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Both are close positions with considerable body contact. Only sensual is appropriate for a public dance floor; the other you’re free to do with a consenting, adult partner in the privacy of wherever you choose to find privacy. When you’re dancing in a sensual style, both partners have to be hyper-aware of where, how, and with what one partner is touching the other. The cardinal rule is that hand or leg contact should only be made in places where it would otherwise be acceptable to touch someone in public. Makes sense, right? So, for leaders, this means waist, hips, shoulder, shoulder blade, and so forth, making sure to avoid more private-place contact. As well, the touch should be “clean” and firm without motion that would suggest caressing or tickling. For followers, the advice is similar, noting that differences in anatomy create some differences in hand placement possibilities.
Keeping good eye-contact is also key to creating a sensual connection without it becoming creepy or too unwelcome and intense. Smiling is great, so long as it’s kept friendly and warm and not “Hannibal Lector” intense.
There are some moves and connection that require full, body-to-body contact. In bachata and many other close-hold, sensual styles, this is always done at an offset, so that one person’s sternum is aligned with the other person’s shoulder. In this very close hold, the leader’s right hand (in bachata) is flat against the follower’s mid-back (noting the difference with salsa for which the shoulder blade is the point of contact).
And one final note: Each partner should only accept contact with which they are comfortable. If it happens that the sensual-to-creepy border line is crossed, the “creepee” has a personal responsibility to themselves to create an acceptable buffer zone between them and the “creeper.” This can be done by gently but firmly pushing back against the encroaching partner, taking control of hands or, as a last resort, ending the dance. Hopefully, in your own dance experience, you will never find yourself in a situation where this would be needed.
In the meantime, especially if you are feeling a little uncomfortable at the thought of close-hold dancing, choose a partner whom you know to be friendly and safe, and gradually work up to ever closer connections, going only as far as you are comfortable. You may find that sensual bachata opens an entire new and enjoyable dance domain for you.
See you on the dance floor.