Like the lead character in her play, Cindy Garcia has spent the past nine years researching social practices in salsa clubs.
“In many ways, this is my life,” Garcia said of her script, titled “How to Make it to the Dance Floor: A Salsa Guide for Women (Based on Actual Experiences).”
The script, which received a staged reading Monday to a packed Kilburn Arena Theater in Rarig Center, is the product of Garcia’s ethnography of Los Angeles salsa clubs.
Garcia, 39, is in her second year as an assistant professor in the University’s Department of Theatre Arts and Dance.
In the play, a character dubbed “The Ethnographer,” along with a small group of women, question why they are not being asked to dance.
They begin an anonymous dialogue with one other by writing notes on the walls of bathroom stalls.
Their writing describes noticed behavior and personal stories of feeling unaccepted in the club.
Garcia said the women create a dialogue that deciphers the rules of hierarchies of race, class and gender, as well as the hierarchies of “Latino-ness.”
These topics are exactly what Garcia set out to research as a graduate student at UCLA in culture and performance.
As she started visiting Los Angeles salsa clubs, she found that many of the political and social issues outside the club dictated how people interacted inside the club.
One of the hierarchies she observed was the way people danced.
“At the top were practices that seemed to be more global … practices that would almost un-racialize you,” Garcia said.
Garcia said these global dances worked to recast Latinos as “Global Latinos.”
Dancers who bounce too much or cross back laterally instead of stepping forward and back were branded as dancing like an immigrant or a Mexican, which carries a negative connotation, according to Garcia’s research.
Women who are branded with these labels are often not asked to dance by the men in the club.
Garcia said to be branded as an immigrant or a Mexican can have a drastic effect on an individual.
While some people are proud of the way they dance, others internalize the judgment.
“[Dancers] learn not to dance the way that they were accused,” Garcia said. “They learn to dance another style.”
Garcia, who grew up dancing with her father’s family — whose members are Chicano — said her style of dance would be branded as “Mexican” in a salsa club.
Garcia said the brandings come from the politics outside the club that are anti-Latino.
“There comes this system of classification of ‘Where do you fit in the [United States]? How is it OK to be Latino?’ and it’s not OK. It’s the bottom of the hierarchy,” Garcia said. “It’s the working poor.”
“The play negotiates the tensions of a social space, the tensions between immigrant communities,” Lucy Burns , who helped Garcia shape the script, said.
Burns, who is an assistant professor in the UCLA Asian American Studies Department , has worked on the play since last summer, when Garcia started putting the script together.
As Garcia looked to put a cast together for the reading, she wanted to find a group of Latinos and Latinas who had a connection to material as opposed to looking for individuals trained in acting.
Through this search, Garcia found herself with a racially diverse cast featuring both University and non-University performers.
Laura Garcia , a Minneapolis-based professional actor who plays The Ethnographer, was drawn to the project by her friendship with Garcia and an interest in the subject.
Laura Garcia said she felt the reading featured great movement and music, and would be an eye-opener.
“Some people don’t think about [this topic] because they don’t have to think about it; others think about it all the time,” Cindy Garcia said. “It’s important to know that it is something somebody else has to live with.”
Cindy Garcia said she was pleased with the reading and plans to rewrite the script in hopes of staging a full production in the future.
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