Maya J. Berry is an Assistant Professor of African, African-American, and Diaspora Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her writing and teaching focuses on the politics of race, gender, and performance, with a special emphasis on blackness, the sacred arts, and spiritual epistemologies in contemporary Cuba. Berry earned her PhD in Social Anthropology (African Diaspora Program) at the University of Texas at Austin and her MA in Performance Studies from New York University. Her scholarship has been supported by the Ford Foundation, the John L. Warfield Center for African & African American Studies at UT Austin, the Instituto Cubano de Investigación Cultural Juan Marinello, the Afro-Latin American Research Institute at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center, and the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale University. In 2015, she was honored with the Zora Neale Hurston Award from the Association for Feminist Anthropology.
Her first book manuscript, Choreographing Rumba, is an ethnography of contemporary black popular dance in Havana, Cuba. The book analyzes the way that women and men rumberos (rumba practitioners) negotiate and push the bounds of their bodies’ performativity beyond dominant regimes of knowing and use-value. The research for the book is situated in the post-Fidel era during Cuba’s most recent "modernization" 0f its economic model, marked by the expansion of the private sector and amplification of racialized class inequality. Although rumba is institutionally hailed as a secular genre, a practice-centered feminist approach reveals the gendered and racialized ways in which sacred repertoires are embodied by rumberos to move everyday struggles for self-determined political horizons and economic possibilities. This manuscript takes up the challenge presented by sensory culture studies to consider the limits of state logics to monopolize the sense of social order, through those very bodies whose racialization has served to define modernity through contradistinction.
Previous essays on Cuban folkloric dance and black identity politics appear in Afro-Hispanic Review, Black Diaspora Review, and Cuban Studies Journal (forthcoming). Her collaborative work on racialized gender violence and the politics of fieldwork can be found in Cultural Anthropology and also featured in Anthropology News.