Body Language in Gangs and Dance: The Performance of Masculinity in Colombian Salsa

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The City of Cali, Colombia, has been renowned internationally, particularly in the last decade, for the attractiveness and energy of its salsa performers. Although it is well known and often emphasised that these dancers come from poor backgrounds, little is mentioned about how much this background implies a level of involvement in gangs. Such involvement includes suffering violence in their daily lives to direct participation in illicit activities, the latter particularly in the case of men. Furthermore, by an ethnographical exploration of their situation in 2010, I found that most of the dance companies correlated to a non-negligible extent with former gangs, in some cases even each one of their male members. What I argue here is that, although this change from gangs to dance companies allowed moving from a damaging form of sustenance to a more legitimate one, the conflict inherent within the gangs is still present in salsa dance, only in a more ritualised way. Hence, I present how this conflict appears in performances and, particularly, competitions in the form of an aggressive body language that – curiously in the context of dance –
is often perceived by the audience as ‘energetic’ rather than ‘violent’. I propose that this aggressive masculinity of bodies in both gang and dance performance is a negotiation of tensions through the expectations and expressions of male demeanour.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-50
Number of pages18
JournalHARTS & Minds: The Journal of Humanities and Arts
Issue number9, 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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