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Portland State University
Fall, 2003

African Diasporan Dance in the Americas: Cuba, Jamaica, and Brazil

Call 503-725-NROL to sign up, or call Cathy Evleshin, the course instructor if you have questions: (503) 287-0232:


Adding a previously unapproved course to a cluster

PROPOSING FACULTY: Professor Mary King, chair, Dept. of Economics



HUM 339U African Diasporan Dance in the Americas 4 credits

Introduction to current issues in dance research, focusing on Cuba, Jamaica, Brazil, and the United States, and including transcultural forms such as salsa and reggae. Theories about dance/movement as embodiment of belief, as a mode of cultural survival and transformation, as an identity marker relative to status, gender, age, race, and ethnicity will be presented through lectures, videos, demonstration, participation, and readings. Discussion will focus on issues of authenticity, stereotypy, commodification, and appropriation by others. No prior experience in dance necessary.


New course to be offered Winter 2004


Offered one term per year


Sophomore Inquiry course


This course will provide the tools for analytical thinking about dance as culture. It is designed for students with or without prior experience in dance. The class focuses on dance traditions in selected cultures in the Americas that demonstrate African retentions, transformations, hybridization, and transculturation, i.e., Cuba, Brazil, Jamaica, and the influence of these dance cultures on the United States and global popular culture. 

Students will attend and be examined on the content of lecture and video sessions that delineate the major topics and current issues in dance research. There will be two assignments to observe and/or participate in dance activities off-campus. Each student will select a topic from an approved list to research independently, and will submit a paper that demonstrates understanding and application of the theoretical principles to h/her topic. In addition, each student will complete a class presentation of the highlights of h/her topic through dance, music, media, visual arts, and/or prepared lecture.


I Dance/movement as identity - nationality/ethnicity, status, gender, and age; culture, sub-culture, and counter-culture. Uses of dance in the establishment of post-colonial national and regional identities. The roles of governmental, religious, and other institutions of power in determining the nature of cultural expressions. The audience/performer relationship and the relationship between urban and grassroots institutions.

Case study #1: Cuba: Socialism redefining Cuban and Afro-Cuban identity; the political, historical, social, and economic factors that led the post- revolutionary government to establish a taxonomy of Cuban dance forms that includes ballet, modern dance, folkloric, creole, and popular; the subsequent institutions and traditions based on that model.

Case study #2: Jamaica: the interplay of urban, rural, touristic, and the independent Maroon sectors in the shaping of a post-independence national identity based on African heritage; Jamaica's dance taxonomy compared with Cuba's; the history of rastafari and reggae.

Case study #3: Brazil: the history and transformation of samba and capoeira; samba and Brazilian national identity; samba reggae and Afro-Brazilian identity.

II Dance as an embodiment of and connection to the world of the spirits, as a means of maintaining African continuities in the reality of unequal power relations; the nature of belief and notions of syncretization revisited. 

Case study #1: Cuban santería: from the temple to the stage, and as an international phenomenon

Case study #2: Brazilian candomblé: from the temple to the streets, to the stage

Case study #3: Jamaican kumina: rural and urban

III How dance communicates, and what is communicated; examining notions aboutcultural universality, individual creativity, symbol, meaning, and aesthetic values; notions (in relation to dance) about popular culture, youth culture, race, gender, and sexual orientation

Case study #1: Festival culture as a voice for the powerless, as a laboratory for changing values in Brazil, Cuba, and Jamaica; festivals for the people and for the tourists.

Case study #2: Partner dancing and the status of women; rumba, son, and salsa as instruments of Cuban identity, of Latino identity, as commodities, as gender markers; transformations resulting from commodification and appropriation by non-Cubans, by non-Latinos, and by the media


Required of all students:

1. Browning, Barbara, Samba: Resistance In Motion, Indiana University Press, l995, pp. 1-169

2. Burton, Richard D.E., Afro-Creole: Power, Opposition, and Play in the Caribbean, Cornell University Press, l997, pp. 47-83, 221-224 

3. Evleshin, Catherine, "Jamaican Dance: Celebrating Autonomy", (in publication with Indiana Press; instructor will make available),

pp. 1-54

4. Hagedorn, Katherine J., Divine Utterances, Smithsonian Institute Press, 2001, pp.136-168, 227-239

5. ( In Caribbean Dance from Abakua to Zouk: How Movement Shapes Identity, ed. Susanna Sloat, University Press of Florida, 2002)

a. Daniel, Yvonne, "Cuban Dance: An Orchard of Caribbean Creativity23-55 b. Gottschild, Brenda Dixon, "Crossroads, Continuities, and Contradictions: Afro-Euro-Caribbean Triangle" pp. 3-10

c. Pinnock, Thomas Osha, "Rasta & Reggae" pp.95-106


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