Dominican Bachata Immaterial Cultural Heritage vs Bachata Sensual

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On December 11, 2019, the bachata was officially registered in the annals of the UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Dominican Republic.

Congratulations to ALL fans of the Dominican bachata worldwide! 🙂

But what kind of legal consequences can the many promoters and dancers of Bachata Sensual expect to be heading their way right now?

Years of Discussions

There have been many discussions about bachata going on for years on end, raging across the international Afro Latin dance community. About what it is. But especially on how NOT to dance bachata. The manner in which Bachata Sensual dancers dance is often compared to – and labeled as – foreplay and/or ‘dry humping’ by the vast majority of Dominican Bachata lovers. One of my arguments has always been that the complainants have no leg to stand on, since the government of the Dominican Republic does not even care to defend their cultural heritage by making bachata an Immaterial Cultural Heritage at the UNESCO. Let alone suppress, or even prohibit Bachata Sensual.

The Prohibition of Bachata Sensual!?

But now that the Dominicans have succeeded in their mission …

Is it now possible for them to outlaw Bachata Sensual? And can those who use this name be officially sanctioned? Can the government of the Dominican Republic start a lawsuit against all other forms of bachata dance? Do the Dominicans now have a legal arsenal to protect their cultural heritage? The answer to all of these questions is ..

Complicated.

The dance “bachata” has been officially registered in the annals of the UNESCO like this:

“The bachata as a dance style is as passionate as the music to which it is danced to. The dance is based on a rhythm of eight measures. It is danced in couples, using sensual hip movements. The bachata as a dance is learned anywhere from childhood in a spontaneous manner, but the country (the Dominican Republic) also has more than a hundred schools, studies and academies which are committed to passing on the dance to the next generations. “

Considering this definition, you would conclude that dance styles having appropriated the name “bachata” – and not conforming to it’s innate characteristics – really should be banned. But is this true?

After MANY hours of  reading papers on the subject, I finally found the right answer in a file of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of the UNESCO. It says:

“Just as it is the case with the list of the World heritage, there is also a part of an international UNESCO intangible heritage list: the International Representative List of Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The objective of this list is to show the enormous diversity of intangible heritage in the world. The intangible heritage does not have to stay the same, but it may take new forms in time. “

https://www.unesco.nl/nl/dossier/immaterieel-erfgoed

That last sentence is crucial to me when trying to understand its implications. Because the bachata music itself has not remained the same since its inception in 1961. First, there were many changes made to the bachata music on the Dominican Republic. And this process also continued from the ‘90s onward in the United States. The dance has also gone through the same process. So, a lawsuit against Korke and Judith – the inventors of Bachata Sensual – would not be successful on these grounds.

On these grounds, mind you…

Dirty Bachata Dancing!

But many Dominican bachata enthusiasts find Bachata Sensual to have an offensive character in comparison to the traditional way of dancing the bachata. Remember those ‘sensual hip movements’ in the definition? First of all, there has to be a mechanism for defining and/or to empirically determine which way of dancing can be considered ‘sensual’, and which one is ‘sexist’ or even ‘offensive’. This assessment is indeed very ironic for a dance – which at its humble beginnings – was also danced at the bars of many brothels …

But, let’s imagine that the Dominicans can determine empirically the way Bachata Sensual is danced to be offensive to their Immaterial Cultural Heritage. What kind of legal steps can they then take?

WIPO

There is an interesting article on UNESDOC which might give the right answer to this question. It was written by Wend Wendland. He’s a lawyer, with a Master of Laws (LL.M) degree in intellectual property law. Wend practiced as an intellectual property and media law attorney, and is now head of the Traditional Creativity and Cultural Expressions Section, Traditional Knowledge Division, of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva, Switzerland.

You can read the article yourself from page 97 to page 106: 

https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000135863

WIPO works closely with UNESCO with it’s goal to enforce legal protection of the intangible world. As for my question, this segment is very interesting. It’s on page 100. The WIPO focuses among others engaged in:

“[…] prevention of insulting, derogatory and/or culturally and spiritually offensive uses;”

Conclusion

My conclusion after analyzing all options is that it can be hard for the Dominican bachata enthusiasts to legally eradicate Bachata Sensual… 

But it can be done!

My question is: Do we WANT to do this tho?

I will write the answer to this question in my next article. Tomorrow I’ll leave to Den Helder in order to dance the ‘Ataca y La Alemana Bachata Challenge’ together with Amanda and the students of salsa school Happy Salsa 🙂

What’s your opinion about this article? Let me know in the comment section! 🙂

P.S. 

“Nurturing non-material cultural heritage is indispensable for preserving continuity and development of a society, the maintenance of dialogue between the present and the past and for drawing conclusions with a view of the future.” – Ph.Dr. Samanta Kowalska

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