PORTLAND, Oregon — “Macho doesn’t prove mucho,” socialite and actress Zsa Zsa Gabor once punned. And while a certain prideful strut and a slightly aggressive air may prove little, it remains a schema that frames how we perceive and gauge masculinity, which is begging to be deconstructed. Eisa Jocson‘s recent performance “Macho Dancer” (2014) at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s (PICA) 2014 Time-Based Art Festival (TBA) used macho gestures like muscle flexing, chest puffing, and other assertive poses. Bare-chested while simultaneously flexing her arms and flaunting her manufactured bulge, the performance was gender-bending cognitive dissonance at its artistic best.
Jocson didn’t talk during the 25-minute performance of “Macho Dancer” (2014). Instead, she performed masculine gestures and posed to pop music on stage. Although, macho is linked to talking smack on film and TV, recent research suggests that the machismo message is far more about body language and tone than the menacing phrases that drive plots. In his recent research, Dr. Albert Mehrabian calculated that words are only 7% of communication. Meanwhile, 38% is cadence and other vocal elements, and the remaining 55% is non-verbal content, including gestures, pose, and facial expressions. Although Mehrabian’s breakdown has stirred some debate, even his detractors acknowledge that body language speaks louder than words. This is why exploring masculinity through movement is so intrepid. Jocson’s cocked head, raised fist, and crouched legs suggest ‘don’t mess with me.’ Does a word even need to be uttered?
Jocson learnt a specialized form of male dancing from Manila’s red light district to develop this piece. “Macho Dancing” is unlike go-go boys in New York. It is its own genre best revealed in its own terms by a quick surf on YouTube. Like any dance form, it spans a spectrum but its core elements consist of a man dancing to music, striking several masculine poses, flaunting his physique, and proceeding to strip his clothes. Some of the Filipino macho dancers don’t stand stationary like the go-go boys in US bars. It’s can often resemble a drag show on a stage, where a man is performing a form of hyper-masculinity.
Women do not perform the macho dance in the Philippine capital’s bars. So it was considered highly unorthodox when Joscon approached Manila’s macho dancers at a legendary bar named Adonis in search of a mentor to teach her the style. A few dancers took her under their wing and taught her — the first widely known woman — to master the form. She began to lift weights and developed musculature to the point that many of her clothes stopped fitting. Her highly defined and chiseled body was revealed during the performance. It was not-so-subtly challenging the audience about how a woman’s body can look.
“What was difficult was learning to be snappy,” she remarked at a public talk organized by PICA. Jocson’s background in ballet did little to prepare her for the jumpy swift movements that macho dancing demands. But with some training, she acclimated to this new snappy sense of rhythm. Nevertheless, in the precision and intensity with which she entered into her poses, there was an echo of ballet’s ruthless discipline to be exact in execution and true to form.
Stripping away her shorts part way through the dance program, viewers saw a large bulge on her crotch. That strap-on gave a nice comic touch. It was also intriguing how easy it was to imagine Jocson as a man from a distance, especially after the initial shock wore off. One of the dance’s best moments came when she pulled off a crotch grab like Michael Jackson. She totally appeared like a dude with long hair.
But the performance was more than mind tricks for gender studies acolytes. In fact, it was also just plain cool to watch and hear. The interplay of light, fog, gesture, costume, and music made for scintillating visuals that allowed this persona to shine outside the conventional boxes of gender expression. Allowing hybridized gender to be rhythmic and animated by showmanship was exciting. Although, it is tempting to link Jocson to the drag king tradition, a woman appropriating Manila’s specific style of male dancing is simply without any widely known precedent.
Poet Marty McConnell, channeling Frida Kahlo, once wrote: “stupid girls are always trying / to disappear as revenge.” The line suggests that women need to be stronger, smarter, tougher, bolder, and more present for when they need to protect themselves and plot their vengeance. Why are women immediately labeled with pejorative labels when they act even half as assertive as many men? By re-enacting an hitherto exclusively male dance style from Manila’s red light district at an avant-garde performance art festival, Joscon invented and glamorized a new archetype. A macho woman that can hopefully inspire women to be macho and assertive when they need to push through, and that they don’t need to disappear into the feminine mystique for revenge.
Eisa Jocson performed “Macho Dancer” at Bodyvox (1201 NW 17th Ave, Portland, Oregon) on September 12 and September 13, 8:30pm. The performance was part of PICA’s 2014 Time-Based Art Festival.
Correction: This piece originally misattributed a line written by Marty McConnell to Frida Kahlo (it comes from McConnell’s poem “Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell”). It has been corrected.
Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova Placed on Russian “Wanted” List
Tolokonnikova has long been thorn in the side of Vladimir Putin’s regime.
Vivan Sundaram, Veteran Indian Contemporary Artist, Dies at 79
Sundaram is celebrated for his multidisciplinary studio practice steeped in activism and political consciousness.
The Rubin Museum Presents Death Is Not the End
Tibetan Buddhist and Christian works of art made across 12 centuries explore death, the afterlife, and the desire to continue to exist. On view in NYC.
What’s Iconoclastic About a Blackface Madonna?
Artist Tony Rave’s work comes to remind us that piety is not strictly White.
The Most Stirring Press Photographs of 2022
Photographs captured war-torn Ukraine, the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, and an Iranian woman defying the mandatory hijab law.
When I Am Empty Please Dispose of Me Properly
Ayanna Dozier, Ilana Harris-Babou, Meena Hasan, Lucia Hierro, Catherine Opie, Chuck Ramirez, and Pacifico Silano explore the myths of the American Dream at Brooklyn’s BRIC House.
NY Governor’s Proposed Budget Slashes Pandemic-Era Arts Funds
The cuts to the New York State Council on the Arts budget are attributed to the expiration of pandemic relief programs, but advocates say arts organizations need more support.
MoMA Apologizes for Kicking Out Black Artist From Installation
Museum security asked Heather Agyepong to leave the installation Black Power Naps, meant as a safe space for Black people, after a White visitor called her “aggressive.”
Pratt’s 2023 Fine Arts MFA Thesis Exhibition Is On View in Brooklyn
The two-part exhibition features the work of 41 graduating artists across disciplines, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, and integrated practices.
New York’s BIPOC-Led Arts Orgs Are Grossly Underfunded
Proposed cuts to arts funding across the state would hit entities of color the hardest.
New Directors/New Films Festival Takes an Experimental Turn
A host of documentaries exemplify ND/NF’s unconventional programming philosophy.
The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation Presents The Feminine in Abstract Painting
Curated by Jennifer Samet and Andrea Belag, this group exhibition in NYC explores the feminine through aesthetics, as opposed to identity or gender.
Memories So Fair and Bright
Kimetha Vanderveen’s paintings are about the interaction of materiality and light, the bond between the palpable and ephemeral world in which we live.
Artists Contemplate Sovereignty in Santa Fe
The Santa Fe Art Institute’s 2024 International Thematic Residency focuses on what sovereignty means for artists from across the world.
I find it very hard to masturbate to this.
Men have said just about all they have left to say
“Stupid girls are always trying to disappear as revenge” is a line from a poem by Marty McConnell, titled “Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell”.
WHY CANT I SHARE THIS ON FB, THIS IS SRSLY MESSING WITH MY DAY
If you share the Hyperallergic post (go to the Hyperallergic FB page at http://facebook.com/hyperallergic ) it should work. The issues have to do with nudity. FB can be such a prude.
Btw, here’s a direct link: https://www.facebook.com/hyperallergic/posts/10152687642474812
this tho 🙁
This makes me feel old because all I see is an Asian woman doing Madonna’s late 80’s.
Comments are closed.