Spectacular Copulative Writing

Allow me to point you over to Norient.com, where I’ve just contributed an article that attempts a brief history of perreo and other “spectacular copulative” dances, including a glance at such recent instantiations as daggering, perreo chacalonero, and of course, choque.

Longtime readers know I’ve been working to develop an analysis of such practices — and their fraught reception in local and extra-local spheres — for some time now (often in collaboration with queridas colegas). The invitation from Norient — in conjunction with their 3rd annual music-film festival (ostensibly to help frame the screening of this doc) — was a fine opportunity to provide some historical perspective, as well as to offer a concise primer on the central questions of power and race/gender at the heart of debates around such dances.

It’s a short piece, so it only scrapes the surface really, but here’s hoping it proves a stimulating read and leads to a richer framework for our discussion and dancing alike. Here’s a teaser, but do click on through

Sexual pantomime runs deep through dance, not surprisingly, and moral panic right alongside. In the New World and trans-colonial Europe, Afrodiasporic rhythms like reggaeton’s dembow (for some, a synonym for perreo) have repeatedly engendered the kind of intimate dance that provokes policing along the lines of race, class, and age, usually under the banners of Christian moral authority or the civilizing imperatives of nation-building.

Among other predecessors of perreo, consider the European reception of the zarabanda, a high-energy dance first recorded in Panama in 1539. In his book on the music of Cuba, Ned Sublette describes the zarabanda as “a mimetic dance that simulated sexual action” which “ruled” dance floors in Spain for 30 years around the turn of the 17th century despite clergy attempts to suppress it with threats of whippings for men and exile for women.

Another fascinating forbear appears in new research from historian Lara Putnam who turned up archival evidence of weekly “reggee” dances held in the early 1930s by West Indian migrants to Costa Rica. Propelled by jazz, mento, and tango and tarred by reports of coarse language, public drinking, and vulgar dancing, the parties appear in local newspapers as causes for concern, at odds with notions of racial uplift held by local editorialists who recommended that organizers instruct musicians “not to play any pieces which may be a temptation to those spectacular copulative gyrations.”