Campus News

Featured Academic News Story: Move Over Miami, Tokyo's Got Salsa

Story posted August 17, 2004

Say the word salsa and hips come to mind. Masculine hips rapping a tight Latin beat. Womanly hips making smooth figure-eights.

But that may be the American interpretation. Most Latin American salsa dancers don't concern themselves with hips -- at least as much as Americans think: "It's all in the knees and feet," says ethnomusicologist Joanna Bosse, assistant professor of music at Bowdoin.

Bosse has been studying the attraction of salsa among American, largely Caucasian, dancers - from ballrooms to barrooms across the Midwest. At the University of Illinois, Urbana, where Bosse recently completed her graduate studies, she often spent Saturday nights hitting Latin dance clubs from Champaigne to Chicago.

In the small-town clubs, says Bosse, she discovered an unexpected group of salsa lovers: Asians. "Maybe 20 percent of people in these clubs were Asians. Some were foreign professionals, some were Asian Americans. One of the best salsa dancers I knew was from China."

Fascinated by what the counter-rhythms of Latin music might have to reveal about Asian concepts of body and sexuality, Bosse traveled to Japan this summer on a Freeman Faculty Research grant.

Bosse currently is working on a book about the relationship between Latin American and non-Latino dancers in the U.S. and hopes to include a chapter on Asian-American dancers. Although ethnomusicologists tend to concern themselves with music, rather than dance, Bosse says those lines are blurring as music increasingly becomes a portal for understanding a range of cultural, political, and economic issues.

"Dance is only now becoming a big deal within my field. I'm happy to be on the front end of the wave," she says. "It gives me a pocket, a place to be."

Read more about Joanna Bosse's research on Bowdoin's Academic News site.

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