements can provoke uneasiness, that they can be received as sexual assaults, and that they can serve as the opener of an article which talks about sexism in Bachata.
I wondered what other people were thinking about all this and I decided to just ask them.
In our Instagram stories (of me and my dance partner Jorge) I posted a statement of our opinion and our personal borders. To be concrete: for us it’s not ok to touch the face, it’s not ok to touch the breast area of the girls. In fact:
- It’s not ok to touch any private part of the body, male or female.
- It’s not ok to assume to dance another dance without asking for it and pretending to not having heard that the song ended (not letting someone go).
- It’s not ok to grab somebody’s hand and pull them on the dance floor without asking for the dance properly and
- It’s not ok to dance with somebody and look all the time (bored) around seeking the next dance partner.
- It’s not ok to bite your lips while staring at your dance partner leading or doing some kind of Bachata sensual move.
I mean, we still want to dance, this is not supposed to be actual sex nor foreplay. That should be common sense. Be polite, be respectful.
The statement we put on Instagram was followed by many different questions asking people if they thought it OK to touch the face while dancing, if they dance with people of the same sex, if they would take classes of a solo female teacher showing how to lead and vice versa, etc. And guess what? There were so many reactions to this. I was most impressed by the amount of people (mostly girls who follow) who sent me messages telling me similar experiences to the one that I had in Hamburg or just thanking us for posting this statement.
There were a lot of very sad stories among the messages we received. And at this point I just want to say: Please be aware that sexual harassment and/or abuse is a crime and should not be allowed in any kind of situation. And no, most of the girls who follow and responded didn’t want to be touched in the face. But I don’t want to make you guys feel all depressed right now. Let’s focus on what each one of us can do to create a respectful environment on the dance floor.
To start, take your time and think about what kind of intimacy on and off the dance floor is ok for you and most importantly with whom. How many times do you really feel the sexual attraction that you’re expressing with your moves, gestures and face expressions during the dance? Sometimes it might just be an extra spice we want to add to our dance and we might not even notice when it goes too far. Many times, we lack authenticity here. Nobody can be this aroused with everyone in every dance, this is my personal opinion.
What do you think? Leave a comment at the end.
By the way, the comment and the questionnaire we put on our Instagram stories led to an invitation to the Bachata Podcast of Yann & Lucie from the Netherlands. You can listen to that episode on Spotify, it’s called “Sexism in Bachata” and it’s linked at the end of the article. I was so happy to finally be able to talk about this in public and I actually felt that a lot of people were relieved that somebody spoke up about this, too.
I think within the last year a lot of people started questioning what they want in life, what they look for in Bachata and how they want to dance.
The pandemic definitely had its good sides. However, there is always a few who don’t seem to have that common sense or maybe they just have different borders, as I mentioned in the very beginning. I can only say that I find it very uncomfortable when I am in situations like the one in Hamburg. And they happen more frequently than some of you might guess.
That’s why Jorge and I tell our students from the beginning that those gestures are not part of the dance called Bachata, referring to techniques and combinations. It’s not that we teach a head roll and then the next lesson we teach how to stare deeply into each other’s eyes and touch the hair of the girl/boy or watch his/her booty while you do nothing as if it was a private dance. These kinds of “moves” or situations are individual behavior which we believe not appropriate in the dancefloor, at least these shouldn’t be used as standardized movements. That’s why we would like to encourage famous teachers and dancers to take more responsibility in this and stop executing super sexualized moves and gestured in their dances, because, of course they are role models and it ends up being copied.
Even girls dancing with girls often seem to create a hyper erotic vibe by exchanging deep looks, touching each other constantly, going through one another’s hair or coming super close with the faces as if they were about to kiss. Why do I say “even” girls? Because in quantity most of the victims of sexual harassment or sexistic acts (in Bachata) are girls, as I told you earlier. What I find sad about this misunderstood “sensuality” is that it has become such a trend, that some dancers, show this behavior automatically. It’s like a button they press and you can watch the show. You can tell that they have learned it. In my opinion, it takes away the freedom to let the moment- or let’s say the connection- create a natural steaminess or comfort, that for me, is way more mind blowing and enjoyable than any kind of learned behavior, which is executed to make the dance appear “super sexy and hot”. Because that’s the beauty of couple dance for me: even though you might have never met the person you share the dance with before, it can happen that within the three or four minutes that a song lasts, you feel an intimacy and comfort expanding in your body, which makes you feel almost high.
But that’s not something you can plan, neither evoke mechanically by using sexualized gestures that you just copied.
Feeling is different to doing. And feelings can’t simply be turned on or off.
The purpose of this comment is not to complain, but to give something to think about instead. Some of you might have completely different opinions on this. But as I mentioned in the last paragraph: Nothing seems to be more enjoyed by every dancer than a true, natural connection that shows its beauty in the realness of the comfort both partners feel, and maybe, but not obligatory, in addition the erotic side that evolves through it. So, this seems to be something that unites us, independently of our personal borders. Let’s not forget this when we go to the next Bachata event.
To finish the Hamburg-story.
The guy who did this hand-move also saw our statement on Instagram and he reacted to it as well. He sent me a message with an apology. And I thought that this was the best he could do. I don’t blame him in the first place for having thought it was ok to do that to me, he probably has seen it so many times in videos or in social dance that he just assumed that it’s fine. But, of course, he could have thought it through and then he might have come to the conclusion by himself that this move is super sexual and not a dance move. Whatever made him do it, it’s good that he finally understood that he went too far with it and that it made me feel very uncomfortable. I hope he learned his lesson, too, just like I have learned mine.
Jorge and I would like to encourage everyone who dances and especially those who teach Bachata (Sensual), to ask themselves where their personal borders lay and how much authenticity they are looking for. Because this is something we can only achieve together and we have to teach or students and show our fellow dancers with what kind of respect we would like to be treated. If we want to avoid inappropriate behavior on the dance floor, we have to talk about it and discuss. But do you know what’s the good news? It’s so easy to find out what other people think of it, if you just start to conversate about it. Give it a try.
Enjoy natural dance connections and see what happens when you let it flow, instead of planning and doing copied and hyper-intimate moves. Since you never know where the personal borders of the person you dance with lay, don’t do the face touching, the hair combing or the super intense eye staring. Don’t do the silhouette touching, don’t come too close to the face, don’t forget to ask properly for another dance, etc, etc. If you dance with your lover or with somebody you are very close with and you know that the person likes it or doesn’t have a problem with it, do it if you feel like it. But be careful, because either way these are not the gestures that define Bachata as Bachata.
Remember that sometimes it’s way more interesting to feel and connect to the music and to pay attention to what your partner’s body language is telling you, not the actual dance moves, but the vibes you receive and connect to that instead of performing moves that wear the label “sexy” or “romantic”. We promise you that getting lost in the moment is so beautiful and comforting that you won’t need any extra touching or similarly intimate gestures no more, at least not with any stranger. When you dance with your partner or lover, go for whatever is your way of expressing your love to each other.
That’s the message we want to spread:
Respect comes first and most beauty lies in authenticity.