Where: The Granada, 17 S. 1st St., Alhambra
When: Thursdays; beginner and intermediate classes 8:30 p.m., nightclub 9:30 p.m.
Price: $14 for single class (includes nightclub cover); $5 nightclub cover
Info: (626) 227-2572; http://www.thegranadala.com
A couple of years ago on salsa dance floors across Los Angeles, a new trend began to emerge. Amid the frenetic, conga-driven salsa tunes, DJs started to slip in a few tracks of bachata — a romantic, guitar-based music that originated in the Dominican Republic.
Those who stayed on the floor traded the showy spins of salsa for the cheek-to-cheek embrace and fluid footwork of bachata dance. But for the majority of patrons, says Earl Miller Jr., owner of salsa spot the Granada in Alhambra, the bachata interlude was "the time to go and buy a drink or go to the restroom."
Fast forward two years, and bachata has become a phenomenon that even the most hard-core salseros can't ignore. As bachata recording artists like Aventura and Prince Royce have topped the charts on mainstream Latin radio, bachata dance has exploded at local clubs. No longer confined to just a few songs in an evening of salsa, bachata now has a dedicated night at the Granada and at Stevens Steakhouse in Commerce, both well-established salsa venues.
"I tested out bachata on our salsa night," Miller says, "and it just spread like wildfire. It became the hit, the thing. Now even the salseros, they're falling in love with the dance."
One reason for bachata's rapid rise may be its accessibility to newcomers. While the dizzying turns and patterns of salsa may cause inexperienced dancers to shy away, the basic side-to-side steps of bachata are easy to learn. Partners often dance with their chests connected, relying on swinging hips and fluttering feet to express their style rather than attention-grabbing stunts.
That ease of movement won over Vanessa Villalobos, 21, of West Covina — a self-described bachata addict and regular at the Granada. "With salsa I had to think about what I was doing," she says. "With bachata it just flowed ... the music kind of tells you how to move."
The catchy musicality and languid, steady beat are also part of bachata's appeal. "I think personally it's a great way — if you're not a rhythm person — to really learn to have rhythm," Miller says.
But even though bachata is a bit slower and less technical than salsa, that doesn't mean it's less satisfying for advanced dancers. Experienced bachateros can add flair to their footwork and body action. Starting in October, the Granada will offer an intermediate bachata class concurrently with its beginner class for those seeking more complexity.
Plus, there are multiple styles to master. Classic Dominican bachata from the 1960s has developed into variations known as modern bachata and urban bachata, which incorporates elements of hip-hop. The urban strain is part of what attracts a comparatively younger crowd to the Granada's bachata nights. Guys show up in jeans and Vans, while many of the women sport tight dresses and treacherous stilettos.
"Because it's not so much spinning and patterns," says Brigitte Ryerson, who teaches bachata at the Granada with her partner Hector Llamas, "the girls can wear shorter skirts and higher heels."
At least for the time being. As more and more salseros embrace bachata and import their penchant for spins and tricks, Ryerson worries the dance could take, well, a turn for the worse. "Salsa's great," she says, but she'd like to see bachata maintain its uniqueness. "I hope it doesn't turn into the next salsa."