The 2021 Pop Convergence: A Virtual Pop Conference, April 22-25th
Artwork by Alex Nero; Design by The Art Dictator
avatar for Carmela Muzio Dormani

Carmela Muzio Dormani

Mercy College
Assistant Professor
Bronx, NY
Un Verano en Nueva York: Grassroots Urbanity and Creative Survival in the 2020 Salsa Scene

Salsa developed in New York City as Afro-Cuban music was reimagined and popularized by Latinx musicians between the 1940s and the 1970s. Since then, salsa has exploded into an international phenomenon with remarkable longevity. Today, it is the dancers who advance salsa’s legacy of innovation and counter-hegemonic cultural assertion. On street corners and concert venue stages across the decades, movement has become part of the music itself, as musicians and dancers play off each other to create new and more vibrant interpretations of the urban soundtrack that is salsa.
Salsa’s creative laborers – especially Latinx professional dancers, promoters, and studio directors – have long fought to maintain salsa’s social, cultural, and political role as a space for community expression and Afro-Latinx/Nuyorican pride, despite salsa’s ongoing racialized commodification. From the Palladium dance floor of the mambo era, through the parks and abandoned buildings of the 1970s, and on to the studio “socials” of late 1990s and early 2000s, participants continue to ground salsa in what I call a grassroots urbanity that foregrounds a version of New York that is rooted in working class communities of color, reinforcing an anti-displacement narrative.

As a community rooted in Black artistic innovations, the inherent physicality of dance, and the cultural resonance of shared New York spaces, the salsa scene faced fundamental changes to its social fabric in 2020. This presentation explores the way salsa dancers in the thriving industry that is the “on2” salsa dance scene navigated the vast social, economic, and political changes of 2020. Based on a survey of semi-professional and professional salsa dancers in New York – and building on eight years of ethnographic research – I explore the profound and nuanced impact of the pandemic on this social dance scene and explore the still-unfolding future directions of New York’s Latin social dance communities.

Carmela Muzio Dormani is a sociologist and dancer from New York. She is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Mercy College and completed her PhD at CUNY Graduate Center. Her research focuses on the politics of everyday culture in cities – addressing race and ethnicity, migration, consumption, and media studies. Her work has appeared in Latino Studies and The Journal of Popular Culture. Carmela is a 3x World Salsa Champion with Huracán Dance Company and has appeared on local and international stages, including with artists like Sonora Ponceña, Roberto Roena, and Eddie Santiago
Thursday, April 22

3:00pm PDT

Friday, April 23

10:00am PDT

11:30am PDT

2:30pm PDT

Saturday, April 24

10:00am PDT

2:30pm PDT