Arts & Entertainment

Puerto Ricans shatter gender roles with salsa

Esther Alaejos

San Juan, Sept 22 (EFE).- Same-sex couples are challenging the prejudices of society by dancing in Puerto Rico, one of the cradles of salsa, also demolishing the roles of this tropical rhythm that has traditionally marked men lead and women follow.

Three years ago, the Puerto Rican Amalís M. Cintron began to create “a space” in which to feel comfortable dancing salsa through her project “Salsayternura” (sasla and kindness), where she promotes inclusive dance to dismantle gender roles while dancing, as she explains to EFE.

Cintron, who has been dancing salsa since 2012, does not discuss the role of “boys” or “girls” as traditionally established in ballroom dancing, instead she uses gender-neutral terms: “leaders” and “followers.”

The 33-year-old teacher, a pioneer in teaching other women to lead in dance in Puerto Rico, recalls that when she began to lead the so-called followers, she felt “watched” and encountered “all these ‘are you playing a man?’ questions”

Violence in heteronormativity

The salsa instructor says that the main reasons her students sign up for her classes are because “they want to learn a new role, they want to learn among friends, they don’t want to wait for someone to ask them out, they want to dance with their female partners, and also because there is a lot of violence in the heteronormative role.”

The change in roles comes because salsa dancers say they feel harassed on certain occasions when they dance with men, and also because some lyrics have sexist components.

For Cintron, Puerto Rican society “is slowly getting used to seeing two women dancing together, but there are still looks of disbelief and a lot of resistance, there are still interventions from men when they see two women dancing together.”

Salsa was born in New York more than 70 years ago by Puerto Rican and Cuban musicians. It is part of the Puerto Rican culture, with famous artists of the genre such as Ismael Rivera, Héctor Lavoe or Willie Colón.

An empowering opportunity

“I love it and I’m happy that I can dance with my sister, with my cousins, and with all my friends, and that we don’t have to wait for someone to ask us,” says Annette Jiménez, a 55-year-old who is learning to lead in Cintron’s workshops.

A native of Vega Baja, in northern Puerto Rico, Jiménez emphasizes that “this opportunity allows women to have fun without having to endure things that are not consensual,” and with a smile she shows her joy because the dynamics within the dance are changing.

Cintron’s classes are also attended by men who want to take on the role of followers, like Jorge Maldonado, 30 years old.

The young man, born in San Juan, says that he likes to “explore and feel the dance from a different perspective,” and for him, as a follower, he can “feel more” the dance and the music.”

“The more people that do it, the more normal it’s going to look,” Maldonado says, encouraging salsa dancers to switch roles.

Breaking stereotypes

For Cintron, it is necessary to create a “dynamic of brotherhood and sisterhood” in the dance, to break stereotypes and demand acceptance because “more and more people are identifying with it,” which is why she appears in a soon-to-be-released salsa video clip dancing with another woman.

She also emphasizes that the role chosen in dancing must be separated from gender or sexuality, since the choice to change roles in dancing does not mean that the person has a particular sexual orientation.

Likewise, the salsa dancer calls for an increased presence of same-sex couples in international dance competitions, something she has seen in the United States and Europe, but which is not yet normalized.

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