I thought the references to Latin dances woven throughout Meg Medina's Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass were an effective way to illustrate Piddy's struggles with understanding her own physicality as well her place as an individual within her community. Besides the cultural connotations, dance can be a powerful way to express emotion kinesthetically.
As Salsa dancing is riding a wave of current popularity, I was curious about the various dances and music styles referred to in this novel. Salsa is an all-inclusive term referring to several types of dances with roots in the Caribbean, especially Cuba and Puerto Rico, as well as Latin and North America. The nickname is fitting as it also refers to the spicy sauce made from several ingredients.
The dances included within this general term are typically partner dances performed to music with a distinctive rhythm, known as a tumbao or clave. The dual movement of the partners with an emphasis on small steps suited to a crowded dance floor combined with exaggerated hip movements and steady upper body creates a sensual and evocative experience.
The Merengue, which Piddy learns from Lila in her living room, has its roots in the Dominican Republic. Although the tempo of the music may be frenetic, the turns are slow and intimate.
A more passionate dance is the West Indian Rumba, sometimes referred to as a "sex pantomime" due to the excessive hip movements and staccato beat. A more playful variant of the Rumba, combined with the back and forth motion of the Cuban Mambo, is the flirtatious and vibrant Cha-cha dance. The Cuban Bolero is known as the "dance of love" due to its slow and dreamy tempo.
The Flamenco has its origin in Spain and is part of a three-part musical expression; besides the dance portion; it also includes singing and guitar playing. Believed to be inspired and perpetuated by people living on the fringe of society - gypsies, Moors, Jews, and Indigenous Andalusian - this proud and formal musical expression is still considered to be an outlet for the poor and oppressed.
Dancing relies on both strength and grace. It is rarely done alone. In order to dance, one must learn the steps and rules. But even then, it requires stepping out and taking a risk. Piddy notices that her own mother, who has deliberately chosen to avoid romantic love, does not dance or even play the piano the way she used to. And yet, at the end, when Ma finally knows what Piddy has been going through, she finally dares to dance. Piddy sees that her "face is shiny with sweat, and her smile spreads ear to ear. We churn that floor, on fire, until we're laughing, and all our sad days are like faded bruises, almost forgotten." We hope they will continue to dance together in the future.
Picture from Yumamom.com
This article was originally published in April 2013, and has been updated for the
August 2014 paperback release.
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