Latin dances sometimes get a bad reputation for being too passionate or sexual. All too often music of this genre is used to express romance in a movie. Take for example, the moment when two characters are dining at a restaurant. The lights get dimmer and just as the characters make eye contact, a slow, rhythmic song in Spanish comes on — the realization of their attraction to each other becoming evident with every sway. The association is not only manifested in movies, though. As a culture we have a hard time breaking the contact barrier. It’s as if there is an unspoken rule against touching people you do not know. While this is generally good advice, it can be an obstacle when learning dances that demand closer contact.
If you search for professionals dancing bachata, merengue or salsa you will notice that the movements can be dramatic. The dips are lower, the hip movements smoother and little space is given between the two dancers.
As a member of the Baylor Latin Dance Society, I see new people who have never danced before struggle with these very things. More than technique, the hardest part for these individuals is getting past their own embarrassment. Sure, being close to another person can be a very vulnerable position to be in and even more so when we have been repeatedly taught that physical proximity correlates to sexual interest. But in order to dance any type of Latin music, you must learn to overcome this assumptive notion. There has to be a certain trust between you and your partner.
I will not deny that some dances can be more sensual than others. Even among well-known dancers, stylistic differences vary. Various duos are well-known for their more suggestive movements while others keep a fair balance. But even for those who do decide to go the more controversial, one should not be so quick to judge the intentions of the dancers. To put it another way, the song is the story but the interpretation of the story is left up to the dancers. They are merely characters in a public show. For those who dance as a hobby or professionally, it is rarely ever personal.
The assumption that Latin dances are purposely promiscuous can linger in people who dance regularly as well. You can see this first-hand at social dances. These events offer an opportunity for people to practice dancing with others who share their interests. Anyone from professional to beginner level go to these. The routine is pretty formal, too: a song comes on, you ask someone to dance, show off your moves for a dance or two, the song ends, you say thank you and move on to the next person. However, and for whatever reason, there is always that one individual who, despite knowing the straightforward nature of these events, has a hard time distinguishing passion (which can be a good thing) from emotion. This disconnect can be troubling when for one person a dance is an outlet for artistic expression and for another, a way of showing attraction.
Dancing can be a good way of beginning to disassociate closeness with sensuality. This is an important skill to have in everyday life, really.
Didi Martinez is a sophomore journalism major from Katy. She is news editor for the Lariat.