Aleysia Whitmore

Brown University

December 2008

 

Annotated Bibliography for

"Finding a Place to Dance: The Contextualization of Salsa in Two Providence Clubs"

 

Abstract:           

Salsa, a transnational genre with African diasporic roots first developed by Puerto Rican and Cuban immigrants in New York City, has proven to be an extraordinarily malleable genre. It has been adopted and recontextualized as people worldwide create their own salsa dance scenes unique to their location and participants. In my research I will explore the salsa dance scene at two popular salsa nights in Providence, looking at continuities that exist between the clubs as they celebrate the same music and dance, but also at how their different locations, venue, music, and missions affect the crowds that they attract and the way participants interact and enjoy salsa within the two clubs. A participant-observer, I have become a regular at both of these clubs, dancing and making friends with dancers of different backgrounds.

Although they are both dedicated to the same music and dance, Latin Jazz and Salsa Night at the Black Rep, and Salsa on Sundays at Platforms exemplify the different ways in which salsa has become a genre that incorporates diverse practices depending on where, for whom, and by whom it is practiced. As a downtown cultural institution with a mission to celebrate contributions of black artists while making a social impact, the Black Rep distinguishes its salsa night with live music, a dress code, and a venue whose layout was not meant to accommodate dance as the central activity. In contrast, Platforms, situated in an industrial area empty at night save for Cheater’s strip club, provides a layout emphasizing the centrality of dance, has a cheaper cover, laid back attitudes towards dress, and uses recorded music. This study will provide a fresh look at how a transnational musical culture is distinct to specific contexts while providing continuity across contexts with standard dance practices and common expressions of Latinidad.

 

 

References:

 

Aparicio, F. (1998). Listening to Salsa: Gender, Latin Popular Music, and Puerto Rican Cultures. Hanover, N.H., University Press of New England.

 

In her book Frances Aparicio explores salsa and how it relates to aspects of gender as well as how it is situated in various contexts. She discusses how the way in which audiences and dancers listen to salsa music depends on what interpretive community they come from and in what context they listen to salsa. She asserts that listeners recontextualize salsa music and transform its social value to fit their needs and desires.

 

Desmond, J. C. (1993). "Embodying Difference: Issues in Dance and Cultural Studies." Cultural Critique Winter, 1993-1994(No. 26): 33-63.

 

Jane Desmond discusses dance as enacting and producing social relations through the dialogic nature of body movements. She also writes about the effects of Latin dance being practiced by non-Latinos, explaining how the stereotypes that non-Latinos bring to the dance form, such as the sexuality and sensuality of Latino culture, are embodied in dance. She writes about how non-Latinos change certain elements of the dance that they find offensive or don’t enjoy.

 

I found this article about dance extraordinarily helpful as it gave me a new perspective from which to look at how non-Latinos in salsa clubs approach salsa. I have had discussions with dancers about the stereotypes that white American dancers have about Latinos, and especially Latin dance. White Americans often view Latin dance as over sexual and sensual and women feel like they will get hit on too much on the dance floor. As a result, they won’t go, or they will avoid what they deem to be more sexual dance movements. Some white women prefer not to even dance with Latinos who they don’t know. On the other hand, some view the sexuality that they perceive on the dance floor as liberating. A salsa club is a place where many feel comfortable expressing the sexual nature of their bodies. Another aspect is that white American women also come to salsa clubs for the first time without an understanding of the established body language of the clubs, often mistaking bodily interactions that aren’t meant to be sexual as sexual. Thus it is often hard to tell what to accept and what to be alarmed by. For example, it is common to greet women with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. It is also common for men to hold a woman’s hips to show her how to move, something that for me was difficult to get used to and that I wouldn’t accept in any other setting.

             

Duany, J. (Autumn-Winter, 1984) Popular Music in Puerto Rico: Toward and Anthropology of Salsa. Latin American Music Review Vol. 5(No. 2): 186-216.

 

In this article Jorge Duany goes over the history of Puerto Rico and the different genres that are common there, giving a background to the practice of salsa music. The most helpful parts of this article are Duany’s considerations of the continuous transnational exchange of salsa between Puerto Rico and New York City, as well as salsa’s plebian origins and the way it is a music of the people.

             

Flores, J. (2000). From Bomba to Hip Hop. New York, Columbia University Press.

 

This book explores “Puerto Rican culture and Latin identity.” Flores explains how Latin identity is connected to the colonialist experience which that they share with African Americans. He also writes about how there was less of a drive to assimilate in the Puerto Rican community in New York. The tension he describes between assimilation to American culture and maintaining a distinct Latino identity is helpful as it is visible in the clubs in I frequent in Providence.

             

Fonarow, W. (2006). Empire of Dirt: The Aesthetics and Ritual of British Indie Music. Middletown, Connecticut, Wesleyan University Press.

 

In this book, Fonarow writes about dancing at indie clubs in Britain. She talks about the dancing body as a “conduit of musical expression” and explores the way that dancing allows for a dissolution of the boundaries between mind and body, allowing for an altered state of consciousness. Although I am studying salsa clubs, I find commonalities between her discussion of indie clubs and dancers, and my observations at salsa clubs.

             

Glasser, R. (1995). My Music is My Flag: Puerto Rican Musicians and Their New York Communities, 1917-1940. Berkeley, University of California Press.

 

In this monograph Ruth Glasser writes about her own experiences gaining access to the Puerto Rican community in New York to do research. Because she is also a white American woman, reading about how she was received helps me gain perspective on my own reception in salsa clubs. She also writes about salsa as creating a national identity that Puerto Ricans in New York do not have in either political or economic terms but that exists solely in cultural terms. This provides an explanation for why salsa is so popular, and why Latinos take such pride in the genre in clubs.

             

Hosokawa, S. (2002). Salsa No Tiene Fronteras: Orquesta de la Luz and the Globalization of Popular Music. Situating Salsa. L. Waxer. New York, Routledge: 289-311.

 

This is an examination of the salsa scene in Japan. As a case study of salsa in a diasporic setting, the chapter both shows how the practice of salsa is unique in Japan while bringing up issues that I have found important at clubs in Providence, another diasporic setting.  Hosokawa writes about how Japanese salsa dancers often have no connections to or understanding of the cultural contexts from which salsa emerged and exists in Latino communities today. He discusses the possible deethnicization, deeroticization, and depoliticization of salsa as it becomes accepted and practiced worldwide. Hosokawa writes that as salsa becomes decontextualized, the music no longer has the same meaning for participants.

             

Pacini Hernandez, D. (1990). "Cantando la cama vacia: Love, Sexuality and Gender Relationships in Dominican Bachata." Popular Music 9(3): 351-367.

 

In this article Pacini Hernandez discusses the bars in which bachata originated in the Dominican Republic as a man’s domain where women were there to provide sexual favors. These spaces were not for women with traditional social values. Even though the clubs that I go to are marketed as salsa clubs, we also dance quite a bit of bachata and merengue at the clubs. I feel it’s important to also understand these genres to a certain extent as they take up at least a quarter of the dances at the clubs in one night and are popular. Although I don’t believe that clubs in Providence are solely a man’s domain, elements of Pacini Hernandez’s ideas are evident in Providence.

             

Pacini Hernandez, D. (1998). "Dancing with the Enemy: Cuban Popular Music, Race, Authenticity, and the World-Music Landscape." Latin American Perspectives 25(3): 110-125.

 

In this article Pacini Hernandez discusses the importance of Afro Carribean influences in salsa. As Cubans were often forced to identify as black when they immigrated to the United States they also formed relationships with African Americans who were similarly marginalized. As a result, Latinos became involved in the civil rights movement and salsa music foregrounded African heritage through percussion and lyrics.

 

Quintero-Rivera, A. G. a. R. M. (2003) Migration and Worldview in Salsa Music. Latin American Music Review 24(2): 210-232.

 

Quintero-Rivera and Marquez write about salsa as a way for young Latinos to legitimize their culture and express their identity. They discuss the complexity of Latino identity as well as how it is constructed in a heteroglossic fashion in salsa music. They explain how musicians use elements from traditional Cuban musics, such as the son, guaracha, and bolero in their music while also occasionally using English lyrics, referencing African American rap and Bernstein’s West Side Story. This heteroglossia asserts both salsa’s rootedness in Carribean identity through traditional Carribean musical forms, while also integrating their experiences as immigrants in the United States into their identity as they refer to American culture in the music.

             

Reed, S. A. (1998). "The Politics and Poetics of Dance." Annual Review of Anthropology 27: 503-532.

 

Reed discusses the ‘appropriation’ of dance forms by white people. She writes about how the stereotypes that they have about the originating cultures and the ideals that they hope to find are often reflected the way in which they practice the appropriated dance form. Reed also looks at the way that dance forms become standardized as they are brought into new contexts and learned through more institutionalized processes.

 

In Providence there is an interesting dichotomy between the more standard salsa learned in lessons both at clubs and dance schools in Providence, and the various, often individual, styles of salsa coming from people who learned to dance in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Cuba. Even though it is common to take up to the standard ‘on one’ salsa in formal lessons in Providence, many of these dancers have learned how to manipulate the dance moves and body language they have acquired by pushing the boundaries of the rules, playing with the beat with their bodies. These dancers play with what they have learned while they are at clubs, and watch other dancers from different places dance different styles and improvise with their bodies and the music. Dancers will ask each other how to do certain moves, and I have heard dancers refer to youtube.com as a great resource. Salsa dancers, no matter how they have learned or what level they are, are also constantly improvising as they interact with each other, put moves together, and see what they like and don’t like. Dancers are always playing with their vocabulary of movements.

 

Roman-Velazquez, P. (2006). The Embodiment of Salsa. Ethnomusicology: A Contemporary Reader. J. C. Post. New York, Routledge: 295-309.

 

In this article Roman-Velazquez writes about how musicians’ performance of salsa helps signify Latin identity. She discusses this identity as always being in the process of formation. She also discusses the dialogue that takes place between musicians and dancers, emphasizing the way in which they improvise as they react to and interact with one another.

             

Roman-Velazquez, P. (1999). The Making of Latin London: salsa music, place and identity. Brookfield, Vermont, Ashgate Publishing Company.

 

In this monograph Patria Roman-Velazquez examines the salsa scene in London. She looks at the salsa scene’s and relationship to its setting in the United Kingdom and London and how Latinos establish new social relationships in this new location.

             

Roman-Velazquez, P. (2002). The Making of a Salsa Music Scene in London. Situating Salsa. L. Waxer. New York, Routledge: 259-287.

 

In this chapter Patria Roman-Velazquez discusses her research in the salsa scene in London. She describes the various people that dance salsa and attend clubs, and how the clubs attract different audiences depending on their promotional techniques, the ambience they provide, where they are located, and how much they charge for the cover and drinks. She also looks at how salsa clubs can be segregated between white and Latino patrons both within the club itself, and between different clubs.

 

It is helpful to compare her observations to my own, as I have noticed how the way in which clubs promote themselves, the ways that the interiors are laid out, the covers that people pay, and the location of the club affects the clientele and the culture inside the club. Similar to Roman Velazquez’s observations, I also found that the same people dance regularly at different clubs, spending Sunday at one and Wednesday at another. I also found that there were patrons that were exclusive to certain clubs, preferring one over the other as they liked the dancers better at one, or the cover was cheaper, or it was easier to go out on one night as opposed to another.

 

 It was interesting to me that Roman Velazquez also talked about segregation in the salsa scene and stereotypes that non-Latinos had. I have found that stereotypes exist not only in Anglo-American dancers, but also in Latino participants, affecting the way in which people interact at clubs. At first, I thought that salsa clubs were a place where people were extremely integrated, but the more I have gone to the clubs in Providence, the more I have come to notice how segregated they are. There are Guatemalans who hang out with each other, a group of young middle class white people who almost exclusively dance with one another, there are the dance instructors, and there are the people who will dance with anyone as long as they are given the chance. Often the really good formally trained dancers will dance with each other exclusively, politely declining when anyone else asks them. When I first started, only white people would ask me to dance, but once I had danced with some Latinos and they had figured out that my skills were adequate, a much greater variety of dancers would dance with me. Some people only dance with certain others simply because they can only dance one particular style and can’t dance with others as successfully. Thus separations occur around dance style, level, and race.

             

Santos Febres, M. (1997). Salsa as Translocation. Everynight Life. C. a. J. E. M. Fraser Delgado. London, Duke University Press: 175-188.

             

Santos Febres addresses several issues pertaining to dance and salsa in this chapter. She asserts that dancers, musicians and singers all interact with each other, inhabiting different levels of participation. Each of these participants performs within a framework, but participants are constantly competing to see how far they each can push those limits and improvise. Santos Febres calls the framework a language, implying that performing is a form of dialogue in which improvisation is key. For Santos Febres the dialogue with all the levels of participants is key to the performance. She brings up the concept of the translocal in salsa, as people from barrios in different parts of the Americas identify with the depictions in salsa of their common inner-city barrio experiences. She also talks about insiders as those belonging to the barrio who participate in the music by playing or dancing, and outsiders as those who don’t participate, but just listen to salsa.

 

I found Santos Febres’ ideas about the dialogue that occurs between dancers, musicians, and singers useful to my own observations of the ways in which these interactions differed depending on whether the music was live or in the hands of a DJ. Santos Febres only considers live music in her discussion, but I think that the interaction she describes is applicable to a club scene in which the DJ moves seamlessly from one song to another, constantly paying attention to the dancers and the mood in the club. DJs are always placed in a location such that they can see the dance floor, and keep an eye on how the dancers are interacting with the music.

 

I was also interested in Febres’ discussion of insiders and outsiders, as she seemed to think that there was a clear-cut dichotomy between the two groups. In Providence this dichotomy might exist to some degree, but it is much more complicated than Santos Febres’ seems to think. There are groups of white Americans who go to the club to listen to the band (only at the Black Rep though), but the majority of white people who attend the club do so to dance. There is also a contingent of Latinos who fit the insider niche to some degree, but they do not know how, or are learning to dance, and dance infrequently even though they attend the club each week. Characterizing people as insiders and outsiders is complicated in a club as people often have common experiences in some ways and participate in the clubs to similar degrees, but have very different life experiences and ways of dancing.

 

Singer, R. L. (1983). "Tradition and Innovation in Contemporary Latin Popular music in New York City." Latin American Music Review 4(2): 183-202.

 

Roberta Singer discusses ethnicity and how Puerto Ricans and other Latinos in New York City use their perceived common ethnicity as an organizing principle and symbol that helps draw people together to create a Latino identity and thus gain greater political access. I also found valuable Singer’s discussion of the importance of improvisation and innovation in salsa music.

 

Thomas, H. (2003). Body, Dance and Cultural Theory. New York, Palgrave MacMillan.

 

A sociologist who has done extensive work on dance, Helen Thomas provides a new way to examine the dance scene in which I have been participating. She describes the social dance scene as a sphere of interaction where people present themselves to each other by taking part in practices with defined rules.

             

Washburne, C. (2008). Sounding Salsa: Performing Latin Music in New York City. Philadelphia, Temple University Press.

 

In his book, Washburne draws on his experiences as a white American man playing salsa in New York City with many different bands and artists, including some of the best-known of the genre. I found his discussion of his experience as a visible outsider as well as the extensive background and history he provides helpful. Washburne discusses themes such as marginalization, hypermasculinity, and the exclusion and inclusion of women in salsa.        

                            

Waxer, L. (2002). Situating Salsa. Situating Salsa. L. Waxer. New York, Routledge: 3-22.

             

Lise Waxer discusses salsa as a genre that, instead having a center and periphery of production, has spread multi laterally and cannot be reduced to one central location. However, salsa’s value as a historically oppositional genre that expresses the experiences of the Afro-Carribean or mixed race working class does not translate, or translates in different ways to the many scenes in which salsa is practiced. As a result, salsa both acquires local and universalized meanings.

 

In Providence, salsa takes on both localized meanings as an oppositional genre that belongs to and is a form of cultural expression for a marginalized Latino community, but it also has more universal meanings to Anglo-Americans who dance salsa. Many Latinos are in tune with the music, often singing along to the music they dance, and expressing the mood of the music in their body movements. Because the majority of non-Latinos in Providence are not fluent enough in Spanish to understand the lyrics this connection is somewhat lost. Non-Latinos also do not have a sense of what is an old classic, and what is a modern piece. Because many non-Latinos are learning how to dance, they don’t listen to the music so much as they listen to the beat and try to stay on the beat and execute their moves without messing up. Often music acquires personal meaning for dancers as they associate specific experiences with specific pieces of music. Thus, a piece of music acquires more levels of meaning the more one hears it, and the more experiences one has had with the music. Thus different dancers have varying relationships with the music and its meaning.