Juliet McMains, PhD is Professor in the Department of Dance at the University of Washington in Seattle where she teaches studio and academic classes in social dances, cross-cultural dance, and dance research. Before checking into Glamour rehab, she was a professional ballroom dancer who traveled the country armed with a case of rhinestones and tanning creams. Juliet has since converted her addiction to finding and losing self in kinetic dialogue with another human through improvisational social dances, especially tango, salsa, swing, and contact improvisation.
As a teacher, she strives to help her students unlock artistic expression at the intersection of creative agency, technical integration, empathetic listening, and musical attunement. She is proficient at both roles (leader and interpreter/follower), and is continually striving to redress gendered hierarchies in social dance practice. She is also committed to recovering the centrality of African aesthetic values in Latin and American social dance traditions. Her choreography brings deep knowledge of social partner dance traditions together with her lifelong study of Western concert dance traditions (especially ballet and contemporary dance).
She has published numerous articles and books on salsa, ballroom dance, tango, rumba, and swing, all genres in which she has been immersed as a practitioner, teacher, researcher, and community builder. Although Juliet digs deep into the history and structural/aesthetic logic of each form, she allows her knowledge of each discipline to inform her investigation of the others. She is not such a purist that she is above taking out a salsa partner with a gancho. Juliet has a Ph.D. in Dance History and Theory from the University of California at Riverside and a B.A. in Women’s Studies from Harvard University.
Early years: Juliet started studying dance at age 3, when she donned tunics and jumped over scarves in the tradition of American modern dance pioneer Isadora Duncan. A bit of a perfectionist, she kept asking how she could do a better job picking the imaginary flowers, the value of free expression eluding the goal-oriented youngster. Ballet, which Juliet started studying at age 10, was a better fit. Juliet’s teenage years were defined by immersion in concert dance—ballet, jazz, modern, tap—which she not only studied, practiced, and performed, but taught and choreographed. Although she is a bit embarrassed now to think about the technical and pedagogical deficits of classes she taught at age 15, Juliet is grateful for her early mentorship in teaching where she learned that her role as a dance teacher is first and foremost to facilitate growth of humanity. Dance is just the medium through which we get at the messy and beautiful parts of ourselves and our relationships.
Ballroom Infection: In college, Juliet was infected with a ballroom dancing virus. Soon she was devoting every spare minute and dollar to lessons and competitions. It even invaded her academic work, resulting in her senior thesis, “Tradition and Transgression: Gender Roles in Ballroom Dancing.” Senior year of college, Juliet was president of the Harvard-Radcliffe Ballroom Dance Club, which won the national collegiate ballroom dance championships in 1994. She competed in amateur standard at the championship level after college before conceding that she was not actively pursuing a sensible career like other Harvard graduates because she was devoting all her time to dancing. So in January of 1997, Juliet “turned pro” so that she could justify spending so much time in a mirror-lined wooden box. A partner change at this time also precipitated a decision to switch her own competition focus from standard to Latin. In the fall of 1997, she moved to Southern California to pursue a Ph.D. in dance history and theory at the University of California, Riverside.
In California, Juliet threw herself into study of dance from many angles—that of professional DanceSport competitor, entertainer, dance scholar, dance teacher, and social dance enthusiast. Training among Southern California’s professional top dancesport competitors tuned her technical prowess in partnering. Late nights spent in Southern California nightclubs dancing salsa and swing, and afternoons jamming with contact improvisers, taught her about improvisation, musicality, and playfulness. Some twenty-odd years later, Juliet finally appreciated the pleasure of those imaginary flowers. Working in Hollywood’s entertainment industry, discovering the tremendous benefits of yoga, and soaking in performing companies touring Los Angeles likewise contributed to her multifaceted approach to dance.
Dance Addiction: In 2001, Juliet relocated to Orlando, FL to pursue a professional dance partnership in International Latin with Radim Lanik and spread her newfound passion for social dance with Central Florida. During her five years in Central Florida, Juliet won many DanceSport competitions with Radim, and then later with American Smooth partner Rick Elliot. She operated a ballroom and salsa dance school called Dance Addiction, and particularly enjoyed choreographing for her Salsa Addiction Dance Team. She also spent three semesters teaching in the nationally renowned School of Dance at Florida State University and two semesters teaching at the University of Central Florida. In 2003, the same year she completed her Ph.D., Juliet retired from DanceSport competition and began more targeted study of salsa and its Cuban roots, traveling to Miami and later Cuba to study Afro-Cuban folklore and rumba. In 2005, after submission of the manuscript of her first book, Glamour Addiction: Inside the American Ballroom Dance Industry, Juliet began formal research on the history of salsa dance, which would become her second book, Spinning Mambo into Salsa.
Tango Turns: In August of 2006, Juliet relocated to Seattle, WA to teach in the Department of Dance at the University of Washington. A bit disillusioned with the salsa scene in Seattle, which at the time did not compare to what she was used to in Florida and California, Juliet was soon seduced by the intimacy and challenge of Argentine tango, which replaced salsa as her favored social dance practice. Juliet is grateful to her tango mentor Jaimes Freidgen, founder of the 8th Style School of Tango (where Juliet taught from 2010–2014) who inspired her to raise the bar on her teaching, as well as her boleos. Juliet’s deep investment in tango led her to travel multiple times to Argentina, where she has conducted research, studied tango, eaten too many empanadas, and danced until 5am for months at a stretch. She is also mentor to the UW Tango Club.
As faculty at the UW, Juliet is inspired on a daily basis by her colleagues who are master teachers, artists, and all around fantastic humans who let her drop in on their classes whenever she likes, enabling her to continue dancing ballet and modern next to 19-year olds who keep her humble. Juliet has the honor of mentoring graduate and undergraduate students in the classroom and as well as those conducting original research (which include groundbreaking projects like Angel Langley’s What's Poppin' Ladiez?!). Juliet’s job as a Professor includes maintaining an active research profile, traveling abroad to present research and teach, and making art. It’s a pretty cool gig.