Over the last century perennial surges in the popularity of Latin American couple dance genres such as tango and rumba in the United States have served as lightning rods for debate on issues of morality, performance, and identity. These “crazes” have fueled the collective American imagination, reinforcing a type of Latin American exotica that prevailed throughout the twentieth century and into the next. Consequently, they have also fostered an entirely new style of performance as white Americans borrowed—or perhaps better stated, appropriated—these genres for their own. For instance, the two styles of tango performed by ballroom dancers today, some one hundred years after its introduction to American audiences in theaters and exhibition performances, is sufficiently distant from its Argentine roots to be considered an entirely different dance employing different movements, rhythms, and musical accompaniment.
This article explores this particular brand of cross-cultural borrowing through an ethnographic accounting of a salsa dance formation team in central Illinois. Salsa is the latest of the Latin dance crazes, and since the earl. 1990. the genre has experienced increased attention from mainstream American audiences who have invested significant resources in order to learn to dance salsa. Formation teams are presentational performance ensembles, in this case combining salsa; ballroom; and staged, theatrical dance, and generally draw their enthusiasts from ballroom dance circles.
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