Adam Taub is the foremost documentarian of bachata dance roots and culture on the latin dance festival circuit. He has presented his multi-media workshop, “Bachata: Dance roots, Style & Evolution”, at several popular events including the Dallas, Reno, DC, and LA bachata festivals. It is a must for any dancer interested in the histories of latin dance. He also produced a documentary on legendary bachata and merengue musician Joan Soriano entitled, El Duque de la Bachata. Adam is not only a documentarian, but he is also a bachata dance instructor…and a supremely nice guy. We caught up with Adam at the Dallas Bachata Festival in Dallas, Texas.
Do you remember the first documentary you produced?
I did two documentaries at the same time and filmed them in Tijuana, Mexico. One was called La Quinceanera. It followed a young girl turning 15, her family, and their struggles. The other was called Don Angelo. He was an old, retired, naval officer doing grass roots social work in Tijuana orphanages. La Quinceanera got pretty wide play at latino film festivals, and universities. That was my first documentary and I told myself if I like the process from start to finish, then I’ll try to make a career out of it.
How did you become so interested in latin culture?
I was born in Fort Collins, Colorado and grew up in Greeley, Colorado. In Greeley we have a large latino population. Mostly Mexican-Americans, or Mexicans that have come to the USA to work. I had latin friends, classmates, and teammates on the wrestling team. I didn’t have much exposure to caribbean dance or culture coming up. When I graduated from high school I didn’t go to college right away. I started traveling. I went to Costa Rica and Mexico, among other places.
Where and when did you get your exposure to latin dance?
A little bit on those trips. My first real intro was in Boulder. A woman named Carmen Nelson and her son were teaching Casino Rueda. Those were my first lessons. I started taking classes. I got into a little merengue and bachata. My first exposure to bachata before all that when I was working with youth in Washington D.C. I was coaching soccer teams and learning different programs. This was in the late 90s and bachata was huge there. A lot of kids’ parents on the team were from El Salvador. One of the kids made me a mix-tape. On one side was Tupac and rap, and on the other side was Monchy and Alexandra, and bachata. It was really cool. These kids were crying over bachata thinking about their girlfriend or something. I didn’t know it was Dominican music at that point. When I went back to school for cultural anthropology I had the chance to study abroad and one of the choices was the Dominican Republic. I wanted to learn Spanish and thought I’d prefer D.R. over going to Spain. So, I went to the Dominican. I spent a year there at universities.
What did you think of bachata music initially?
I liked it! I love music of all genres. Bachata struck a chord with me. Merengue as well.
Let’s talk about the documentary you did featuring Joan Soriano called “El Duque dela Bachata”. How did that all come together?
The idea formed when I was in the Dominican Republic and learned that bachata was a marginalized music. It had a stigma attached to it that surprised me. You hear it here and everyone is enjoying it. You go there and you realize there are a lot of class issues around it. You go to a club and request it and the DJ won’t play it. I wanted to find a personal story and find a musician whose life reflected that. I got Joan’s number from Benjamin de Menil at iASO Records. Ben was in the preliminary stages of working with Joan. I found Benjamin online so I was just fortunate. I went on a scouting trip to the Dominican Republic with the idea of meeting lots of musicians. Joan lives close to the capital (Santo Domingo), so he was the first guy I called. We met at a super market, and that first day he took me to meet his family. Joan comes from 15 brothers and sisters and I met his parents. It was incredible. I didn’t search for any other musicians on that trip. He was the first person I met. I told him I wanted to do a documentary film on him and that I’d have to live with him for a period of time. This was the first or second day we met. I remember him being really quiet and looking out the window , and he said to me “I can’t afford to feed you”. I told him I could afford to feed myself. It was really cool that he was so welcoming and concerned about feeding me. That was 2007. I stay with him every year.
Does he still live there now?
He lives in a different place. His career has improved since the documentary and he’s much more well known now. He tours in the US. He still struggles financially because its hard to make money as a musician…but when the film was made he didn’t have any indoor plumbing or running water. His apartment is better and he’s building a house. His parents still live in the same place. They are happy and they say they don’t need a concrete house. They’re not big into material things.
Were you surprised by anything you experienced when filming the documentary? What did you take away from your film?
I think seeing a style of music with such a stigma and being marginalized. That was a surprise. I wasn’t aware of it. In the D.R when you get to see bachata and its earthy origins and roots, and how much people love it…that was a big take away. When you see someone experiencing the music on such a deep level. When you see someone dancing bachata barefoot on the patio, or at night dancing with only one lit bulb lighting their patio. Those images stuck with me. Its nice to have that view of dance and its humble origins, and not really viewing it as a show.
What message were you trying to communicate to the viewer?
I didn’t want to force a message on people. Joan is very charismatic and engaging, but as a bachata musician he’s got multiple layers. He can easily sing music whether its sad or nostalgic. Or happy songs, or about love. You’ve got to have multi-dimensions in your character. I wanted it to be open enough to give people a look at this world. I wanted to show someone that had left their home to pursue their music at age 12 and had kept up with it through the tough times. To show that it takes more than talent to make it in music. I wanted to show someone in the midst of the struggle. I told him it wasn’t a promotional film. I made that clear the first day. I didn’t go into it with the intent of selling his music or making him big. I wanted to show where bachata came from.
What projects are you working on now?
My current project is on Joan’s parents, Juana and Cande Soriano. It should be edited in three months. Hopefully I can start showing it at film festivals and bachata festivals. Its not a bachata film ,even though its going to have bachata music and dancing. Its a portrait of a family. Cande and Juana have 15 kids, 50+ grandkids, and multiple great-grandkids living in the country side. There will be a lot of elements and lessons on the value of human life. Their views on materialism and ambition. Their wisdom. They’re also in the Duque de la Bachata, but I couldn’t do justice to Juana and Cande. I’ve always felt like I needed to do something on them.
Why do you think its important for people to learn the history of bachata?
A couple reasons. One, learning the roots of the dance (bolero, son, merengue) and the different patterns and footwork is very inspiring. It gives you a treasure chest of new references to view in order to improve your dancing. Two, if you want to dance bachata in certain places, like the Dominican Republic or New York, and you want to dance it well then you have to break certain patterns that you probably learned in classes. You have to understand that their are different styles. It might be something as simple as where you step forward and with what foot. Lastly, it gives people a different love and feel for the music. If you’re not rooted to the music and people who brought it to you then you’re probably missing something. Also, you want to dance with confidence and with your own individual style. There are a lot of different reasons! (laughs).
For more information about Adam you can visit his Facebook page: Adam Taub Facebook page.