The 2017 edition of da:ns festival in Singapore, which ran from October 20 to 29, featured performances and workshops by dancers from a bit of everywhere around the world. While every dancer or group was standout, one Southeast Asian performer took pole position.
Filipina dancer Eisa Jocson’s dance routine, called Macho Dance, can easily be categorized as controversial and provocative. It borrows heavily from Macho Dancing, a type of striptease that exists exclusively in the Philippines, performed by young men to both male and female dancers in night clubs. Jocson’s Macho Dance sees her interpreting the male strippers’ moves - which include “slow gyrations, body undulations, bicep flexing” - and turning them into a gender-bending performance.
She debuted Macho Dance in Berlin back in 2013 after learning the form from actual male strippers in one year. In Jocson’s hands, Macho Dance is so much more than seduction or sexual suggestion; it becomes a dialogue about gender, politics and power relations in the Philippines.
Quoting a paper written by Rolando B. Tolentino called Macho Dancing, the Feminization of Labor, and Neoliberalism in the Philippines, Jocson writes (on her website) that Macho Dancing is “economically-motivated.” Despite taking on the role of alpha, the male strippers performing the dance remain marginalized members of society.
When a female (Jocson) performs the macho dancing, she takes on the role of a strong man. In performing moves considered masculine, she challenges the notions of masculinity and femininity. She’s also objectified. This creates what Tolentino refers to as a “gender loop” that entangles the performer and audience in an endless subject-and-object cycle.
Sophisticated through and through, Macho Dance has attracted the attention of Canadian electronic artist Peaches who featured Jocson in her 2016 music video for her song, How You Like My Cut.
Ballet-trained, Jocson began her professional career as a pole dancing artist. In Stainless Borders (2010), she would perform pole dancing in public, using handrails, sign posts and gates to provide a different perspective on “how our bodies move within the urban landscape.”
Jocson, who seems to have a knack of tackling social matters with her performance, also created Host (2015), which delves into the issue of the Japayuki, or Filipina hostesses in Japan.
Her two latest pieces, Princess and Your Highness (2017), confront the racial issues surrounding Filipino entertainers in Disneyland and how they’re confined to lesser roles: main characters are always assigned to their Caucasian counterparts.