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Flirting with Global Citizenship: The Construction of Gender, Class, and National Identity in Taiwanese Salsa Practice

  • Author(s): Chang, I-Wen
  • Advisor(s): O'Shea, Janet
  • et al.
Abstract

This study investigates how dancing salsa emerges as a strategy to address issues of gender, class, and national identity formation in a transnational context, with a focus on Taiwan. I examine the globalization of salsa as a cosmopolitan dance, the intersubjective experience in partner dance, and the ways that gender and national identities are choreographed through salsa’s transnational circuits. In order to trace the trajectory of agency in Taiwanese salsa practice, I propose and develop two special theoretical terms: flow and flirtation. This new approach challenges the individual emphasis of much applied phenomenology by looking at how salsa allows for a multiplicity of intersubjective experiences. By reading salsa as a site of body politics, I argue that salsa enables Taiwanese dancers to flirt with a temporary and imagined identity.

I examine identity formation in Taiwan in relation to a changing, culturally and historically constructed body (Confucian body, modern body, combative and national body). By contrasting salsa with a genealogy of Taiwanese corporeal conformity, I investigate how salsa provides a semi-sanctioned space for rule-breaking in Taiwan. I argue that Taiwanese salsa practitioners embody exoticism and eroticism as an alternative strategy to dominant Chinese norms that mandate a highly sedate and regulated use of the body. I examine the embodied sovereignty by Taiwanese salsa practitioners. Salsa enables Taiwanese dancers to imagine a future characterized by a global citizenship rooted in Western modernity. This soft resistance is especially useful for Taiwanese who are in a precarious nation-state position to differentiate themselves from a Chinese identification.

This project is centered on my archival research, and ethnographic fieldwork of salsa practice and performance in Taiwan, Los Angeles, and Shanghai. I ground my argument in the combination of choreographic analysis, national and transnational discourses, cultural studies, and intercultural performance analysis. I look at specific examples, including salsa performances and art works by Larry Shao, Japanese salsa music by Orquesta de la Luz, and the salsa version of the Rite of Spring by Emanuel Gat. My research intervenes in critical interdisciplinary theories of phenomenology, dance and performance studies, East Asian Studies, and gender studies.

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