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'It's the sugar, the honey that you have': learning to be natural through rumba in Cuba

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This article uses the technique of learning to be natural to consider how dance, rhythm and the body become forces of social differentiation. In Cuba, many Afro-Cuban cultural practices, such as rumba, have been subject to social and spatial exclusion. In this context, sites such as the home, the street and the family emerge as highly significant for the learning and performance of Afro-Cuban music and dance. Learning primarily from family members and through spaces such as the home, street and neighborhood contributes to ambiguous understandings of rhythmic responsiveness as both instinctive and learned, inside and outside the body, cultural and natural. Many rumba performers also deploy flexible understandings of rhythmic natures to assert the social and material significance of racial differentiation in a context where the implications of 'race' are often denied. Even at their most fixed, however, these understandings of bodily and rhythmic natures remain contingent on important people and places for their development. The practice of learning rhythmic responsiveness highlights that, although bodily trajectories are not predetermined, bodies develop differently through different places, practices and relations to others. Importantly, this also suggests that bodily materiality and its social significances are not endlessly pliable. By examining places and specific practices for learning to respond 'naturally' to rumba rhythms, the article argues that the body's variable openness and resistance to augmentation and development lends power to highly unnatural gender and racial categories.
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Keywords: Cuba; dance; gender; race; the body

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Division of Math & Natural Sciences, Department of Geography & Geology, Jefferson Community & Technical College, Louisville, KY, USA

Publication date: 2011-04-01

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