So You Think I Can Dance… In The Dominican Republic?

I will tell you up front. I can’t dance… at least not very well. I’m very tall and I have two left feet. That’s not a good combo for mastering salsa — so I have found out over the years.

Not once but twice have I been given the boot from salsa dancing programs. As an Erasmus student in Madrid, I had a Cuban teacher who kicked me out of his course after I made it to the second level. Back at my main university in Konstanz, Germany, I tripped over the same hurdle. I made it out of the beginner’s course, but then got booted from the next level class due to that second left foot.

But I had a feeling things could be different. Rather than salsa, I would go with bachata. And rather than learning in Europe, I would go to Latin America, where the real Latin dance culture exists. It was off to the Dominican Republic. But wait… Something went wrong.

Oops…

In Paris (first time in 8 years), I was out at night partying with my brother — with whom I happened to cross paths in the French capital — and some of his friends. It was one of his friends’ birthday, and we partied late into the night to celebrate.

My alarm went off in the morning, but it went off late. I checked out of my hotel in a hurry and rushed to Orly Airport. I made it there 45 minutes before takeoff. But the damn French… 😉

Apparently there was some rule prohibiting me from checking in with that little time before departure. I ran around to different counters, but to no avail. I couldn’t board the plane. I was stuck in France.

The airline luckily allowed me to reschedule my flight for two days later. I lost two days I was planning on spending in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (by the beach) before starting a bachata tour around the country. So be it. I would visit Punta Cana another time, and I was coming to Latin America to learn bachata. That’s what mattered.

A man’s Dominican home is his castle?

The Dominican Republic, in my opinion, is a lovely country. It’s got beaches and other natural beauty, lively people and plenty of street parties. It also makes for a good stopover on the way to Panama, a place I frequent because of my Panamanian residence.

A Dominican bachata street party

The idea of this trip was to tour the country, learning about the Dominican Republic’s music and culture, while seeing its sights, and of course, learning to dance bachata. The bachata tour group — about 15 students — was a nice mix of people coming from Germany, Denmark, Finland, France, Latin America and elsewhere.

Castillo Romano

On a hilltop in the northeastern Dominican town of Las Terrenas, we settled into a villa… a villa that is actually a castle. In addition to fortifications, Castillo Romano had palm trees, a swimming pool and views of the Atlantic Ocean. Everyone had their own room, and we could practice our bachata moves on the property. The castle served as our home base for the two-week course.

A hilltop villa with a swimming pool… ring a bell?

The first two days of the tour were about exploring our surroundings. We enjoyed several beaches and enjoyed several coco locos as well. Sitting on the beach, talking with girls and drinking coco locos made the frustration over the fuck-up in Paris wash away. I was at ease. But this was before we got a glance at one another’s dancing abilities.

¿Quieres un coco loco?

Hitting the dance floor

While in Las Terrenas, we would head into town for dance lessons in the mornings. The afternoons would be free time for us to explore, and in the evenings, we would go out to dance at an establishment. Typically, we would visit one particular bar.

Las Terrenas nightlife

The bar drew a crowd that included a mix of prostitutes and seemingly hired dancers. There were always male and female dancers ready and willing to dance salsa and bachata with the patrons of the bar.

Unfortunately, the lessons in the morning were not really preparing me to hit the dance floor at night. At least, they were not giving me the confidence boost I needed. Just the opposite, really. I quickly learned that I was not going to be able to keep pace with the other students in the course. They were all much more experienced dancers than me.

Dance lesson

The two teachers were a couple from Russia. They were nice people who are dedicated to putting on this bachata tour of the Dominican Republic every six months or so. I reached out to the Russian lady to get some extra help. She provided me private lessons while the course was ongoing and helped me out quite a bit.

Still, the others in the group were far too advanced for me to keep pace. I thought about quitting. But this course was different than the sailing school in the Greek islands. Rather than the instructor being an asshole, the instructor was going out of her way to make me feel included and give me a lift up. Also, I enjoyed hanging out with the group during the afternoons and touring the Dominican Republic.

Traveling the country

Santo Domingo

Following four days in Las Terrenas, we went to the Dominican capital Santo Domingo for a weekend. Santo Domingo has a cool old town — known as the Colonial Zone — which is fitting because of the city’s history. Founded in 1496 by Bartolome Columbus, Christopher Columbus’s brother, Santo Domingo is the oldest European-settled city in the Americas. It was also the first seat of the Spanish empire in the New World. Walking around the Colonial Zone you can see a fortress and some stone buildings that have been there about half a millennium.

Santo Domingo Colonial Zone

Of course there are entertainment venues, as well. During the nights we spent in Santo Domingo, we would go to some typical Dominican venues to dance bachata.

After Santo Domingo, we headed out of the city and into nature where we visited the Mirador del Este Park. There sits an open-air limestone cave called Los Tres Ojos (Three Eyes). It’s a beautiful sight that I happened to think resembles Jurassic Park.

Los Tres Ojos

Jurassic Park?

We returned to Las Terrenas for more dancing days prior to venturing back out into nature in the Jarabacoa area. We saw a beautiful waterfall and a stunning sunset from up in the mountains. The Dominican Republic has surprisingly high mountains. They are actually higher than the Bavarian Alps.

Sunset in the Dominican mountains

Bouncing around the country, we went to Puerto Plata, which in addition to having nice coastal views, is the home of the Brugal rum company. We toured Brugal’s distillery in Puerto Plata and sipped on some tasty rum. Yum. 😊

Brugal distillery

On the road again, we ventured to Los Haitises National Park. The park contains a coastal forest with amazing greenery that runs right up against the beach and even floats on the water. If I were to draw a comparison to the scenery, I might think of Mangareva.

Los Haitises National Park

Inside the park I managed to get caught in another cave. But I escaped, and the tour carried on.

Los Haitises National Park is located partly in the Dominican Republic’s beautiful Samana Province. Situated along the Atlantic Coast in the northeastern part of the country, Samana Province has mountains, but it is also the location of many of the best beaches in the Dominican Republic.

Samana Province’s perfect beach?

We opted for vamos a la playa. Probably the most memorable moment of our Samana beach hopping excursion was sipping a pina colada from a pineapple while on the island of Cayo Levantado.

Pina colada in paradise

And because you can’t ever have enough Rum in the DR, we rounded out our tour with an alcoholic bachata party. Of course Brugal was the main ingredient. I think it gave me a slight boost of confidence on the dance floor.

Brugal + bachata

Relieved and impressed

Rooftop pool at the Santo Domingo Hilton

Perched above the heart of Santo Domingo, soaking in a rooftop pool at the Hilton, I got to take in a final Dominican sunset but also do some reflecting on the past two weeks.

Santo Domingo sunset

It’s clear I’m not much of a dancer, and because the bachata course was too advanced for me, I wasn’t too keen on the atmosphere of the tour. But I was proud of myself for sticking out this course, rather than plotting another escape or, worse yet, another mutiny. Also, when forgetting about the level at which I dance, it became clear the Dominican Republic has a lot to offer. I’ll gladly return. Pass the Brugal. 😊