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"El Baile del Pueblo:" A 60-Year Legacy of Performing a History of Cubans of African Descent Through Casino Salsa
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Cubanos con Decendencia Africana, or Cubans of African descent (CDA) in Havana have endured generations of being overlooked by the dominant historical discourse of the country that characterized them as second-class citizens. Embodied performance provided the avenues of artistic liberation that combatted the dominant narratives created since the arrival of enslaved Africans on the island. The subversive acts of defiance within performance helped the Black community maintain a religious belief system, preserve a pride in an African heritage, and create a subcultural identity. One of the most notable social dance genres of the time period was Casino Salsa. Its emerged as an oppressive tool of the elite classes during pre-revolutionary Cuba, and became an instrument of empowerment for the marginalized pueblo in revolutionary Cuba. The trajectory of Casino Salsa from pre-revolutionary to contemporary Cuba traces the history, voice, and goals of the CDA community who performed it. Casino Salsa is a dance genre that originated in Cuba during the 1950s. It reflected the rigid racial segregation of pre-revolutionary Cuba, which justified the exclusion of CDA from entering social spaces that practiced the genre. However, after the first wave of Cubanos Blancos (white Cubans) migration to the United States, it could not survive unless CDA had direct access to the genre. After 1959, Casino Salsa choreography visibly shifted. It incorporated movement from the Yoruba tradition that enacted a racialized and religious identity in social dance spaces. It empowered the Black community during a time when religions were considered as fostering counterrevolutionary ideologies. CDA embedded choreographic markers that represented their complex identities within secular spaces. After the Special Period of the 1990s, the struggles of the Black community were incredibly apparent. They were unable to participate in the tourist economy because of popular discriminatory practices that reinforced pre-revolutionary attitudes towards a racialized Other in the work force. During this time, young artists of African descent looked to global sounds that reflected their struggle and marginalization like hip hop and reggaeton. They incorporated the influences of these genres’ lyrics, music, and choreography into Casino Salsa. Casino has only been studied through means of instruction, and there is currently no scholarship presenting the accolades of Casino Salsa as a mode of racial expression. This investigation seeks to answer the question: how have CDA been able celebrate their complex racial and religious identities through the performance of Casino since prerevolutionary Cuba? Through a new historicist approach I investigate power and racial dynamics in three phases of Cuban history: pre-revolutionary, post revolutionary, and contemporary. I also rely on my ethnographic field notes and interviews to explore my claims. I interrogate the complexities of these various time periods through the discourses of critical race theory, African diaspora dance, globalization, subculture, and religious studies. CDA have maintained a strong connection to their African roots by meticulously incorporating their identities within the nationalist tools of the state. This lens in Cuban performance explores a unique historical perspective that validates the efforts made by CDA in the creation and sustainability of the island’s last national sponsored social dance, Casino Salsa.
Cuban of African Descent
Valle, Mayra Jennesy (2016). "El Baile del Pueblo:" A 60-Year Legacy of Performing a History of Cubans of African Descent Through Casino Salsa. Master's thesis, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from