Dancing is like flirting or joking:
If you know how to do it well, you can charm people into tolerating your terrible Spanish for longer, and get in some great practice.
Bachata—which originated in the Dominican Republic—is particularly great for Spanish language learners, because both the music and dance are approachable, fun and inviting.
People who have a knack for dancing can usually pick up the basics of bachata after just a 10-minute walk-through of the dos pasos por aquí, dos pasos por allá (two steps this way, two steps that way). And the rest of us can do something passable on the dance floor after a lesson or two.
As you learn more, good bachata dancing isn’t really more complicated, but rather more sensual, and even, in some cases, showy:
Combining language learning with an activity like bachata dancing creates a virtuous circle: Meeting people while dancing motivates learning, while your Spanish benefits immensely from listening to the lyrics of the music and chatting with other dancers.
On this blog, we’ve previously covered how you can learn Spanish from alternative pop, salsa and tango, plus we’ve also analyzed a few songs.
The present post is for both bachata nuts and bachata beginners. We’ll start with a guide to learning Spanish from the hottest bachata tunes (it doubles as a hip little playlist), followed by a primer for understanding the Spanish in a typical bachata class, and finally we’ll close with some key vocabulary for interacting in Spanish on and off the dance floor.
8 of the Best Bachata Songs for Spanish Learners
These are some gorgeous songs that you’re likely to hear from your more savvy DJs. I’ve selected them for being danceable, but also for having rather fun and accessible lyrics. If you have Google Music, you can listen to these and a few bonuses on this playlist.
You can also hear more bachata and other types of Spanish songs on FluentU. You’ll also get the added benefit of having all the words right there on the screen as the song plays. Don’t know a word? Hover over it to see its definition and add it to your video-based vocab list to return to it later.
In addition to music videos, FluentU also has lots more to offer!
Romeo Santos — “Propuesta indecente” (Indecent proposal)
Every line in this song could be whispered into a delicate ear and get you covered in sloppy kisses, or else, well, slapped in the face. But, as the song says, “una aventura es más divertida si huele a peligro” (an adventure is more fun if it smells of danger). Among the useful phrases for seducing/being a creep:
- Me acerco a tu boca
(I get close to your mouth)
- Te adelanto, no me importa quién sea él
(I come up to you; I don’t care who he is)
- Permíteme apreciar tu desnudez
(Allow me to appreciate your nudity)
Mix and match to create your own! What body parts would you like to appreciate and get close to?
Romeo Santos — “La diabla” (The devil-woman)
If a woman doesn’t love you anymore, obviously she’s a devil! In these lyrics, the poor, innocent man says “jugué a fuego lento con amor,” or literally, “I played with love on a slow fire”—perhaps you can think of a good, poetic translation?
A fuego lento is a synonym for lentamente (slowly). My best idea is “I let our love slowly simmer,” although that doesn’t introduce the idea of betting or taking a risk (jugar also means to gamble on something). What’s yours?
Juan Luis Guerra — “Bachata en Fukuoka” (Bachata in Fukuoka)
Before you go crazy, note that the song has a few words and place names that you won’t find in your Spanish-English dictionary. Fukuoka, for example, is a city in Southern Japan, and there are a couple of Japanese words like kon’nichiwa (hello). So “quiero cantar contigo una bachata en Fukuoka” is “I want to sing a bachata song in Fukuoka with you.”
The images in this song are a bit less aggressive than in the other songs above, no? We have “caminé la playa de Momochi” (I walked on Momochi beach), “se me escapó una sonrisa del alma” (a smile escaped from my soul) and “en el mar las gaviotas” (in the sea, the seagulls).
Huey Dunbar — “Yo sí me enamoré” (I, I did fall in love)
The lyrics for this song are available, but beware, there are a few transcription errors at the link.
Let’s discuss the chorus, as there are a couple of great things about the Spanish language in there:
Mas yo sí me enamoré
Por eso no te olvidé
Los besos de tus labios
Me muero por besarlos
(But I (on the other hand), I did fall in love
That’s why I didn’t forget you
The kisses from your lips
I’m dying to kiss them)
You’re probably more familiar with más meaning “more,” but in that case it has an accent mark: más. Mas means the same as pero: “but,” “however.”
The yo is usually unnecessary and would be omitted because me enamoré already makes it more than clear that the speaker himself is the one being a foolish romantic. (Beginning Spanish speakers often overuse yo in their Spanish when it’s already obvious from context—doing so sounds very stilted.)
But note that yo can be used in cases like this one to provide stress and contrast. Throughout the rest of the song he’s complaining about a girl who seems to have forgotten all about him. He is different.
The word sí also adds contrasting emphasis. Another example would be, “Ahora sí sabe bailar bachata” (Now he does know how to dance bachata).
Huey Dunbar — “Las noches” (The nights)
You’re on a dance floor, grinning at something pretty, asking him to dance, swaying back and forth, arms locked around each other, hip brushes hip, belly to belly, earlobe to earlobe, and you both hear this:
Son noches para llorar
Son noches para sufrir
Son noches para olvidar
Que ayer fui feliz
Do you see why dancing bachata can be truly weird?
Here’s the translation:
(They’re nights to cry
They’re nights to suffer
They’re nights to forget
That yesterday I was happy)
However alluring the music and provocative the dance, the lyrics often chase them with a shot of sorrow and regret.
You can distract that nice man from the lyrics by whispering sweet nothings, however. What might you use the construction para + [infinitive] to whisper to him about these nights? ¿Son para enamorarse? ¿Para besar? ¿Para apreciar tu desnudez? … (They’re to fall in love? To kiss? To appreciate your nudity?)
Prince Royce — “Darte un beso” (To give you a kiss)
The cheesy lyrics are here. (Beware that the word falar is Portuguese, not Spanish, for “to speak.”) It’s a pretty song sung by a pretty guy, however, and the lyrics are simple and easy to learn a few phrases from:
- Yo sólo quiero darte un beso
(I just want to give you a kiss)
- Quiero que no te falte nada
(I want you to not be lacking anything)
- Si el mundo fuera mío, te lo daría
(If the world was mine, I would give it to you)
DLG — “Volveré” (I will return)
Note that there’s also a popular salsa version of this song. The lyrics are here.
Las promesas (promises) are easy to make in Spanish; just tack a stressed “é” onto the end of any verb. The singer of this song leaves his ring with the woman he has just bedded, and says “volveré” (I will return).
You can promise anything like this: te amaré (I will love you), te cuidaré (I will take care of you) and—I’ll just go ahead and reveal the height of my personal fantasies—te cocinaré pulpo a la gallega (I will cook Galician-style octopus for you).
José Manuel Calderón — “¿Qué será de mí?” (What will become of me?)
According to some, Calderón can take credit for recording the first bachata. This beautiful song is quite a bit different from the more modern ones above, both musically and lyrically. In it, the singer decries his awful life, with phrases such as:
- Tantas penas en mi pobre vida
(So many sorrows in my poor life)
- Mis esperanzas ya están perdidas
(My hopes are already lost)
The silver lining, he says, is un dios (a god) who will at least take care of us.
Deciphering the Spanish in Bachata Steps
When you take a bachata class, you get the double benefit of also learning a few Spanish phrases. But, even if you speak some Spanish, it can be a bit tricky to figure out the relationship between the step name, the step and the meaning of the words.
Here are a few of the most common steps and terms that we always hear thrown around in the bachata world, and some explanations. This is just a sampling. Note that the names for more advanced sequences can vary between dance schools and teachers.
If you’re unfamiliar with any of the steps, here are quite a number of them with explanatory videos in English.
- pasos básicos — These are the “basic steps,” and there’s more than one paso básico in bachata. Aprender un paso means to learn a step.
- paso básico lateral — This is the side-to-side basic step, and probably the first one you’ll learn.
- paso básico hacia atrás/adelante — There’s also the “basic step backward,” for when you get tired of going side-to-side, and adelante for going forward again.
- izquierda/derecha — You may be told to move a la izquierda (to the left) or a la derecha (to the right). Notice how the (noun) concept of direction always ends in -a, but as adjectives these words can be modified, such as when you’re talking about body parts: el pie izquierdo (the left foot) or la mano derecha (the right hand). (Note that mano is, surprisingly, feminine).
- pico — This can mean the beak of a bird, but you’re more likely to hear it in the expression y pico (a little bit extra). And so it makes sense that some bachata instructors use it as a term for that little extra squiggle of the bum and leg that is so typical of bachata, as in the video below.
- giro — This means “turn” and you’re going to hear it used in names of lots of steps, such as…
- giro con paseo — This is like a regular turn except that it takes place at the last moment, so that you kind of feel like you’re just going for a walk, then suddenly turn. Dar un paseo means “to go for a walk.”
- figura — We saw that a step is a paso, but as you learn more complicated series of steps, your dance teacher will probably call them figuras (sequences). Una figura can also be a silhouette or a figure.
- vuelta básica de mujer — Another word for a turn is vuelta, and so this would be the “basic turn of the woman.”
- paso básico lateral de espalda — The back-facing side-to-side basic step is when the woman has her back to the man and the same lateral basic steps are performed. De espalda al hombre means “with one’s back to the man” and you’ll also hear the conveniently short de espaldas which means having your back to an unnamed something.
- salida — This is the “exit,” or your way out of a complicated figure and back into the basic side-to-side steps. And can you guess what kind of signs you might see this word on?
- rodeo — Aside from being the name for the second complicated figura in the video below, a rodeo is a detour, a going around something (and of course also a silly cowboy party, as in English). The verb rodear means to go around or encircle something, so you could also say el bailarín la rodeó con sus brazos (the dancer put his arms around her).
- cha-cha-chá — This word can be used for a confusing array of moves in salsa and bachata, as well as a specifcic Cuban/Latin style of dance used in international ballroom competitions. Anyway, I particularly like the cha-cha-chá bachata step below.
Key Spanish Vocab for a Night out Bachata Dancing
Inviting someone to dance
- ¿Bailas conmigo?
(Will you dance with me?)
The absolute best way to invite someone to dance, however, is to simply smile and hold out your hand.
Getting a guy to ask you to dance
Often girls outnumber guys in more serious dance venues, and unfortunately women have been socialized in many cultures to never, ever ask for what they want. So sometimes it can be rough going for the ladies to get a few dances.
I love it when women are nevertheless gutsy enough to just ask me for a dance using the suggestions from the previous section. Next best are the sneakier approaches for snagging a dance:
- Me encanta como bailas.
(I love how you dance.)
- ¿Cuándo me invitarás a mí?
(When are you going to ask me to dance?)
- ¿Me enseñas algún paso?
(Could you show me a step?)
Dressing seductively, dancing well, and above all smiling and stationing yourself near the dance floor can also help get guys’ attention.
Accepting an offer to dance
- ¡Contigo, siempre!
(With you, always!)
- Estaba deseando que me invitaras.
(I was hoping you would invite me.)
Refusing a dance
- No ahora, gracias.
(Not right now, thanks.)
- Tomo una pausa.
(I’m taking a break.)
- Mi novio/a es muy celoso/a.
(My boyfriend/girlfriend is a very jealous/possessive type.)
Dancing too close?
Everybody has their limits, and for some, bachata crosses them. Bachata is danced with two bodies fused together—it’s a sensual, sexy dance. If you don’t like that, you can dance it while keeping some air between you and the other dancer, but others will think that you look ridiculous doing so, as it’s no longer really bachata. You may be better off just sitting out the bachata and waiting for the next tune.
Here’s how you can express your feelings about this:
- Un baile íntimo
(A close dance)
- La bachata es demasiado íntima para mí.
(Bachata’s too close/intimate for me.)
- Prefiero bailar salsa/merengue.
(I prefer to dance salsa/merengue.)
Striking up a conversation after a dance (i.e., flirting)
Particularly because it’s an intimate dance, it’s important to keep in mind that the sexiness/seduction is just a game and you shouldn’t make other dancers uncomfortable by actually making any moves, especially in an environment where people really are there to dance.
That said, it’s totally okay to strike up a conversation after a dance with someone whom you find interesting. You might say, for example:
- ¿Conoces otros bailes?
(Do you know other styles of dance?)
- ¿Cómo es que sabes bailar así? ¿Eres dominicano/a?
(How do you know how to dance so well? Are you Dominican?) — This is more fun to say to someone who is clearly not Dominican.
I hope that this post has given you everything you need to get started with learning Spanish from bachata, whether at home, in dance schools or on the dance floor.
¡Pásalo bien en la pista! (Have a great time on the dance floor!)
Mose Hayward is an aficionado of Latin music and dances (mainly Brazilian), and blogs about them, language learning, and prurient nomadism at TipsyPilgrim.com.
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