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Transnational Desires

Brazilian Erotic Dancers in New York

Suzana Maia

Publication Year: 2012

Migrant sex workers are commonly cast as victims, moved by desperation to flee poverty and hopelessness in their home country. The Brazilian erotic dancers Suzana Maia presents in Transnational Desires, however, are women from the Brazilian middle classsome of them welleducated professionalswho migrated to the United States not just to better themselves economically but also to realize their personal dreams.

Their motivation to migrate and to work as erotic dancers can also be understood in the context of a representational system, inaugurated in colonial times, that emphasizes the exoticism of Brazilian womentheir bodies, their skin tone, their sexuality. These stereotypes are the props that Brazilian women use to construct their performances in Manhattan and Queens gentlemen's bars and the language through which they negotiate their relationships to society at large.

Transnational Desires focuses on the lives of nine Brazilian dancers with whom the author, herself a middleclass Brazilian, developed close relationships over the years. Maia examines their social relations both in the bar scene and with family, friends, and lovers outside. She shows that for these women erotic dancing is part of a life trajectory that involves negotiating their social position and life prospects in a fundamentally transnational social universe.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press


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Title Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

I would like, first of all, to express my gratitude to the women who participated in this project and who shared their lives with me over the years. I greatly appreciate our friendship and their trust in me, and I can . . .

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pp. 1-16

During the years 2003 and 2005, I often left my house in Brooklyn to meet with one of the dancers I knew, and together we would either take a van to bars or simply walk to the ones near their homes. I had been . . .

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The Women: In Transit

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pp. 17-28

Clara is one of the eighteen women in her extended family who migrated to New York from the countryside of Bahia in northeast Brazil. Clara’s mother, a dentist, has always encouraged her to have a career . . .

I. Brazil, the Anti-postcard

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1. Middle-Class Trajectories

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pp. 31-44

As I now travel to Brazil feeling as if I should send a message back to a home that evades a precise geographic location, I stroll through tourist centers looking at postcards that I fantasize about sending—and never . . .

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2. Representing the Nation: Class, Race, and Sexuality

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pp. 45-55

In Brazil, the construction of national identity came with the reappropriation of two central categories of the colonial discourse: race and sexuality.1 Brazil—a country that received more African slaves than . . .

II. The Bar Scene

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3. Hierarchies of Bars and Bodies

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pp. 59-75

How do the nine women in my project, from different segments of the middle class and occupying the whiter spectrum of Brazil’s racial configuration, find themselves placed in the New York context? How are . . .

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4. Performing Seduction and National Identity

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pp. 76-101

On a summer day a dancer leaves the street when there is still daylight and enters the bar as if she were entering a cave. Amid dim lights, black and mirrored walls, and the smell of stale beer, she carries her . . .

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5. Women and Clients

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pp. 102-119

Men frequent gentlemen’s bars for a variety of reasons. Some want a few hours of socialization and drinking before going home to their wives, to whom they might be happily married. Others, unmarried or divorced, . . .

III. Beyond the Bar Scene

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6. Ambivalent Relationships

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pp. 123-151

It was a rainy summer day when I went on a trip to a Long Island beach accompanied by Nana and her husband, Jimmy, and Renata and her fiancé, Brandon. Not a tree passed without comment from the three of . . .

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7. Transnational Ties

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pp. 152-171

All the relationships in which the nine women involved in this project engage are affected by and have an effect on their material and emotional lives, both in the United States and in Brazil. Of these women, . . .

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8. Expanding Networks

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pp. 172-188

The relationships between erotic dancers and their clients, friends, lovers, husbands, or boyfriends in New York have consequences that reach far beyond the confines of the bar or of any specific geographic location. . . .

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Conclusion: Spaces of Betweenness

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pp. 189-201

Like many of the women in my research project, I live in the suspended space between the United States and Brazil. And, as for many of these women, to me, one place becomes the specter of the other, its shadow, . . .


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pp. 203-211


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pp. 213-222


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pp. 223-231

E-ISBN-13: 9780826518248
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826518224

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 805310964
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Transnational Desires

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Stripteasers -- Brazil -- Case studies.
  • Stripteasers -- New York (State) -- New York -- Case studies.
  • Brazilians -- New York (State) -- New York -- Social conditions -- Case studies.
  • Women immigrants -- New York (State) -- New York -- Social conditions -- Case studies.
  • Sex-oriented businesses -- New York (State) -- New York -- Case studies.
  • Women -- Brazil -- Case studies.
  • Women -- Identity -- Case studies.
  • Women -- Sexual behaivor -- Case studies.
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