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American burlesque meets Mexican wrestling in Lucha VaVoom

Jun 15,2022 - Last updated at Jun 15,2022

A wrestling match during a Lucha Vavoom show at the Mayan Theatre in Los Angeles, California, on February 11 (AFP photo by Valerie Macon)

LOS ANGELES — Veronica Yune hangs upside down over the stage as she slowly undresses; below, wrestlers “Sexi” and “Mexi” gyrate their hips and steel themselves to face Dirty Sanchez in the ring.

Welcome to the carnival world of Lucha VaVoom, a flamboyant mix of American burlesque and Mexican wrestling.

“Blood is coursing through our veins!” says Serafina, a stilt dancer wearing a red corset and a huge bell skirt from which emerge the emcees who open this troupe’s first performance in Los Angeles after a two-year pandemic hiatus.

The audience that fills the Mayan Theatre knows exactly what they are getting; many are seasoned veterans of the spectacle.

“It’s my seventh show,” says Clix, an artist who uses one name, who has travelled from Arizona and is marking the occasion with a souvenir T-shirt.

“Vavoom is a lifestyle, it’s a call to embrace freedom of expression,” explains Serafina.

“We are alive!” she shouts, grabbing a heart-topped cane as a prop for this Valentine’s Day-themed show.

The loose story that the evening presents resembles the plot of a romantic comedy, but with a modern twist.

That romance finds echoes in the real lives of those on stage.

More than two decades ago, Liz Fairbairn abandoned her comfortable American life and headed for Mexico, following a wrestler she had met on a movie set in California. 

The relationship ended, but the love affair with wrestling endured, says Fairbairn, who embraced the show and brought it home. 

Convinced she needed something a little special to make Mexican wrestling work in Los Angeles, she partnered with a burlesque troupe.

“We thought that if we drew the audience to see the burlesque, they would see the wrestling, too, and love it. And they did,” says Fairbairn, sitting in a stunning yellow chair surrounded by hearts.

 

Hair and makeup

 

When COVID-19 began tearing through the United States in early 2020, public venues across California were shut down, and the entire cast was sent home.

“I practiced at home. It was like continuing to practice to be ready to come back,” says Veronica Yune, as a stylist adjusts the pink wig that tops off her vintage look.

“I dreamed a lot about Lucha VaVoom performances,” says Serafina. “It’s an honour to be back on this stage.”

The dressing room where the performers put the final touches to their characters smells of spray and singed hair as stylists fashion improbable coifs and outlandish wigs.

Makeup artists stick on huge false eyelashes and garnish eyes with dramatic lines.

In among the stretching dancers there are feathers, glitter and discarded lingerie, as well as the occasional wrestler slathering oil on toned muscles.

During the shutdown, the cast worked on other projects but mostly without an audience. 

“It was super hard,” says Taya Valkyrie, a former WWE wrestler.

“[The spectators] are part of the show, they give me their energy and I give them mine. It’s an interaction,” she explains as she swishes a huge black cape around her shoulders.

Valkyrie refuses to speak her native English during an interview with AFP.

“If we’re going to talk about wrestling, it has to be in Spanish,” she insists.

Taya is the only wrestler who fights without a mask, a defining element of the genre.

Mystery is non-negotiable for the entire cast of Lucha VaVoom — the dancers will only say they are “timeless” when asked their age and the wrestlers never step outside their roles.

“The magic of the character I bring is what’s important to people,” says El Chupacabra, a wrestler inspired by a folklore character who resembles a reptile and is known for attacking cattle and fowl.

His opponents tonight are The Crazy Chickens. Unfortunately, they proved impossible to interview, emitting barely a cluck when questioned, and nothing that resembled either English or Spanish.

On stage, audience favourite Dirty Sanchez is screaming into the microphone, promising an action-packed night.

“I’m going to hurt people,” he shouts.

For Arizona-based fan Clix, it is manna from heaven.

“During the pandemic, my heart was broken. Two years without Vavoom was like hell. But now I’m back on Cloud Nine.”

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