The Yamuleé Effect: Social dance, pedagogy, and performance of an Afro-Diasporic salsa dance company in the Bronx and beyond

Date
8/3/2020
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Abstract

Popularized commercial representations of salsa have shaped familiar stereotypes of this Latin dance form as well as of the people who participate in it. In doing so, these commercial representations of salsa often erase the Africanist roots of salsa. However, there is a realm of salsa dance with its own history, culture, and practice that is understudied in the literature, which disproportionately focuses on salsa as experienced through Anglo-American bodies. In this dissertation, I address this gap by highlighting the overlooked practices of New York-style salsa in its cultural context. To do this, I examine Yamuleé Dance Company, a Latinx dance company based in the Bronx. Through an ethnographic study, I reveal how Yamuleé continues to preserve salsa’s African roots, while also locating the Bronx as a global mecca for salsa dance innovation. I argue that this dance company has had such a profound impact--which can be called "the Yamuleé Effect"--because it connects pedagogy, performance, and social dancing, thus recognizing African and Latin roots, as well as creating an essential communal space for Dominican cultural affirmation.

Yamuleé utilizes multiple dance modalities that centers the narratives of New York-style salsa’s social and African genealogies, creating a dynamic archive of Africanist aesthetics. Through specific pedagogical and performance strategies, the company also invites personal dance style development for salsa dancers. All of these factors have allowed Yamuleé to develop an exceptional extended community grounded in a shared history and dance vocabulary. Yamuleé has created a unique, self-sustaining dancing community that not only develops individuals' dance skills, but deepens members' social bonds and cultural wealth. Because of this holistic and unique approach, Yamuleé Dance Company is important, not only because of its respect for salsa history, but also because of its role as a significant innovator of salsa.

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Keywords
Salsa, Yamuleé, Afro-Latin, Dominican, Social dance, Pedagogy, Performance, Bronx
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