Brownface: Representations of Latin-Ness in Dancesport Author(s): Juliet McMains Source: Dance Research Journal, Vol. 33, No.

2, Social and Popular Dance (Winter, 2001), pp. 54 -71 Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of Congress on Research in Dance Stable URL: Accessed: 20/08/2009 08:07
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Brownface: Representations of Latin-ness in Dancesport
Juliet McMains lathas The overwhelming stenchof alcoholhoversin the hotelbathroom my dancepartner ers a fourth of brownbodypaintontomy belly."Youhaveto learnhow to applyyour layer
tan properly," admonishessternlyas I squirmunderthe sting of chemicalsburningmy skin. he After rejecting twelve self-tanningproducts,I have finally found one that stains my fair skin darkenough for me to "pass"as a professionalLatin dancesportcompetitor.Dancesportrefers to a highly stylized version of ballroom dancing performedin competitioncircuits across the United States, Europe, and Asia. InternationalStyle Dancesportencompasses both the standardcategory,comprisedof dances most readily associated with aristocraticballrooms (e.g., waltzes and foxtrots), and the Latin division. Among the many ritualsI scoff at in this sport I love to hate is the mandatethat any competitorwho wishes to be taken seriously must cover his or her body with brown paint.At twenty-seven dollars a bottle, the Germanmade PROFITAN-Intensive-Latin-Color my productof choice. After three generous coats of the bronze is elixir have absorbedinto my skin, my "brownface" complete, and I am ready to withstand is an entire evening of competitioncha-chas. While competitive ballroom dancersare not the only consumersof self-tanningproducts, the prevalence of artificially darkenedwhite skin in dancesportLatin competitions invites examinationinto the relationshipbetween these ballroom "Latin"dances and their racial/ethnic referents.I introducethe term "brownface," a word other ballroom dancersare likely not to embrace,in orderto call attentionto the racial (and potentiallyracist) consequences of this practice. Many of my friends and colleagues in the dance business deny that the use of tanning creamhas anythingto do with race. It is stage makeup,they insist, designed to give pale skin a healthy glow underharshbrightlights. The fact that bodybuildersand beauty contestants also use tanningcreams when they display their body for formal evaluationbolsters this position. Others point out that tanned white skin has become associated with wealth and leisure in late industrialWestern culture, where most people work indoors out of the sun.1 Whetherfrom tanning booths or bottles, the dark skin of dancesportcelebrities aligns them with other sites of upper-classrecreation. Juliet McMains is a Ph.D. candidate in dance history and theory at the University of California, Riverside. She has been competing in dancesport for ten years, currentlyin the A professional Latin division.An earlier version of this paper, "Brownface: New Performance of Minstrelsyin LatinAmericanDance," was presentedat the 2000 Dancing in the Millennium Conference,where it received the Congress on Researchin Dance GraduateResearchAward. She is the co-author,with Danielle Robinson,of "SwingingOut: SouthernCalifornia'sLindy Revival," in I See America Dancing: Selected Readings, 1685-2000 (forthcoming). Most recentlyshe presentedher paper, "'Latin'AmericanDance: Salseros and BallroomDancers" at the 2001 CORD Conferencein New YorkCity.


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skin Thereis no denyingthatthe ballroom obsessionwithartificially darkened is closely linkedto the imageof glamour athleticism projects. and it standard Admittedly, dancesport use dancers someformof darkmakeup competition, it is in theLatincategory, but for where women'slegs, stomachs, backsandmen'schestsarefully exposed,thatthe use of such and
products is most pronouncedand widespread.I personally did not use tanning cream when

in but as it competing standard, for consideration a seriousLatincompetitor, becamemandaWhether practiceevolvedbecausecostuming the Latincategoryhas gradually this in tory. to its a exposedmoreflesh or through consciousattempt competitors look more"Latin," by effects areraciallycharged. Whileraceis neverjust aboutskin color,in America's racially of climatethereis no way to readthe practice brownface, particularly sociopolitical fraught
that of the "Latin"dancesportcompetitors,that does not in some way have to do with race.

Latinis a stylizationof social ballroomdancesthat,althoughinspiredby Dancesport and werepopularized defined theEnglish and Afro-Caribbean Latinsocialdancepractices, by themid-twentieth Thefive interof of Teachers Dancing century. throughout Imperial Society dancesarerumba, national cha-cha, samba, paso doble,andjive. In competition dancesport an Americandancesport categoryof AmericanStyle Latindances competition additional and includes American bolero,mambo, swing.Afterfive to sevendecadesof (called Rhythm) of versions andAmerican the revisionat thehandsof English, dancers, dancesport European, or the Latindancesbearlittle in commonwith contemporary historicalpracticesin Latin to continues rely of and America. And yet the rhetoric danceteachers mediarepresentatives Latindivisionanddancingpracticed ethnic betweendancesport's on a close association by betweenthesetwo versions I Latinos. will not exploreat lengthspecificstylisticdifferences of of but of Latindance,3 will focus on the racialimplications the representations Latin-ness racialposiof in dancesport. Aftera close reading how dancesport "performs" choreography how leadsme to unravel brownof Latinto blackface tions,comparison dancesport minstrelsy theirown as andspectators a meansof negotiating for face functions dancesport competitors racial and class positions. I also explore how brownfaceobscuresAfrican historical of to and antecedents dancesport; how dancesport mightaffectthe representations Latin-ness on lives of ethnicLatinos, as well as off the dancefloor. in a seemsto represent utopian Onone level, dancesport community whichpeoplesof differlove of dance.From theircommon are entraces,classes,andnationalities brought by together fromformerSoviet-bloccountries, of of view, the participation dancers this romantic point the and Western Asia,Australia, the UnitedStatesdemonstrates powerof dancesport Europe, of The to unify people acrossnationalandracialboundaries.4 celebration Latinculture,as as to references aristocratic in theLatindances,alongside culture, porEuropean exemplified evidencethatdancesport further to in dances,appears provide equallyvaltrayed thestandard "Latin" In of idatesthe cultures variedethnicgroups. fact,dancesport mightevendeconstruct
biological racial categories when observed throughthe lens of performativitytheories.5 If the

Dancesport's Racial Logic

it can racialposition"Latin" be established dancesport performance, follows that through codes of movethoseparticular who learns racialidentitycan be assumed any individual by of ment,irrespective perceived biologicalrace.However,such an imageof a multinational, and the multiethnic systemsof meltingpot servesto obscure Eurocentrism white-dominated is inseparable fromthe legacy is whichthe industry structured. history Dancesport's logic by

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of of Western and out imperialism colonialism of whichit evolved.Therepresentation "Latin" in dancesport relies on and reproduces derivedfrom a racially performances stereotypes withLatinAmerica. veryexistenceof a cateThe relations fraught historyof Euro-American called"Latin in with radically countries different dance," whichdancesfromdifferent gory historiesandphysicalpractices lumpedtogether, are revealsthe Eurocentric of perspective I this discourse. am not suggesting consciousracistintentor actionson the partof particular but of do withlarger racial individuals, representations raceproduced dancesport interact by discourses in American circulating society. Thenamingof the two divisionsof dancesport in sets already up a binary whichLatinis a deviation fromtheWestern standard. the dancesareof Western Broadlyspeaking, standard descentandthe Latindancesof LatinAmerican.6 While such a sweepingstatement glosses overthe complicated historical of the dances,the categorical is distinction maintrajectories tainedin performance. imageportrayed the standard The couplebearsmuchin common by withrepresentations whiteness discussed literature thenascent of in from as fieldof whiteness studies.In his book White,cultural criticRichard examinesvisualrepresentations of Dyer whitepeoplein andby Western His revealsthatthewhiteraceis constructed culture. analysis as powerful, and heterosexual, clean,godly,wealthy, good, light,universal, invisible.Central to his theoryis thenotionthatwhiteness ableto transcend is bodiesandstandin for particular all humanity standard in (Dyer1997).Dancesport portrays manyof thesevalues,exemplified thelavishcostumes, chivalry, extolledbeauty, his her theirunisonmovement-all these"oldfashioned" markers appear transcend that to evenracial,individual specific,perhaps identity. But uponeven cursory examination becomesclearthatthis notionof romance, it alongwith the costumes the graceful and restraint movement, derived of is froma European, aristocratic modelof socialdance. Aesthetic valuesareverysimilar thoseof classicaldance,including to verticalmovement, of and lightuse of bodyweight,concealment effort,flowingmovement, extension lengthof musclesandbodylines. and poses foregrounding Thisrepresentation whiteness partially of is enabled the corollary racialpositionthat by is represented the Latindivisionof competition. two categories alwaysjuxtaposed in The are at competitions, neitherone ever appearing withoutthe other.7 the standard If performance the mustsignala racialidentitywhichis "Other" to whiteness, Latinperformance represents this white standard. Consistent with representations Otherness of examined postcolonial by versionof LatinrevealsmuchmoreaboutWestern desiresthanactual theorists, dancesport's of who themselves or Latin.8 Performance experiences individuals consider ethnically racially artist cultural and criticCocoFuscohaspointed thattheracialcategory out "Latino" collapses sucha broadrangeof ethnic,racial,andcultural as can groupsthatits usefulness a category be verylimited(Fusco1995).It mostoftencomesto havemeaning the through way in which similar discrimination theUnited in Latin American nations peoplesfromdifferent experience is to to States.However, speakof Latinoas a racialcategory confusing, say the least, since Latinosare white,black,brown,and dozensof mestizoshadesin between.Skin color and of rolesin the determination socialposition,andyet the fiction classpositionplay significant is fostered of a generic"Latin" dancesport. through identity revealshow this Other, nonin of A reading the movements performed Latindancesport contrasts with the white whiteracialidentityconstructed Latindancesport performance by It ballroom in identified standard racialposition Western practices. is moresexual, previously of and as signaledby costuming, (the predominance hip movements, visualnarrative story


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cnstructed in movesthatareoftenmimicking sexualseducsuggested the performance) by tion.As opposed thestandard to whichrequire coupleto be in a closeddanceposithe dances, tion (pressed eachotherin a perpetual Latindancescan be performed a in embrace), against widerangeof relative in and bodypositions,allowingfor morevariations choreography personalexpression. Latindanceperformance suggestsa non-white The also racialpositionthat to and expressive appears be morephysically emotionally rangeof body owingto the greater
shapes and movement choices However Latin also appears re "pimitive because its than standard'sFor example almost techqe and choreographyare less forlly structured


variation beennamedandits techniqe written has downfor decades, whereas

advancedLatin choreographyis being reinventedeach year by its practitioners.This choreo-

freedom theLatincategory in for to graphic openspossibilities nonwhiteness be morecreative andinnovative, atthe sametimeleavesLatinopento accusations beingless disciplined but of and controlled thanthe "refined" standard dances While the standard dancesrepresent a romantic the mode a fairytale of civized Western culture, Latindancesrepresent primitive of huma express thatis by contrast Theseidentiand overlysexual,emotional, physical. ties arenot contextualized timeor placebutby theirrelationship each other.Therefore, in to if the Latindancer constructed contrast the Western, is in to civilized,arisocatic, andwhite standard the dancer, Latindancermst be non-Weste, uncivilized,savage,andnonwhite (plate1). of However,the representation race in the ballroomis not quite as simple as such a white/nonwhite9 of theird dichotomy suggests.The brownface the Latindans marks ence not only fromthe standard dancers the ballroom, but lso fromthe Latno dancers im
salseros,tangueros,sambistasoutside the ballrooms.Beyond ski color, dancesportathletes

also perform theirdifference fromethnicLatinosthrough movement a that technique is recdiffrent fromLatino cial dancepractices. whilebothballroom Latindancers ognizably So, andclub salsadancers, example,may dance Latin" for to dancing the samemusic,the two will Latindancer as performances look very differentThe ballroom mightbe characterized and clean,controlled, balanced from a different stiff, sterile,and (or appearing perspective in to and predictable) contrast the salsa dancers rhythmical,playful,spontaneous, free (or wild messy,violent,andoff-balance) whte skinis Dyerpoints ut thattanned style Richard
still recognizable as white (Dyer 1997, 49). He reminds his readersthat someone who uses characteristics associatedwith a nonwhiteethnic group tanningproductscan borrowparticular without forfeiting white racial privilege. Likewise, "Latin ballroomdancing is still ballroom dancing. The ballroom Latin dancer borrows some of the passion and s ality assciated with Latin dancing without forfeiting the class and racial privilege by which ballroom dancing is defined. Neier the white dancers in bronze paint nor the English dances with Latin names become the racialOthersthey refer to. They maintaintheirwhite privilege even as they

withLatinculture. associated tradein the exoticcharacteristics

the in Whilethecurrent visibilityof dancesport theUnitedStatesdoes not approach populartheparallels blackface betweenthesetwo attained American minstrelsy (1830s-1930s), by ity In formsarestriking. bothpractices, entertainment lighter-skinned performs painttheirbody to to ascribed an ethnicgroupwithdarker in skin darker order takeon behavioral stereotypes
and less social, political, and economic power.In the case of minstrelsy performerswere pri-

Brownface's MinstrelLegacy

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Plate 1. YouthInternational Style Latincompetitorsat the UnitedStates DancesportChampionshipsin of HiltonHotel, MiamiBeach. This photographcaptures the commonjuxtaposition the Fountainbleu lines and references to "primitiveness" (here in the costuming)in dancesport Latin. long body September, 1999. Photo by DavidMark.


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marily Irish immigrants,not yet American enough to be considered white in the mid-nineteenth century, who blackened their skin in order to perform gross caricaturesof African Americans.Americandancesport,which is a fringe activity comparedwith minstrelsyin antebellum America, is predominantlypracticed by Eastern-European immigrants who bronze their skin in orderto performwhat to many appearsto be a gross caricatureof Latinos.In both blackface and brownface, light-skinned, newly arrived immigrant performersborrow and redefine culturalproducts-music and dance-of a minorityethnic groupfor theirown profit. While the power imbalancebetween blacks and whites in antebellumAmerica was much more acute than that between Latinos and whites in America today, theories that have been developed about how blackface functioned in its time can be useful for understandinghow brownface is operative in contemporaryAmerican dancesport. Cultural historian David Roediger (1991) has arguedthatIrishminstrelactorsand audienceswere able to establishtheir own position as "white"by ensuring their distance from blackness in minstrel performance. The imperfectmimicry of a racial Otherby blackface entertainers invited comparisonthatreified their racial difference.Although not a direct parallel,Eastern-European dancesportcompetitorsmay be solidifying their own white statusthroughperforminga distance from Latinos in brownface performance.Linda Mizejewski theorizes that Jewish and Eastern-European Ziegfeld Girls performingin "caf6 au lait" makeup(lightskinnedblackface) in the 1920s likewise solidified their own white assimilation by invoking comparisonwith those whose skin color was too dark to become "white"(Mizejewski1997, 10-11). While Eastern-European dancesportcompetitors(many of whom are Jews who have been grantedreligious asylum in the United States) are not facing the same prejudices, currentcultural and political anxiety about Latino immigration specifically, and the loss of white American cultural dominance more generally,may necessitate similarperformancesof racial distance.10 Moreover,the popularityof both minstrelsyand dancesportforestalledthe ability of members of the minorityethnic groupsto representand commodify their own arts.It was not until well into the twentieth centurythatAfrican-Americanentertainerscould easily performanything other than the happy-go-luckyJim Crow and Zip Coon minstrel characters.Likewise, Latino artistshave only recently begun to successfully performand sell their own versions of Latin dance markets,such as the rapLatin dancingin America.These emerging "authentic"1' idly growing global salsa community,rely heavily on a hypersexualizedstereotype of Latin dance. So, while on the one hand salsa offers an alternativeto the dancesportversion of Latin dancing, it is still largely determinedby expectationsthe ballroom dance industryhas created about what defines "Latin"on the dance floor. CulturalhistorianEric Lott has suggested that minstrelsyencompassedboth a fascination with black culture and a simultaneousderision of it, a "dialecticalflickering of racial insult and racialenvy" (Lott 1993, 6). RichardDyer underscoresthis point in his work on visual representationsof whiteness when he points out that cosmetically darkenedwhite skin can signal ascribedto the darkerracial group (Dyer 1997, a desire to take on some of the characteristics This ambivalencetowardOthers,a desire to try on but not get too close to the racialOther, 49). is also reflectedin Latin dancing.Like the minstrelshow, which reveals more aboutwhite fantasies of black culturethan about black cultureitself, accordingto Lott, dancesportperformances expose Westernfantasies of what it means to be Latin.

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Brownface Uncovered
The almosttotalabsenceof dancesport LatinAmerican in is the countries perhaps mostconin not Mostvisuallyprominent the vincingevidencethatit is aboutWestern, Latin,culture. versionof Latinis the hypersexualization the performing of underscored bodies, dancesport the in constructed movesthatareoftenmimicking sexual by the costuming, visualnarrative and that both and of seduction, thediscourse surrounds theteaching theperformance thisstyle of dance. Even a brief glanceat the attirewornon the competition floor-little morethan rhinestone-covered suitsfor womenandskintight bathing pantswithshirtsopento the navel for men-reveals a visualdiscourse is not aboutwhatLatinos that a wear,butrather actually theatricalized of whatan exoticOther look like. projection might in enacted dancesport Latinthatproduces this Beyondtheclothes,it is thevisualnarrative
Latin stereotypeso embracedby the West. While each of the five International Style competition dances has its own character-the rumba is passionate, the cha-cha is flirtatious,the samba is playful, the jive is exuberant,and the paso doble alternatelyportraystwo flamenco gypsy dancers and a bullfighter with his cape-all tell a story of heterosexual courtship throughsocial dance. But dancesportis not social dance. While it developed out of Western

socialdancepractices is deeplyintertwined the socialdanceindustry, and with is dancesport In to LatinAmerican socialdance highlystylizedtheatrical art/sport. contrast manypartnered formsin whichimprovisation playfulness central,dancesport and are favorswell-rehearsed routinescarefullychoreographed maximumdisplay of skill and spectacular for effect. Seduction practiced the audiences judges,not withinthe partnership. in the balis on and As let pas de deux,preference long bodylines oftensupplants tendency for toward realism any in thesepassionate But embraces. unlikeballetdancers, whosehipsareshowcased onlyas the Latindancers ballroom and isolate,gyrate, thrust, pointfromwhichthelegs andtorsoextend, roll theirpelvis.It is this striking breakwiththeprominent in tradition partnering Western of balletthathelpsto concretize Latinstereotype excessivelysexual,passionate, emothe as and tional.While social dancein LatinAmericamay be moresexuallyexpressive thanWestern are in versions theyarenotevenrecthat forms,thesequalities so exaggerated thedancesport to as and ognizable mostLatinos Latindance.12 Subtlety, musicality,13 improvisaplayfulness,
tion have been virtuallyexpelled from dancesportLatin, leaving only exaggeratedsexual postures and gestures to markthese dances as "Latin." The marking of sexuality in these dances as Other was probably crucial to their initial acceptanceinto Westernballroomsfrom the 1930s throughthe 1950s. Westernsocial dancers could embracethe sensuality and sexuality of the Latin dances without owning them as part of their own culture.The contemporarymedia glut of explicit sexual imagery might suggest this argumentis difficult to sustain when applied to dancesportpracticedin the twenty-first century.However, the overwhelmingpresenceof sexual imageryin Americansociety does not mean thatAmericananxiety about sexuality is resolved; many observersand participants may find comfortin projectingtheir sexuality onto the space of Latin Other. Furthermore, displays of explicit sexuality are still not considered "classy,"the coveted label by which dancesport aspires to be categorized. While the class status of dancesportand its participantsis much more complex and beyond the scope of this essay, the Americanballroomdance industryhas always been invested in appealing to audiences who are, if not already upper-class,at least upwardlymobile.14


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Perhapscovering the nearly naked dancing bodies with something, even if it is only tanning cream, is enough to protect the industryfrom a looming downward spiral toward strip clubs and escort services. Brownfaceprovides enough cover for dancesport'sversion of Latin sexy to remainclassy (plate 2). Classy and sexy can be unitedunderthe safety of a brownface mask, where the professional dancer and conspiring audience can enjoy this erotic sexuality without forfeiting class status. Anotherreason that sexuality in dancesportcan be expressed only undercover of brownface is that such unproblematized displays of heterosexualityand unabashederotic celebration of Westerncorporeal beauty are not generally accepted in "high art."Nudity as a political statementmay be controversial,but at least it is considered art. Ballroom costumes and aesthetics look more like those that appearin Las Vegas strip clubs than those of "artdancers." Withoutthe historical momentumof ballet, the self-reflexive political probes of many modem dance choreographies,or the popularsupportof jazz dance, dancesportstrugglesto secure its terpsichoreanstatus.While the tension between dancesport'sdual identity as sport and art has been heightened since its 1997 recognitionas an official Olympic Sport,'5many ballroom

Plate 2. Juliet McMainsand formerpartnerSonny Perryin competition "brownface," which has startedto rundown Sonny's face and neck. Embassy Ball, Irvine,California. September, 1999. Photo by Dave Head.

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dancers strive to be recognized as "artists."16 maintaininga fiction of "authentic" Latin By dancing, they can justify the gaudy costumes and vulgar gestures. Under a guise of ethnoof graphicrepresentation third-worlddance forms, movement that might otherwisebe read as low-class in the American context can be transformedinto high-class art. When many of the same dancersappearin front of the same judges to performthe standarddances, the suggestion of sexuality is much more subtle. Women'slegs are hidden underseven layers of chiffon, and althoughmale and female bodies are pressed close together in full frontal contact, there is no grinding or pulsing of the pelvic region. At least this particularkind of sexuality is reserved only for brownface. But the performanceof brownfaceis more complicatedthan merely a Westernprojection of sexuality onto an exotic Other.In American scholarshipand popular discourse alike, the less discussed discourse of class differenceis far too often mappedonto ethnic and racial difference. A similar transpositionfrom class to race is reproducedin dancesportperformance. While the American ballroom dance industryhas long been one that sells upper-classstatus and class mobility,17 extreme class differences among its participantsare rarelydiscussed. the The economic foundationof the American dancesportindustryis pro-am competition-amateur dancerswho pay their professionalteachersto compete with them in the same circuit of competitionsas the top level amateurand professionalathletes.Most professionaldancesport competitorsin America finance their expensive coaching and travel schedules by selling their services in pro-amcompetitions.For these pro-amstudents,dancesportis a hobby-their professional reputationand economic stability lie elsewhere. Dancesport professionals, on the other hand, usually have little college education or significant earning potential outside the industry.Most come from working-classbackgrounds,many of them recentimmigrants,striving to live out the Americandreamthroughsuccess as dancesportathletes.To pursueballroom dancingas a hobby is consideredclassy, but to rely on it for one's economic securityis another class entirely.No one wants to admit that Latin dancesportprofessionalshail from the lower classes if they are also mastersof its classy movement technique.Instead,they are markedby brownface as exotic (racial) Others.Not black, not white, different,but not too differentfrom its consumers, properly tanned dancesportprofessionals with superiormovement technique are covered by a racial markerthat standsin for the less visible signifier of class."

African Roots
If Latin dance is racializedin orderto hide the functionof class difference,there are also ways in which class is used to disguise its racial history. The ballroom Latin dances, while Westernized,are derivativeof African-basedmovement forms. Rumba, mambo, and cha-cha are descendantsof Afro-Cubandance and music; samba is an Afro-Braziliandance; andjive is the English version of African-Americanswing dancing. All these dance forms were syncretizationsof African and Europeandance traditionsin their Cuban,Brazilian,andAmerican settings. No doubtthese dances were successful in EuropeanandAmericanballroomsin part because practitionerscould imagine that they were engaging in "primitive"Latin behavior. For example, in his 1942 dance manual,ArthurMurraystates that La Conga as practicedin ballrooms was adaptedfrom dances practicedby "colorednatives" in Cuba. "Remember-it originatedwith, and for generationshas been danced by, simple natives. And if they learn it, you certainlycan!" (Murray1942, 175) Not only does such a statementinsult the intelligence and culturalcomplexity of Cubans,it also ignores the culturalcontext and physical complex-


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version reduces the danceformfromwhichLaCongawaspoached. Murray's ity of theCuban danceto footplacements. own experience dancesuggeststhatfootplacement withCuban My is relatively with articulated thehips,pelvis,torso,and by compared therhythms unimportant shoulders. the namesandoriginstoriesfor thesedancesweremaintained the Western So by that social dance industryschools and organizations codifiedLatin dance forms,but the altered. weredramatically dancesandtheirsocialandcultural meanings to and Latindanceformshavecontinued developsince Whilebothballroom "authentic" of themfromLatinAmerica, danceteachers imported first ballroom comparison the contemLatin formto current of "authentic" dances(suchas salsa,Argentine ballroom porary practices forms The is thesedifferences.19 ballroom samba) usefulforhighlighting tango,andBrazilian balanced tend to be characterized a straight through by spine,movementthatis produced andbody that of transfer weightfromfoot to foot, foot positions areclearlyarticulated, poses tonethroughout body,andpredomextreme the shapesin whichthe entirebodyis extended, of formsarecomprised specifictechniques inanceof predetermined steps.While"authentic" with Latin.They to thatareparticular eachform,thereareseveralcommonalities dancesport betweenthe and arecharacterized a moredynamic flexiblespine;weightthatis suspended by cenand that foot feet duringmovement; placement is approximate relatively unimportant; and in of in articulated thebody;relaxation a majority musclegroups; of polyrhythms trality of the Latindancesfor linkedto musicalstructures.20 up" "Cleaning closely improvisation that inclusionin the ballroomrequired they cross both class and race boundaries. Tango, of and and rumba, sambawereoriginally mambo, by practiced the darkest poorestmembers of the intellectual This Latin communities.21 whiteningand classingup required mastery the its elements,anddisciplining body andthe dance movement, eliminating unpredictable of and intoorganized footsteps patterns motion. in and Latinmovement of A briefcomparison dancesport technique thatemployed conmaintain consistent a Latindancers this illustrates point.Ballroom salsa dancing temporary so the connection throughout courseof dancing, thateveryshiftof weightis clearlycommua this nicatedfromone bodyto the other.Theyaccomplish tightconnection maintaining by framein the armsandmovingtheribcage andbackwithinthisframeto communicate stable the a maintain looserconnection choices.Salsadancers movement through hands.Leadsare than initiated movingthearmsortheentire bodyweight,rather movingtheribcagewithin by
a stable dance frame. Strongbody to body connection throughthe hands is used only to initiate turns,not to coordinateeach step. While ballroom Latin dancers shun this loose connection because more dynamic and faster changes of energy are not possible, more spontaneous improvisationsare. Since perfect coordinationof movementis not expected between partners, missteps become new steps, ratherthan mistakes.

of for it Asidefromthepossibilities offersin individual improvisation eithermember the a also requires contrasting in this difference lead/followtechnique relationship partnership, in musclesin the body.In ballroom Latin,the majormusclegroups the stomamongvarious Whilethey do not alwaysmovein the ach,back,pelvis,legs, andfeet arealwaysconnected. in at same direction the sametime, movement any one areaalwaysaffectsthe others.For of the a weightshift through feet andbendingof one knee enablesa rotation the example, a acrossthe ribsandback,whichthenproduces tiny presmovement pelvis andsubsequent at to back,indicating herthe precisemoment surechangein the man'shandson his partner's of which she shouldshift her weight.This strictinterconnectedness majormuscle groups

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allows for the kind of speed in partneringdynamics that gives ballroom Latin its unique appeal. However, what it does not encourage is the kind of polyrhythmicmovement that is popularin salsa dancing.Because salsa music is based on many differentrhythmsinteracting to produceits complex structure,dancersoften mimic the differentinstrumentswith different partsof their bodies. For example, salsa dancersmay move their feet in rhythmwith the congas, thrusttheirrib cage forwardin time to the clave, and shimmy their shouldersbetween the hits of the cowbell. It is the disconnection of the muscle groups and their ability to initiate movement style. It is this techniqueof independentmovements that gives salsa its particular articulationthat links salsa dancing most closely to West African dance polyrhythmicbody Thus, the defining practicesfrom which both the music and the movement draw inspiration.23 of characteristics these two movement forms are clearly linked to racializedmovement practices-the black West African dance practices that foregroundmultiple points of articulation and the white Westernconcert dance traditions,particularly ballet, thatprivilege bodily cohesion and control. The earliest practitionersof nearly every Latin dance form were African slaves or their descendantsliving in Latin America, and yet all explicit referenceto Africa has fallen out of these African-inspired dance forms as they are practicedin ballrooms.24 Certainlymany of the qualities that have been dubbed "Africanist Aesthetics" have remained in the dances.25 Polyrhythms,high-affectjuxtaposition,and ephebism dominatein Latin dancesportperformance. But strikinglyabsent from this version of Latin dancing is the buttocks. Culturalcritic RichardGreenhas theorizedthatfocus on the black "booty"and its reputedlysubstantialproof portionshas been centralto representations blackness in Westernculture(Green2000). The for ballroomLatin dancing follows Westerndance traditions,which insist on tucktechnique ing the butt under the body in order to enable more balanced and aerodynamicmovement throughspace. There are moments in the dancing when the butt is thrustbackwardin poses designed to showcase it. However, movement throughspace relies on a backside that is not posteriorto the rest of the body. The bottom must be in a straightline with the rib cage, shoulThe ders, feet, and head.26 hips are allowed to rotateon this vertical axis, but the butt must not backwardwhile the body is in locomotion. Technically, this development enables protrude sudden stops aftervery fast movements because the body weight is always balancedover one foot. On the other hand, a relaxation (and thrusting outward) of the butt enables more polyrhythmswithin the body, an aestheticthathas been overshadowedby the drive to produce faster and more dynamic horizontalmovement. Contemporarypractices of Latin dances outside the ballroom community celebrate the beauty of the buttocks. In the Argentine version of tango, torsos are inclined inward toward each other and butts lag behind, while both the English and American dancesport styles requirethat the hips are pressed underand the torsos are stretchedoutward.In describingthis distinction, cultural critic Marta Savigliano points out that the more "refined"(i.e., higherclass and whiter) styles in which the torsos are balanced away from each other were coveted by elite Argentineansin the 1920s (Savigliano 1995, 149-153). Hiding the buttocks appears to have been one of the central strategiesfor shifting the categorizationof this dance in both class and racial hierarchies.While swing is not considered a Latin dance by most, it is performed in the Latin category in dancesportcompetitions and shares antecedentsin African rhythms.The currentcraze for 1940s-style swing dancingin nightclubsacrossAmericais ripe with backsides hanging gleefully behind torsos as dancerswhirl aroundin a near sitting posi-


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tion. Footage of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, the Savoy Ballroom originals, reveals that this crouchedposition was the style in which the African-Americanoriginatorsof swing dancing moved.27 The butt was ever-present.However, the posture was straightenedup by the social dance industryfor white ballrooms.A 1950s ArthurMurraydance manualspecifically warns, "Don't dance with your hips way back...Dancing with hips way back is out of date."(Murray 1959, 219). The illustrationof what not to do bears a strikingsimilarityto the posture of the black Lindy hoppers,suggesting that,like the case of tango, making swing acceptableto white patronsrequiredhiding the racially markedbackside. Was the disappearanceof the butt as a site of movement in Europeanand American Latin dancing merely a technical development in pursuitof maximumspeed in this ever more virtuosic dance form?Or did it have something also to do with the erasureof blackness from the history of Latin dancing?If the buttis indeed markedas black, as RichardGreen suggests, I suspect thatthe absentbutt in Westernversions of Latin dances has as much to do with rewritingtheir racial history as their technical development. It appearsthat Latin exoticism was marketable,but African exoticism was not.

Bodily Presence
More poignantthanthe absence of the black butt in the discourse and techniqueis the absence of the black body in the contemporarypractice. There are very few black dancesportcompetitors.Asians and a growing numberof Latinos are beginning to participatein dancesport competitions,but black bodies are almost entirely absent.Those representingthis sportto the public are acutely aware of this absence, at times distorting the demographics so that the American public will not call it racism. For example, creators of the 1998 dancesportfilm Dance WithMe, starringAfrican American Vanessa Williams, invented a "South African" competitionpartnership teamingup Rick Robinsonand MariaTorres,two of the only black by competitors in the professional American dancesportscene. Dancers in the film's climactic "international" competition scene were drawn from the ranks of American and Canadian dancesportprofessionals,appearingundertheir own names with their own partnersrepresenting the country of origin of at least one member of the partnership,with the exception of Robinson and Torres(plate 3). During a personal interview,Torresexpressed her own mixed feelings about this casting decision. On the one hand, she recognizes that positively representingan ethnic minorityin a Hollywood film is in itself a victory to be celebrated.However, she laments that neither she The film's nor Robinson was representingtheir own competitioncareeror ethnic background. producersmay have felt compelled to reinventthe racial demographicsof dancesportcompetition in order to justify their casting of Vanessa Williams in the starringrole as dancesport of champion,but the irony of choosing SouthAfrica as a symbolic representation racial tolerfailed to register with many viewers. Throughoutthe pubance and diversity could not have the licity surrounding film, no dancesportexpert broachedthe sensitive topic of black disinterest in the sport. In an essay for Dance Beat (an American dancesportnewspaper),two of the dancersappearingin this scene stressedhow authenticthe directorhad tried to make this scene by seeking out the most highly rankedcompetitors."They were looking for the top six and if somebody couldn't do it they went down the list" ("Dance WithMe" 1988, 22). There was no mention in the interview of why this pursuitto representdancesportaccuratelyled to the fabricationof a SouthAfrican couple. While dancesportLatin is all about imagined racial difference of the Latin Other, explicit discussion of bodies of particularrace is apparently

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taboo for dancesport ambassadors. WVhile black interest in dancesport remains minimal, there are increasing numbers of Latino dancersentering the Latin divisions of dancesportcompetitions in the United States. Latino ballroom dancers with whom I have discussed issues of cultural appropriation believe that they are workingto change the system from within by introducing movements from "authentic" Latindances into theirdancesport routines. They believe that they can take the best from both movement techniques and unite them on the ballroomfloor. But the fact that these routines are being performed in the ballroom,and evaluated by the dancesport industry's rules and aesthetics, already stacks the power differential on one side. Latinos who try to perform their own Latin-ness

, .. ? i




accused of exceeding the expecin filmed Arena an exhibition danceforan invitational competition tations of their own identity. fortelevision. Mark. Boston,November 1998. Photoby David 5, Latina dancesport competitor MariaTorres,whose trainingalso includedAfro-Cubandance, recalls that she was chastised by judges as being "too authentic,too street,too Latin"(Torres,2001). So, while one reading of Latinobodies perfonrming Latin dances suggests thatnonwhites are breakinginto white systems of power, the racial politics in this system are changing very slowly. While I have suggested that dancesportis deeply entrenchedin its racist history,I am not convinced it is more or less pernicious than otherAmerican culturalpractices that developed out of Westernexpansionism.Despite personalexperiences of racism, MariaTorresherself is remarkablyupbeat about the changes she and others have inspiredthroughtheir own participation in dancesport.She notes greaterracial diversity in competition and a greaterrange of movement choices. Many dancesport competitors have begun to study and appreciate a broaderrange of "Latin"dance outside the ballroomindustry,some even changing their rhetoric to indicate that dancesportis but one version of Latin dance. The dancesportestablishment has even begun to celebrateMariaTorres'scontributionto dancesport,albeit only after she has received critical acclaim in other dance industries.Perhapsthe greatestchange will be enacted from pressuresoutside the dancesportcommunity.AlternativeLatin dance communi-

throughautoexoticism often Plate3. VanessaWilliams Rick are and at Valenzuela the Mathews


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ties and industries,particularlythose of salsa and Argentinetango, are gaining greaterpopularity and recognition worldwide, forcing the ballroomindustryto reexamine and redefine its of own interpretation Latin dancing. intent in drawingout these racial issues is not to condemn the practiceof dancesport, My but to broadenthe perspectives from which both its practitionersand its viewers understand of its representations Latin-ness.Brownface masks far more than the biological white skin of its dancers.It obscuresthe racisthistory out of which this practiceemergedas well as the ways in which race and class are often conflated in American discourse. Brownface provides enough cover for dancesport'sversion of Latin sexy to remainclassy. The brownfaceritualis also one that negotiates the complex relations of class and nationalitythrougha recognizable bodily discourse of race. It offers a model for assimilation into white Westernculture.And brownface recolors the history of Latin dancing, repaintingthe dark skin of its African roots and the racial politics in which it is implicatedto a lighter,more palatabletone.


in the of I wouldlike to thank members the 1999RaceandRepresentation Danceseminar groupat the of thiswork.I would all of whomhelpedto stimulate of Riverside, development University California,
like to extend particulargratitudeto my friend and colleague Danielle Robinson. Withouther similar in engagementwith issues of race and representation Americansocial dance forms, I might never have

causedby simultaneous stateof paralysis been ableto workmyselfbeyonda perceived passionsfor and racetheory. dancesport critical

1. Beforethe Industrial leisure,representRevolution, whiteskinwas a sign of upper-class pale fromthe toils of outdoor labor. exemption ing anindividual's to for and was this 2. Originally, divisionof competition called"Latin American" account the or to American" this inclusionof the American jive. Eventually namewas shortened "Latin out for to "Latin." Thanks dancehistorian evenmorecommonly Terry Monaghan pointing this to historical development me. of 3. Fora moredetailed Latin,see McMains (2001). comparison salsaanddancesport World Federation in 4. Countries that enteredcontestants the 2000 International Dancesport on held LatinAmerican 10, Championships in Miami,Florida, September 2000, Dancesport includedEngland, Slovenia,Russia, Australia, Italy,SouthAfrica,Japan,China,Germany, Ireland,Denmark,Canada,United States, Yugoslavia,Latvia, Norway,Bosnia, France, New CzechRepublic, Romania, Finland, Switzerland, Poland, Ukraine, Taiwan, Luxembourg, Sweden,Armenia, Scotland, Slovakia,Israel,Belarus,The Netherlands, Zealand, Hungary, and Austria, Norway, Spain,Estonia, Bulgaria. Belgium, see workon performativity, Butler(1990). 5. Forthe cardinal descentthatis are 6. The exceptionsto this generalization the tango,a danceof Argentinean of andthe jive, a derivation the American dancedin the standard section, swing, whichis momentat fromthe historical division.These categorizations dancedin the Latin emerged a The in Europe. tangowas already popular dancesgainedpopularity whichtheserespective divisionwas definedin the 1920s.TheLatindivisionof standard whenthe dancein England was dancesport addedseveraldecadeslater.

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However, new Americantelevision programsfeaturingdancesporthave startedto separatethe two categories, producingone programthat is just Latin and anotherfor the standardcompetition. For theories of the "Other," Said (1978) and Bhabha(1990). see I chose the imperfect term "nonwhite"over alternativessuch as "people of color" because I wish to emphasize that white is a color (racial position) and that it is one's relationshipto whiteness that is most importantfor access to power. See Dyer (1997) for a discussion of terminology choices.

8. 9.

10. Dancesportis a popularsport for childrenin EasternEurope.One readingof the participation of so many Eastern-European immigrantsin Americandancesportsuggests that it reconnects them to their ethnic and culturalheritage. However, their success in the Americandancesport industryhas been so phenomenalthat anyone with a Russian name or accent is almost automaticallyreveredby the white Americandancesportindustry.For entirecommunitiesof immigrants who have seen their children represent the United States at world championships, dancesportbecomes not only a symbol of assimilationbut a vehicle throughwhich they gain acceptanceinto Americansociety. 11. I use the term "authentic" refer to a wide variety of contemporarysocial dance practices to alive in the Latino diaspora.I recognize that "authenticity" always a constructedconcept. is 12. This reactionis dramatizedin the 1998 film Dance with Me, when Cheyenne's character, having just arrivedfrom Cuba to an Americanballroom dance studio says, "That'scha-cha-cha? I never seen a Latin dance that looked like that." 13. I suggest that dancesport Latin is less musical than Latino social dance practices because routines no matter the musical dancesportcompetitors perform the same prechoreographed selection of the disc jockey or orchestra.Spontaneoustiming adjustmentsto match the music are usually not practiced and often not possible given the complexity of the choreography. Improvisationalsocial dancers, on the other hand, are more likely to invent steps that fit the mood and accents of the particular piece of music they are dancing to. 14. Some of my analysis on this subject was presentedin McMains (1999). 15. Recognition in 1997 has not yet resultedin the sport'sactual inclusion on the Olympic schedule. 16. Evidence of this longing to be understoodas artists,not just athletes and entertainers,appears in tradepublicationsand books aboutballroom dancing. See Vermey (1994). 17. See Malnig (2001). 18. This class analysis is relevantonly in the Americancontext. Pro-amcompetitionis a uniquely Americanphenomenonand dancesportin many Europeancountriesis a working-class activity. 19. For a more historicaldiscussion of this whiteningprocess in the Americansocial dance industry, see Robinson (2001). 20. I have made these generalizationsbased on several years of observationand practice of ballroom Latin, salsa, Argentinetango, Brazilian samba, Lindy Hop, Cubanrumba,and cha-cha. Conversations (and physical demonstrations)with Jesus Morales, Cheryl Bush, Christian


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Perry,AlexandraGisher,Anna Scott, and Gloria Otero were particularlyuseful in clarifying these distinctions. 21. There are several histories written about the "origins"of each of these dances and their trajectories out of the barrios and into mainstreamand upper-class culture. For example, see Savigliano (1994), Daniel (1995), Vianna (1999), and Boggs (1992). 22. Susan Foster's work on the historyof ballet suggests thatthe impetus to organizethe body into straightlines in the Latin dances also may have been an attemptto neutralizeits disruptive potential. She arguesthat developmentsin ballet technique duringthe nineteenthcenturydisciplined the body into geometricalshapes and mathematicalstructures.She writes of this new ballet body that, "the body largely did what it was told. It did not initiate or Pythagoreanized carry on a discourse, and ballet did not cultivate impulses. Sporadicrambunctiousinitiatives on the body's partsuch as those manifest in the can-can or the tango could only be interpreted as licentious and lacking in all aestheticvalues" (Foster 1996, 258). This shift allowed for ballet to move to a higherposition in the rationalworld of Europeanculture.Such a similargeometry of the body in the ballroom Latin dances helped them to move from their position in lower-class and nonwhite popular culture in Latin America to prominence in higher-class white EuropeanandAmericansociety. 23. For discussions of characteristics WestAfricandance, which include body segmentationand of see Malone (1996), and Scott (1997). polyrhythmicmovement, 24. Several other authorshave writtenabout the refusal to recognize African-basedcontributions to Americanculture.See Gottschild (1997), and Wallace (1990). 25. See Gottschild (1996) for a discussion of AfricanistAesthetic. 26. This alignmentis consistent with other Westerndance techniques, such as ballet and modern dance. This aesthetic was used throughoutmuch of the twentieth century as justification for excluding black dancers-whose anatomy supposedly did not adhere to the aesthetics of straightbody lines-from ballet companies.A 1995 dance piece, BattyMoves, choreographed by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar for UrbanBush Women,capitalizeson this tension between requirements in Westerndance forms to hide the butt and celebrationof the butt in African dance and African diasporicdance and movement practices.According to their Web site, "Zollarchoreographed Batty Moves because she felt strongly that in Euro-Americanmodes of training, specifically ballet and moder idioms, dancers'buttocks were drainedof movement, poetry, and passion.... The piece is inspiredby movements of the butt: several of the movements are initiated with or end with the butt, whereas others transformtraditionalmovements from the moder dance vocabularyby substitutingthe erect spine and aligned pelvis for more curved lines of the back" (UrbanBush Women 2000). 27. See, for example, their first appearancein Hollywood films in the 1937 Marx Brothersfilm A Day at the Races. 28. Particularthanks to dancesportcompetitors Daniel Vasco, Dedelle Barbanti,Maria Torres, Jorge Geronimo,and CharletonAlicia for sharingtheir ideas on this subject with me. Works Cited Bhabha. Homi K. 1990. 'The Other Question: Difference, Discrimination and the Discourse of Colonialism." In Out There: Marginalization and ContemporaryCultures. Edited by Russell Ferguson,MarthaGever,TrinhT. Minh-ha,and CornelWest, 71-87. New York:The New Museum

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of Contemporary MA: The MIT Press. Art/Cambridge, Music and the Evolutionof Salsa in New YorkCity. Boggs, VernonW., ed. 1992. Salsiology: Afro-Cuban New York:GreenwoodPress. Browning, Barbara.1995. Samba: Resistance in Motion. Bloomington: IndianaUniversity Press. Butler,Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble:Feminismand the Subversionof Identity.New York:Routledge. "Dance WithMe: The Movie." 1988. Dance Beat, eighth year, ed. 0898. Daniel, Yvonne. 1995. Rumba: Dance and Social Change in ContemporaryCuba. Bloomington: IndianaUniversity Press. Dyer, Richard. 1997. White.New York:Routledge. Foster, Susan Leigh. 1996. Choreography & Narrative: Ballet's Staging of Story and Desire. Bloomington: IndianaUniversity Press. Fusco, Coco. 1995. English is BrokenHere: Notes on CulturalConfusionin the Americas. New York: The New Press. Gottschild,BrendaDixon. 1996. Digging theAfricanistPresence in AmericanPerformance:Dance and Other Contexts.Westport,CT: GreenwoodPress. .1997. "Some Thoughts on Choreographing History."In Meaning in Motion: New Cultural Studies of Dance. Edited by Jane C. Desmond, 167-177. Durham,NC: Duke University Press. Green, RichardC. 2000. "Doin' Da Butt: Performance,Race, and Black Bodies," paper presented at Dancing in the Millennium Conference,Washington,DC, 22 July. Lipsitz, George. 1994. Dangerous Crossroads: Popular Music, Postmodernism,and the Poetics of Place. New York:Verso. Lott, Eric. 1993. Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American WorkingClass. New York: Oxford University Press. Malnig, Julie. 2001. "Two-Steppingto Glory: Social Dance and the Rhetoric of Social Mobility."In Moving History/Dancing Cultures:A Dance History Reader. Edited by Ann Dils and Ann Cooper Albright,271-287. Middletown,CT: Wesleyan University Press. Originallypublishedin Etnofoor (1997), X (1/2): 128-150. Malone, Jacqui. 1996. Steppin'on the Blues: The VisibleRhythmsof AfricanAmericanDance. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press. McMains, Juliet. 1999. "CorporealNegotiations in Ballroom and Latin Dance: The GlamourClass," Politics: paper presented at Congress on Research in Dance annual conference, "Choreographic TheatricalRepresentationsof the Body," Pomona, California,3 December. .2001. "'Latin'AmericanDance: Salseros and Ballroom Dancers,"paperpresentedat Moves: Dance in Global Congress on Research in Dance annual conference, "Transmigratory New YorkCity, 27 October. Circulation," Mizejewski, Linda. 1997. Ziegfeld Girl: Image and Icon in Cultureand Cinema. Durham,NC: Duke University Press. Arthur.1942. How to Become a Good Dancer New York:Simon & Schuster. Murray, .1959. How to Become a Good Dancer. New York:Simon & Schuster. Omi, Michael and HowardWinant. 1994. Racial Formationin the United Statesfrom the 1960s to the 1990s. New York:Routledge. Richardson,Philip J. S. 1946. A History of English Ballroom Dancing (1910-45). London: Herbert Jenkins,Ltd.


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Robinson, Danielle. 2001. "Fromthe TurkeyTrot to the One Step: The CulturalPolitics of American RagtimeDancing,"paperpresentedat the Society of Dance History ScholarsConference,Towson, MD, 24 June. Roediger, David R. 1991. The Wages of Whiteness:Race and the Making of the American Working Class. New York:Verso. Said, Edward. 1978. Orientalism.New York:Vintage Books. In Santos Febres,Mayra. 1997. "Salsaas Translocation." EverynightLife: Cultureand Dance in Latin/o America. Edited by Celeste Frazer Delgado and Jose Esteban Munoz, 175-188. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Savigliano, Marta. 1994. Tango:the Political Economy of Passion. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Scott, Anna Beatrice. 1997. "Spectacleand Dancing Bodies thatMatter:Or If It Don't Fit, Don't Force It." In Meaning in Motion. Edited by Jane C. Desmond, 259-268. Durham,NC: Duke University Press. Torres,Maria.2001. Phone interview by author.23 August. UrbanBush Women Homepage, 23 October2000. <>. Vermey,Ruud. 1994. Latin: Thinking,Sensing and Doing in LatinAmericanDancing. Munich:Kastell Verlag. Vianna,Hermano. 1999. The Mysteryof Samba: Popular Music and National Identityin Brazil; trans. and ed. by John CharlesChasteen.Chapel Hill: University of North CarolinaPress. in Afro-American Postmodernismand the Problemof the PrVisual Wallace,Michele. 1990. "Modernism, Cultures.Editedby Russell Ferguson, Culture."In Out There:Marginalizationand Contemporary Martha Gever, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Cornel West, 39-49. New York. The New Museum of MA: The MIT Press. Art/Cambridge, Contemporary

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