Class of 2020: How a Sociologist’s Love of Salsa Led to a Dissertation and a Community

Carmela Dormani (Photo courtesy of Dormani)

Carmela Dormani (Ph.D. ’20, Sociology), who will soon join Mercy College as an assistant professor, reflects on how her love of dance shaped her Ph.D. research topic and made her part of a creative community:

As a former tenant organizer from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I arrived at The Graduate Center prepared to study displacement and social movements. Almost immediately, however, I shifted focus. I am Italian American and grew up in the city’s multicultural milieu, dancing salsa with family and in community networks. During my first year at The Graduate Center I decided to take salsa classes to balance out my studying. I recorded my first interview and observations in October 2013 for the dissertation project that would become The Life and Death of Mambo: Culture and Consumption in New York’s Salsa Dance Scene. At the same time, as a dancer, I was becoming ever more deeply embedded in the salsa community.

What has struck me more than anything while working on this project is the deep significance with which salsa aficionados imbue their practice. As a dancer, I had the opportunity to engage in the ongoing and, so often, late-night conversations about what the salsa community represents, especially in terms of Latinx cultural power and resistance to displacement. Each of these experiences contributed to my dance practice and sharpened my sociological lens.

What an incredible opportunity it has been to weave my research together with a life of movement and creativity. The journey I have taken over the last eight years has been one of growth and discovery. It is my sincere hope that the love, respect, and gratitude I feel toward New York’s salsa dance scene comes across on each page of my dissertation. My project simply would not exist if it were not for the dancers and stakeholders who have sustained and fought for salsa over the years. It has been my great privilege to be a part of it. 

This fall I will join Mercy College as an assistant professor in the Sociology/Behavioral Sciences Department, where I look forward to continuing to work closely with students developing their political lens and sociological imagination.


Dormani dancing. Photo courtesy of Dormani. 

Submitted on: JUN 16, 2020

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