Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Music



Major Professor

Rachel May Golden

Committee Members

Jacqueline Avila, Leslie C. Gay


Bachata is a music and dance genre from the Dominican Republic that has become an increasingly diasporic and cross-cultural form of expression. The lyrics of bachata songs focus on topics of love, the loss of love, and sexual desire. The ways in which bachata musicians articulate their love brings an awareness to the elements of binary gender embedded in the music traditions and history of bachata. Bachata dancereveals the socio-cultural structures of gender within bachata dance communities, as well. The dancers fulfill clear lead or follow roles, and these roles are typically designated based on gender: males lead and females follow. The movement of bachata encourages dancers to outwardly express sensuality through the ways that they move their bodies. Additionally, bachata dance, and especially the subtype known as sensual bachata, allows dancers to create close corporeal connections. As Tomie Hahn suggests, sensorial and embodied experience enables individuals to engage with their socio-cultural understandings of self and community. Through embodiment, individuals navigate aspects of identity, including gender identity, that either aligns with or counters social expectation.Through an analysis of sound, lyrics, and my own ethnographic research, I examine aspects of gender, embodiment, and code switching within bachata music and dance communities in Knoxville, TN and Charlotte, NC. I include my experiences as a female bachata dancer as well as interviews with dancers from these communities. I seek to uncover how bachata music and movement connect to and alter one’s sense of identity,both within and outside of binary and Latin American gender stereotypes. I argue that through music and movement, embodiment, and code switching, those involved in the bachata dance community develop a unique view of self within their own gender perception that variously aligns with and challenges binary gender structures. For women in particular, bachata dance allows for an expression of sensuality that leads to an increase in empowerment and confidence. Further, due to the freedom of individual exploration, the necessity for binary gender roles within the Knoxville and Charlotte bachata dance communities shifts, and therefore leaves the dance floor as a space for open gendered expression.

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