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Bachata vs Zouk – Dance Style Comparison

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk:

What would make people want to know the difference between bachata and Brazilian zouk? Perhaps because they can’t decide which one to learn first. But also I think it’s because in recent years, bachata dancers have integrated many moves from zouk into their own dance, making those dance styles seem similar to the untrained eye. However Brazilian zouk and bachata are two separate dances with separate origins. Here’s a table to illustrate the differences between them.


BachataBrazilian zouk
Origin countryDominican RepublicBrazil
Precursor (origin dance)BoleroLambada
Established in1960’s1990’s
Basic step on the spotStepping right-left-right-tap, on the beatStepping right(pause)-left-right
Traditional rhythm(s)caminando/derecho, majao, mambotresillo over two
Counting for dancers1 2 3 4 5 6 7 81 2 and 3 4 and 5 6 and 7 8 and
Music accentsAccents aka down beats are 4 and 8, up beat is on 1 2 3, 4 5 6The accent aka down beat is on the counts 1, 3, 5 and 7 , “up beat” is on 2, 4, 6, 8.
Music it’s danced tobachata, bachata remixesghettozouk, R’n’B, moombahton, lyrical, zouk remixes, reggaeton, kizomba and more
Sub-stylesBachata dominicana, bachata moderna, bachata sensualRio zouk, lambada, neozouk, ghettozouk/blackzouk
Table 1: Bachata vs Zouk – Comparison of Differences

As you can see, bachata and zouk have a completely different origin with a completely different basic step and musicality. Seven years ago you would not have had any difficulty distinguishing these dances from each other.

What has happened since then? One of bachata’s sub-styles “sensual bachata” started adopting more and more zouk moves and changed to the point that dominican bachata dancers don’t even want to let them call it bachata (drama alert!). This sub-style gained a lot of popularity and now there are many people who only know of sensual bachata and nothing about dominican bachata.

So if you are new to the dance scene and haven’t yet seen all sub-styles of bachata, you may get the impression that zouk and bachata are similar, even though as a whole they are not. Visually it’s zouk and sensual bachata that look the most alike.


There are still some similarities between bachata and zouk as dance styles, so let’s take a look at those as well.

Both bachata and Brazilian zouk
Type of dancePartner dance with leader and follower roles. Dance is improvised on the spot.
Music time signature4/4 (four on the floor)
Music remixesIn both dance styles they sometimes remix pop songs to their rhythm, to widen the array of music that they can dance to. Sometimes songs are used that don’t have the original rhythm at all.
Dance movesSensual bachata has integrated multiple zouk moves like body waves (front and side), head movements, travelling turns, cambré, even “toalha”, which can now be seen in both dance styles.
EventsBoth styles are danced at specific parties for dancers – “socials”. Both communities organise bigger festivals for dancers that usually last the whole weekend and offer both dance workshops and evening parties.
ReachKnown and danced internationally, both in and outside of it’s origin country.
Table 2: Bachata vs Zouk – Similarities

So these were some differences and similarities between bachata and brazilian zouk. Hope this side-by-side comparison helped to clear up any confusions you may have had regarding these two dance styles.

In case you are torn between which dance to learn, I would first suggest listening to the respective music and going with what you like more, since dance is born from the music. Secondly, consider which community you like the most aka which have the friendliest people, since they are both social dances. And finally, educate yourself in different sub-styles, so you can get an understanding of the whole dance.

If you would like to know even more about Brazilian zouk, I have a detailed article about it here. For bachata I recommend watching this bachata history video on UNESCO YouTube channel.

Did I miss any differences or similarities between these dance styles? You’re welcome to add your thoughts or questions to the comments section below!

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2 thoughts on “Bachata vs Zouk – Dance Style Comparison”

  1. Thank you for this blog post! I don’t have any dance experience and I’m deciding on which style on want to start with. I’m half Dominican so I’m very familiar with listening to Bachata music. I think Bachata has a more “easier” learning curve than Brazilian Zouk. I’ve read that leads have a difficult time with Brazilian Zouk at the beginner phase.

    So, do you think starting out with Bachata and taking beginner classes is the way to go? Once I get comfortable with the basic steps, then I can try out Brazilian Zouk?

    I love Bachata music, but Brazilian Zouk is so beautiful and soothing to watch. It looks like a very intimidating and challenging dance so I’m very nervous of starting out with Zouk. Just trying to figure out the most effective and most efficient way to learn both dances.

    I love your blog and the design of your blog, and I agree with a lot of the points you have made in this post. I hope my dance journey will open up opportunities for me.


    1. Thank you for your comment and kind words, Michael! It is true that bachata is easier to learn if you are a complete beginner. I think it’s a great idea to start with learning bachata, so that you can gain confidence in social dancing, learn principles of leading/following and get to know the general etiquette of social dance parties. Maybe 6-12 months of bachata – then move on to brazilian zouk to challenge yourself even more. Best of luck on your dance journey!

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