Finding a Place to Dance: Contextualizing Salsa in Two Providence Clubs

Aleysia Whitmore

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 Cheaters 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.

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