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Spinning Mambo into Salsa: New Book by Award-winning author and UW Dance Faculty Member, Juliet McMains

Submitted by Kris Bain on April 24, 2015 - 12:32pm
Spinning Mambo into Salsa
Spinning Mambo into Salsa

Spinning Mambo into Salsa: New Book by Award-winning author and UW Dance Faculty Member, Juliet McMains

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“Rigorous and witty, Spinning Mambo into Salsa offers a new model for dance scholarship that engages deeply with both cultural theory and what author Juliet McMains calls ‘physical discourse:’ the language of the dancing body. This thorough history of Latin social dance embraces salsa’s contradictions as a local/global, social/spectacular, authentic/commercial, traditional/innovative dance form.” – Celeste Fraser Delgado, Co-editor of Everynight Life: Culture and Dance in Latin/o America

“Original in conception and rich in ethnographic detail, Spinning Mambo into Salsa adds immeasurably to our understanding of social and popular dance worlds. Essential reading for dance practitioners and scholars alike.” – Julie Malnig, author of Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader 

“Juliet McMains offers an insightful multi-sited ethnography of salsa dance written from a deeply embedded and embodied perspective. As an accomplished dancer and rigorous ethnographer, McMains capitalizes on her unique position and intimately captures a transformative period in salsa history and explores the multitude and diverse practices that fall under the rubric of salsa dance. Her study covers an impressively wide geographic and historic scope, where she traces the evolution of the dance from the 1940s up to the present and explores its antecedents, influences, regional differences, and the effects of commercialization and stylistic change. Spinning Mambo into Salsa greatly complements and enriches the growing body of scholarship on salsa dance.” – Christopher Washburne, Salsa trombonist and Associate Professor of Music at Columbia University 

Amongst the world's most popular partnered social dance form, salsa's significance extends well beyond the Latino communities in which it was born. Spinning Mambo into Salsa, a history of salsa dance, focuses on its evolution in three major hubs for international commercial export–New York, Los Angeles, and Miami.

The book examines how commercialized salsa dance in the 1990s departed from earlier practices of Latin dance, especially 1950s mambo. Author Juliet McMains examines this evolution from many points of view, including generational differences between Palladium-era mambo and modern salsa; mid-century antecedents to modern salsa in Cuba and Puerto Rico; tension between salsa as commercial vs. cultural practice; regional differences in New York, Los Angeles, and Miami; the role of the Web in salsa commerce; and adaptations of social Latin dance for stage performance. Throughout the book, salsa dance history is linked to histories of salsa music, exposing how increased separation of the dance from its musical inspiration has precipitated major shifts in Latin dance practice. As a whole, the book dispels the belief that one version is more authentic than another by showing how competing styles came into existence and contention. Based on over 100 oral history interviews, archival research, ethnographic participant observation, and analysis of Web content and commerce, the book is rich with quotes from practitioners and detailed movement description.


Juliet McMains is Associate Professor in the Dance Program at the University of Washington in Seattle. Her first book, Glamour Addiction: Inside the American Ballroom Dance Industry (2006) won the 2008 Congress on Research in Dance Outstanding Publication Award.





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