Dancing Latina identity : a rendering of contemporary Latina self-representation in American concert dance
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When considering the Latina dancer in the United States it is easy to conjure images of a fruit crowned Carmen Miranda shimming in front of the camera, videos of Jennifer Lopez swinging her hips in dark and crowded clubs, sultry salsa dancers rocking and twisting on their bedazzled stilettos, or Jalisco girls who swirl the hemlines of their rainbow colored skirts as they parade down the street. These depictions of the Latina dancer are duly noted for creating a means of visibility for an otherwise invisible demographic. However, they also function to reinforce stereotypical ideas of the Latina moving body which limit Latina agency by positioning dancing Latinas within a set of prescribed representational practices. My study bridges Latina/o studies with dance studies in order to ask how Latina women are utilizing modern and contemporary dance styles to upset and redefine notions of the dancing Latina. I focus on the choreography of four women in particular; Michelle Manzanales, Maray Gutierrez, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, and Nancy Turano who each presented work in association with Luna Negra Dance Theatre’s Latina Choreographers Project. Through my study I place the project’s mission into dialog with the corpus of choreography commissioned during its three-year lifespan (2006-2009). My close analysis serves to elucidate the stories that the choreographers chose to tell. For some, the deconstruction of icons provided the most compelling exercise in the process of excavating beneath quintessential Latino facades. For others, the strong recollections of home and the feeling of not being able to assert a defined location characterized their investigations of cultural identity. The Latina Choreographers Project, I contend, sets a historical precedent by pursuing and presenting the work of Latina choreographers in a field that has traditional excluded the Latina voice. I argue that by engaging four choreographers with extraordinarily diverse relationships to Latinidad and presenting them to an American audience, the Latina Choreographer Project presents an invaluable opportunity for intercultural and cross-cultural dialog that aims to relay the complexity and nuances of a contemporary Latina experience.