Melissa Blanco Borelli

Melissa Blanco Borelli

Senior Lecturer in Dance, Department of Drama and Theatre, Royal Holloway, University of London

Visiting Scholar 2007-2008

Hosted by the Music and Theater Arts Department

Melissa Blanco Borelli is a writer, dancer, cultural critic, and Senior Lecturer in Dance in the Department of Drama and Theatre at Royal Holloway, University of London.


Melissa Blanco Borelli is a writer, dancer, cultural critic, and Senior Lecturer in Dance in the Department of Drama and Theatre at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her research interests include feminist historiography and performance ethnography, popular dance on screen, Latina/o performance, e-learning and pedagogy in the arts, and theories of corporeality and affect in relationship to neoliberal capitalism. 

Dr. Blanco Borelli  holds a BA in Music and International Relations from Brown University, an MA in Communications Management from University of Southern California, and a PhD in Dance History and Theory from University of California- Riverside. Her dissertation  “A Case of Hip(g)nosis: An Epistemology of the Mulata Body and her Revolutionary Hips” analyzes the tragic figure of the mulata and her crucial role in various forms of cultural production in Cuba, and throughout the Caribbean and Circum-Atlantic.  She contests the literary trope of the “tragic mulata” and argues that there can be no such thing as tragedy when an active body uses her hips to claim territory, citizenship, and socio-cultural agency. Dr. Blanco is working on a cabaret spectacle entitled “Mulata Madness” based on sections from her dissertation. 

Her scholarship endeavors to demonstrate how dance and theories of the body provide new methodologies for inquiries into such perennial issues of identity as nation, gender, and racialization. Dr. Blanco Borelli's monograph She Is Cuba: A Genealogy of the Mulata Body examines the mulata body through comparative social dance and everyday embodied histories in Havana (and New Orleans) from the nineteenth to mid-twentieth century. 

Her edited volume The Oxford Handbook of Dance and the Popular Screen (Oxford University Press, 2014) aims to "set the agenda for the study of dance in popular moving images - films, television shows, commercials, music videos, and YouTube - and offers new ways to understand the multi-layered meanings of the dancing body by engaging with methodologies from critical dance studies, performance studies, and film/media analysis.” Other publications include a chapter on undoing the tragic mulatta in Thomas F. DeFrantz and Anita Gonzalez’s Black Performance Theory (Duke University Press, 2014) and a chapter which theorizes embodied subjectivity through Hollywood dance films in Broderick Chow and Alex Mangold’s Zizek and Performance (Palgrave McMillan, 2014). Her scholarly work and other writings appear in Women in Performance: a journal of feminist theory, Brolga: An Australian Journal on Dance, the International Journal of Performance and Digital Media, the International Journal of Screendance, The Feminist Wire, and Huffington Post. Dr. Blanco has been featured in a documentary about Josephine Baker as part of the "Extraordinary Women" series.

In progress is a chapter for Alicia Arrizón's (UCR) and Deborah R. Vargas’ (UCI) forthcoming edited volume Sensualidades: Latina/o Sensualities in Sounds and Movements, in which Dr. Blanco does a critical performance analysis of the Mexican cabaretera film "Mulata" (1954). Dr. Blanco Borelli is also working on the edited volume, Mediated Moves: A Popular Screen Dance Reader.

Before her academic career, Dr. Blanco Borelli worked in the entertainment industry, coordinating soundtracks and music licensing for Overbrook Entertainment (Will Smith's company at Universal Studios), wrote liner notes for Rhino Records, and taught foreign languages (Spanish, French and Italian) to celebrities and students at a private high school in Santa Monica, California. She has taught and performed Afro-Cuban sacred dance in Los Angeles, London, and Havana, Cuba, and she dances/performs other Latino/Latin American social dance forms as well. Her teaching experience also includes appointments at UCLA, UC Riverside and Citrus College. ​She is an Executive Board member of the Society of Dance History Scholars (2010-2016) and on the Executive Committee of Society for Dance Research. Trained in Afro-Cuban dance, Dr. Blanco Borelli  has performed in New York, Los Angeles, and Havana.

As a 2007-08 MLK Visiting Scholar, Dr. Blanco Borelli was hosted by MIT's Music and Theater Arts Department, where she lectured and performed. She stayed at the Institute for another year under Dance@MIT's Visiting Artists Program.


Selected, 2008-2014


​[BOOK] The Oxford Handbook of Dance and the Popular Screen

MB Borelli - 2014 -

The Oxford Handbook of Dance and the Popular Screen sets the agenda for the study of dance in popular moving images- films, television shows, commercials, music videos, and YouTube-and offers new ways to understand the multi-layered meanings of the dancing ...


[DOC] Arts and Society

I Álvarez, MB Borelli - 2013 -

Summary This material focuses on concepts such as reality, semiotics, Marxist analysis, capitalism, and commodities in order to enrich the ways we engage with arts in our society. It takes students through a variety of art in different mediums—visual art, performances, films...


[PDF] Dancing in Music Videos, or How I Learned to Dance Like Janet... Miss Jackson

MB Borelli - The International Journal of Screendance, 2012 -

In 1989, when I was a senior in high school, Janet Jackson's album Rhythm Nation 1814 was released. A slick concept album, it addressed social injustice and economic disparities, universal concepts that my teenaged naiveté witnessed on a daily basis as I got off the L ...


[BOOK] Dance and the Hollywood Latina: race, sex, and stardom

PP Ovalle - 2011 -

... I also thank my many excellent writing partners: Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman; William Arcé, Karen Bowdre, Marci McMahon, and Joshua Smith (also known as fABD-5); Cindy García and Melissa Blanco Borelli; Irmary Reyes-Santos and Lynn Fujiwara; Lara Bovilsky and Mark ...



MB Borelli - The Routledge Dance Studies Reader, 2010 -

Subtle lighting envelopes tables and chairs… cigarette smoke dances in the air. Glasses sound against one another. Glasses, filled with tequila or rum, and held by men's gnarled hands. Alcohol to assuage a wounded masculinity that hides beneath heavily invested ...


[BOOK] The Routledge dance studies reader

A Carter, J O'Shea - 2010 -

... the past: writing history through the body ANN COOPER ALBRIGHT Cabbages and kings: disability, dance and some timely considerations ADAM BENJAMIN Hips, hipnotism, hip (g)nosis: the mulata performances of Ninón Sevilla MELISSA BLANCO BORELLI Still curious ...


There's Black People in England

MB Borelli - Dance Chronicle, 2010 - Taylor & Francis

According to Gina Yashere, a black British comedienne of Nigerian descent, most people have no idea of the huge population of African-descended people in the United Kingdom. Addressing the presence of black bodies in London, Rodreguez King-Dorset's book ...


Becomings and Belongings: Lucy Guerin's The Ends of Things

Blanco Borelli - Brolga: an Australian journal about dance, 2009 -

Page 1. Becomings and Belongings: Lucy Guerin's The Ends of Things Melissa Blanco
Borelli What is the first thing we remember when we finish watching a piece of
choreography? Is it the agile technicality of the dancing bodies? ...


Dancing across film, television and the digital screen

S Dodds - International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital …, 2009 - Taylor & Francis

... links between Fuller and the 'cinema of attractions'; Erin Brannigan employs theories developed by Gilles Deleuze and Béla Balázs through which to interrogate the operation and effects of the close-up in a range of contemporary dance films; Melissa Blanco Borelli draws on the ...


A taste of honey: choreographing mulatta in the Hollywood dance film

MB Borelli - International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital …, 2009 - Taylor & Francis

Abstract This article examines the filmic representations of the mulatta body in the films Sparkle (1976), Flashdance (1983) and Honey (2003). More specifically, this article seeks to unravel how the Hollywood filmic apparatus engages with signifiers of raced sexuality and ...


Performing Josephine Baker: Josephine Baker in Art and Life: The Icon and the Image By Bennetta Jules-Rosette. 392 pp. Illustrated. Chicago: University of Illinois …

MB Borelli - Dance Chronicle, 2008 - Taylor & Francis

Rosette's Josephine Baker in Art and Life: The Icon and the Image does not function as a conventional chronological biography, 1 although she provides a richly detailed chronology in the appendix. Rather, Jules-Rosette uses the three main aspects of Baker's ...

“¿Y ahora qué vas a hacer, mulata?”: Hip choreographies in the Mexican cabaretera film Mulata (1954)

Blanco Borelli - Women & Performance: a journal of feminist …, 2008 - Taylor & Francis

This essay examines the film Mulata (Martínez Solares 1954) starring Cuban vedette Ninón Sevilla through the various performances of mulata identity featured in the film. By introducing the theory of hip (g) nosis and the sentience corpo-mulata, these theoretical ...