London is filled with exciting things to do, and the variety can become overwhelming but learning a new skill with a group of friends can make the process much less intimidating. Learning Bachata has been one of those skills MSc Health and International Development student Mia Fraser and her friends have chosen as a highlight of their year in London and at LSE.
The thought of moving to any rhythm may be intimidating to many, especially if it involves a coordinated sequence of steps between yourself and a stranger who’s now your partner for the next few minutes. I knew moving to London would offer me the chance to try new hobbies, but I never imagined I would choose Bachata as that hobby. Originating in the Dominican Republic, you can find a wealth of information about the origins and musicality of Bachata on the internet.
My journey started with a text from my classmates who invited me to try Bachata classes near campus. I had only seen music videos with people dancing Bachata, but I always imagined it to be too far outside of my comfort zone to try. Like many people, being invited to a new place where you know no one and are completely clueless, activates one’s fight or flight response. My brain started to question whether my dancing skills were good enough, I didn’t even speak Spanish, how will I understand the music? What if I made a fool of myself in front of a crowd? My usual response to these invitations would be an excuse which would allow me to stay home. However, since starting my LSE journey, I constantly remind myself that this degree is only 1 year long and it will be over before I know it, so I need to make the most of my time and expose myself to new things, bachata being one of them.
Glad to be invited, I silenced my internal panic and reassured myself that everyone needs to start somewhere. Luckily, I didn’t feel alone as most of my classmates were at the same level as me- knowing absolutely nothing. We did, however, have the guidance of our dear IDHE classmate, Summer, who’s been dancing Bachata for years and was glad to help us master even the most basic moves. We started learning Bachata at Salsa Temple, located alongside the Temple Underground Station near campus and Salsa Soho also offered a similar experience; it’s located near Tottenham Court Road station. You can look at the Latin Collective UK for posts about different events and classes at both locations. On Tuesday nights after classes, we would head down to Salsa Temple to take in the 2-hour classes and practice what we learned in social dancing right after. Both locations offer Salsa, Zouk, Merengue and Bachata classes on different days and at different times so follow their social media @thelatincollectiveuk to keep up to date about the days and schedules.
We’ve also ventured to classes in Holborn at Bachata Essence which specializes in solely Bachata with our amazing instructors @aryan.bachata and @kimberly.hoopes, who’re always patient with us. On Sunday evenings in Spring and Summer, when the weather is warmer, we venture to FREE outdoor classes and social dances at Bachata Exchange, this is great for practising with persons who have the same goal as you i.e. improve their skills. It’s important to note that at all these venues, classes are divided into skill levels, usually beginner, improvers, intermediate and advanced so you can find your fit based on your comfort level and eventually move into a different group when you feel confident. You can also drop in for classes when you have free time or consistently go each week to build your skills, feel free to do either based on your time and budget. On the point of budgeting, always be sure to ask for the student discount when you’re paying for classes! This can save you a pretty penny in the long run.
So far, my friends and I have seen our confidence and skills grow since starting this Bachata journey to the point where we show each other the new moves we learned while waiting for classes in the halls of LSE. Dancing has been a great way to build friendships within my LSE cohort but also with persons outside of LSE who we meet in class. In the Bachata community in London, I’ve found it easy to see familiar faces in the classes I attend and that familiarity has made learning new things much less intimidating.
I fell in love with bachata in my home city of Los Angeles right before I moved to London. I was so happy to find a bachata community here in London, that’s enabled me to make meaningful friendships in such a short amount of time. I instantly felt right at home – Summer Ly, IDHE 2023
Dancing may not be for everyone but what I hope you take from my story is that there will likely be people in your class that have a similar curiosity as you, whether it be running, painting, singing in an open choir, or dancing etc. Doing an activity regularly with a group of people is a recipe for great memories and friendship. Once you join LSE, don’t be afraid to message a classmate or the class group chat to see if anyone else is interested in similar hobbies as you. Who knows, there might be someone who’s always wanted to try but never had the confidence, like me. You may even make a cool group of friends in the process.
NB: There are also salsa and bachata classes in the LSE Student Union run by Salsa Tropical you can check out.
Tips when dancing:
- Like going out to any party or club, ensure you secure your belongings at the venue.
- Respect the personal space of your partner when dancing.
- Stay hydrated, dancing is exercise too!
- It’s ok to make mistakes, pace yourself and you’ll eventually get it.
- YouTube is a great resource to practice a new technique before you try it on the dance floor.
- Wear something you feel comfortable being active in. You may see the pros with special dancing shoes and clothes but a comfortable pair of sneakers, pants and a t-shirt also do the trick.
- Check out this great Bachata playlist to help get a feel for things
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not reflect those of the International Development LSE blog or the London School of Economics and Political Science.