in the philippines, macho dancers break down sex and gender stereotypes

Dancer Eisa Jocson explains how these performances reveal what we value and dismiss in men.

by Wendy Syfret
22 November 2016, 3:05am

This year, Filipino dancer Eisa Jocson came to many people's attention through Peaches' video for How You Like My Cut. In the clip, the former ballerina and pole dancer moves slowly, as if in liquid. Her body is tense as she flexes and strains her muscles. These very specific movements are lifted from her performance 'Macho Dancer,' which looks at Macho club culture in her home country. In the Philippines, young men perform in Macho clubs for men and women, on the surface filling a role similar to a male stripper. But when examined more deeply, these dancers speak to the nation's relationship with masculinity, sex and gender. From their cowboy outfits to their Mariah Carey laden soundtracks, they're informed by what we value and dismiss in men.

Macho Dancer is part of Eisa's series investigating how ideas about sex and stereotypes intersect with the dance world. In 2011 she looked at notions of "voyeurism and restrain, vulnerability and violence, sexuality and power" in Death of the Pole Dancer. Her most recent work Host turned to Tokyo hostess clubs, and the Filipino nationals who find work there. Eisa Jocson will perform Macho Dancer in Melbourne for XO State, part of Asia TOPA, a festival celebrating artists from across the Asia Pacific region, on February 23 and 25. 

How do you describe Macho dancing to people who aren't familiar with it?
It's situated in the Macho club; it exists inside this specific context where in young men are performing for men and women, it's like a strip bar. But it has it's own movement vocabulary, so it's quite different from say strip dancing in the US or Bangkok where the beats are much faster. Generally Macho dancing is slower. It's a bit difficult to describe.

Looking at clips of your work, and the How You Like My Cut video it almost looks more like a bodybuilding contest, or modelling, as opposed to dancing.
The physical principles of Macho dancing deals with muscular tension, volume, tenacity of the body as well as being grounded — it has a very close relation to the floor. It deals with the illusion of volume and weight. It kind of shifts time and space, so space becomes quite viscous, quite thick and time definitely slows down. When I was learning Macho dancing I was coming from a movement formation of ballet and pole dancing, which in a way are the complete opposites of Macho dancing. Ballet and pole dancing deal with the illusion of grace, lightness, weightlessness and this kind of anti-gravity with all the jumps and extensions. It also deals with length, the illusion of length. In Macho dancing you have a tighter body as opposed to an extended body. Contracted and compacted.

This piece is part of a triptych with Host and Death of the Pole Dancer that look at Filipino female and transgender hostesses at Tokyo hostess clubs and the culture of pole dancing in the Philippines. How do Macho clubs fit into that world of sex and performance?
I mean it's basically a strip club, it's an erotic place where the body is the primary capital of exchange. It exists in this red light, marginal context. The formation of Macho dance as a vocabulary comes from references of what is the idealised man of the clients. It's interesting to deconstruct the Macho, there's a lot of American pop references for example. They wear cowboy boots that refer to the machismo of the cowboy in American movies. We don't have a tradition of horses and cowboy boots in the Philippines but somehow the cowboy boot is the official costume of the Macho dance.

This all contrasts pretty strongly with their music choices.
The kind of songs that dance to would be power ballads by Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston and very sentimental nostalgic love songs. I've asked them often, isn't this the opposite of macho? It's kind of anti-macho. They choose the songs because they touch a very sensitive aspect of the clients, they can at least dance with the sentimentality of the music. It's a vocabulary that's very much client oriented.

There is obviously so much going on within these performances, but what are you personally trying to unpack in your work?
I've been performing this for three years, when I first made the piece the intention was to perform the piece as a convincing Macho dancer. The core idea was a challenge to reform my own body politics.

How have your intentions changed over the years?
In the beginning, one of the instigators of making this piece was to move away from my practice, from my other works which were centred around pole dancing. Macho dancing was first and foremost a kind of challenge to my own physical formation — social, historical, context of my body and the frames of education that it has passed through, like ballet and pole dancing. But since Macho dancing is situated in the marginal sphere, the proposal loops in itself so it's both a display of power but at the same time it's a vulnerable space. Power and vulnerability are basically the proposition of the performance.

Macho Dancer will be performed at XO State, part of Asia TOPA, a festival celebrating artists from across the Asia Pacific region, in Melbourne on February 23 and 25.


Text Wendy Syfret
Images via XO State

eisa jocson