Lucha VaVOOM’s Valentine’s Day Spectacular The brilliant and synergistic blend of Mexican masked wrestling (the Lucha) with burlesque and strip tease (the VaVOOM)
LOS ANGELES, CA- There tend to be two schools of thought regarding the celebration of Valentine’s Day. On the one hand, there are those who absolutely love it. Can’t wait. Hearts and chocolates. RomComs and scented candles. Rose petals. All the feels. On the other hand, there’s me. Not a raging cynic. Not a total hater. Just floating awkwardly in that no man’s land between “fuck this fucking clown show of an invented bullshit excuse to spend money on dumb shit” and “…it’s valentine’s day?”
So if you’re like me and Feb 14 rolls around and you feel like doing something but you’ve already Netflixed and chilled – with someone else or with yourself – multiple times in the last 72 hours, what do you do?
Lucha VaVOOM is an excellent option. And yes, the “VOOM” is all caps. Think how an obligatory pelvic thrust would be part of the pronunciation and you’ll get it. If you’re not familiar with what is now a Los Angeles institution, it is the brilliant and synergistic blend of Mexican masked wrestling (the Lucha) with burlesque and strip tease (the VaVOOM)
The self proclaimed maestros of “glam/slam” chic have been congregating at The Mayan Theater for over 15 years, a factoid that in and of itself offers insight into the raw pith of what Lucha VaVOOM is all about. The Mayan was built in 1927 as a full balls deep plunge into the “Mayan Revival” style of pre-Columbian architecture that Frank Lloyd Wright and the Mayan Theater’s architect Stiles Oliver Clements pioneered in Los Angeles in the 1920s. An architectural mashup of mesoamerican and Mexican culture with what was then the hot modern trend of Art Deco design. Used over the course of nine decades as a live theater, a salsa /bachata dancehall, and a porn palace, it’s a space that is at once weird, mysterious, and intriguing. Such is Lucha VaVOOM. As noted, the Lucha is for the Mexican masked wrestling and the VaVOOM is for the burlesque dancers who perform between wrestling matches, however, it would more than valid to say that the wrestlers perform between burlesque acts. Whichever way you stack it, it’s Mexican, it’s American, it’s sexy, it’s strange, it’s really, really, really fun.
On this particular evening, I arrived in time to witness a blond bombshell in black lingerie masturbating with her own shoe. That was pretty cool. It was a black patent leather pump. Really high heel. I mean, you don’t striptease in flip flops so I’m guessing a solid 4 to 5 inches. She gave the full length of the heel a nice long lick with her tongue. I appreciated that. And her dance skills were legit. I’ve been to these things where it’s an entertaining spectacle but a bit amateur in terms of technical proficiency. Not in this case. The muchacha was no joke and she was mucha muchacha.
One thing I dig about burlesque – and I’m not an expert on the genre but I believe this is the case – in traditional shows, full nudity is the exception to the norm. It’s kind of a big game of visual “just the tip”. You’re given the continuous feeling of seeing a nipple without actually getting 100% full nip. Like squinting at a censored instagram with pixelated areolas or, if you’re old enough, waiting for those ever so ephemeral moments when the static and distortion on a tv screen would clear up just enough to catch a glimpse of skin on a blocked cinemax feed. It’s the anticipation that you’re paying for, the power of suggestion and what it stimulates in your own imagination. The idea of burlesque made a revival in Los Angeles in the mid 90s back when Orange County soccer moms weren’t yet showing up at AYSO games with full sleeve Yakuza tattoos down both arms. The notion of what was marginal and what was transgressive was still a little more clear. Visible ink or a piercing in a particular part of your body sent a little stronger message back then. And that first wave of dancers had a message to send. They embraced their inner freak as an art form and celebrated it with a sense of ownership and empowerment that brought a renewed sexual power to the non-normative. There was no effort to escape. There was no desire to step out of the margins because the margins were where it was at. The beauty was all right there in the unfettered expression of individuality and self. Dancers of all backgrounds shapes and sizes taking off the masks some of them had to wear during the day in order to unleash their truer self onstage. So in hindsight, it makes perfect sense to team up with a band of enthusiasts for the retro and the arcane who pack themselves into tights put on masks in order to assume and explore alternate identities. The dancers glide across the stage to choreographed routines. The wrestlers hurl their bodies violently through space in very… very… loosely choreographed battles. Two sides of the same peso. Thus was born in 2002 what remains one of the most popular continuous shows in LA. .
On this particular evening, about half the crowd was first timers. Which seems about right. At this point, Lucha VaVOOM is a Los Angeles institution and a right of passage. Super fun to come back to but once you’ve gone, you get it. No time like the first time. As for who was single and who was on a date, that was a little harder to tell. With dudes, boobs, and dwarves, it’s truly a perfect place to be single on Valentine’s day – the whole celebration of the weird, nonnormative, fuck you to the conventional – it’s a good fit. But it’s also a helluva place to bring a date. In fact, I’d wager there was a high percentage of men in that crowd who were there for a 3rd, 4th, or 5th first date. It’s public enough to feel safe, it’s weird enough to seem like you’re an LA “insider”, it’s sexy enough to facilitate consensual hookup vibes, and it’s funny enough to be a most worthwhile experience should you and your new valentine not be entirely simpatico.
Valentine’s Day 2019 was hosted by Lucha VaVOOM regular and stand up comedy veteran Blaine Gapatch. Now that GLOW has broadened Generation Netflix’s cultural vocabulary for pro wrestling, think of Blaine like a Mark Maron figure… if Mark Maron coughed up a skinnier Mark Maron, little mustache and all. Cohost for this year’s February event was the always affable and entertaining Drew Carey. That’s part of the Lucha VaVOOM genius, the running commentary of pro-jock comics helping to pave over those occasional moments when things get a little slow or start to go off the rails. And things do go off the rails. The burlesque dancers are, for the most part, tight but wrestling by its very nature can’t always go according to script. Not when you have a blend of pros and semi-pros hurling their bodies through space, both in and outside the ring, in spurts of vaguely controlled intentional chaos. It’s pot of boiling water that can quickly turn into a hot mess of wrestler soup. And Blaine and Drew are there every step of the way to stir that soup into a tasty comedic bisque. Not sure I can beat anymore material out of the soup metaphor. But I’m gonna try. There’s a third host who brings the albondigas to the yard. That’s the extremely good looking Young & Restless alum Ignacio Sirricchio. He is the dedicated emcee for the lucha bouts and does most of his work in Spanish. An Enrique Iglesias meets Michael Buffer meets Andres Cantor. Google the ones you don’t know. The comparison is super on point.
Ignacio is important because lucha libre is a legitimate cornerstone of Mexican pop culture. And while Lucha VaVOOM is all fun and games, it’s important to show some respect to its origins. By speaking in Spanish and keeping his own role as ring announcer less farcical and more towards the serious end of the spectrum, Ignacio pays respect to that legacy and adds an air of credibility to the whole pozole (soup!). The English-speaking hipsters don’t lose anything. The Spanish speaking chipsters enjoy a cultural shout out. And everybody gets to enjoy watching Ignacio on stage in a well-tailored sharkskin suit.
The first round of wrestling was a Lucha VaVOOM classic. The Chupacabra teamed up with Dirty Sanchez against the Pollos Locos / Crazy Chickens. Pure camp. One guy in a weird lizard outfit and another guy… um… basically just a fat dude in a wife beater with a big hairy muff pasted to the crotch of his flesh colored tights. That’s the beauty of how the show progresses. In the middle and final rounds you get some super legit athletes going at it. Maybe not WWE material but certainly WWE adjacent. But in the early rounds? There are a couple wrestlers, Dirty Sanchez included, who look like management pulled a random dude from a bus stop, got him super high, shoved him into some yoga pants, and pushed him into the ring. However, while Sanchez may not be the epitome of a chiseled physique, he is no amateur entertainer. At a certain point in the fight, he pulled what I can only describe as “stuff” out of his butt crack and starting chucking it at the crowd. Like a monkey at a zoo hurling dookie. Then he ripped off his wife beater and used it to floss his fully exposed ass crack before shoving said beater in his opponent’s face. It was like a fecal ether bunny. Wrestling may be a pantomime but I don’t think you can fake that. And if you are reading this and asking “why?”, urban dictionary will provide context for what would motivate a character named Dirty Sanchez to perform such deeds.
So these were the openers. And it’s fun as fuck. Grotesque, exotic, sexy, hilarious. Not all at the same time. But in fairly equal doses. As noted, the wrestlers are part of a progression that makes its way from clowns and comedy and midgets (who are some of the best and most dynamic athletes) to more professional and more serious competitors. The burlesque is a little more balanced, holding a steadier course throughout the arc of the evening’s festivities. Dancers, contortionists, aerialists, roller skates. Each brings something really special to the stage. And for someone who grew up in more binary times, the power and beauty of the trans artists is really illuminating. Burlesque may strive to be anything but normal, but to see how the transness of the trans performers has over the course of time become a little less trans/gressive in and of itself, that feels like a good thing.
I think my favorite burlesque moment was when this woman got wheeled on stage in a glass box wearing a lingerie outfit where the crotch had teeth. The ole vagina dentata motif. She’s guarded by a team of secret service black suit types, a sort of vaginal Men in Black extraterrestrial situation. She breaks loose from the box and then turns on the suits. Does a cartwheel to handstand and throws her legs around one guy’s head with her vagina dentata crotch up in his neck. When she releases her grip, he falls away with blood all over. Are you getting the visuals here? She ripped his throat out. With her cooter! Pretty cool.
So many little nuggets like this. It’s irreverent. It’s whacky. And as I’ve said again and again, it’s all really fun. That’s the point of the show, to have fun, get a little aroused, be grossed out, cheer for the good guys, cheer for the bad guys, laugh, cry, cringe, and have a really good time on a potentially lame fucking day. The wrestlers and the dancers all get it and work hard to make it happen. During intermission and after the show most the wrestlers are hanging out in the lobby, happy to sign autographs and take photos with the audience. No charge. It’s their pleasure. It’s their joy to bring joy. You want to wrap your arms around El Jaguar Rojo or El Mariachi Loco and have it immortalized on film? Do it. You wanna grab Dirty Sanchez by his big fluffy merkin and post it to the gram? Do it. It’s all for the love at Lucha VaVOOM.
Next show will be their annual Cinco de Mayo blowout back at The Mayan.
If you’ve never, you should.