Friday, July 31, 2009

la buena onda

i have about four different posts/essays i'm in the middle of... so much has happened i don't know where to begin or how to tie it all together.

soooo... oooooorale!!!

last week i started practicing with another professor of Lucha Libre at Bull's Gym: the legendary Irma Gonzalez.

now 72, she's been retired for 7 years after a tremendous career that began at age 13. at practice she watches from ringside, always perfectly coiffed, with a bright flowered blouse: an archetypal grandmother to rival my own. it's hard to connect this sweet abuelita with the raw force and energy channeled in her younger days --

-- but then you start to notice that her sweet grandmotherly smile is the brightest when one of her acolytes is thrashing another.

practice there has been great. whereas i've learned all kinds of complex techniques with Negro Navarro and Los Traumas, Irma's classes always emphasize the basics (which i never really got) and stringing them all together -- action, reaction, and show.

it's a push for me to make it to her 8:30am practices given my 1.5hr commute and the fact that i always practice the night before, same place, until 9pm. pero vale la pena! Saturday morning i showed up at 8:45 and 25 men were crammed into and around the ring. i pulled on my boots and threw myself into the mix... it was fantastic! so alive, so full! everyone was welcoming, and helped me through the series that were above my head -- though help often came in a cacophony of voices, all Spanish of course, making it yet harder to latch onto a single one. nevertheless, i held my own in lucha libre, and whipped a couple challengers in lucha olímpica, which was very much appreciated by everyone there (especially Irma and another grandmother who's a regular at ringside). way beyond this, however, was the sense that everyone there was having a riot, making a riot, wrestling hard, helping the rookies, pushing each other to do better -- and assailing each other verbally, physically, and always hilariously. this collective sense of humor suffused the entire gymnasium -- looking out on the smog-covered city i was sure that we had the best air, or ether, or at least a muy buena onda (good vibrations).

in the past weeks i've been to the Arena México twice, and spent two exhausting days at "Lucha Libre la Experiencia" -- a lucha libre convention, of sorts, with all the biggest players in the business. and it is a business. the biggest rivalry in Mexico is not between (hijo del) Santo and Blue Demon (Jr.), or between any other two luchadores, but between AAA and CMLL -- the two biggest wrestling federations which battle, week after week, for market share. the home arena of the CMLL, Arena México, hosts spectacular events every Friday night: the league's star wrestlers are embellished by enormous television screens, a booming sound system, and a bevy of bikini girls designed to allure attending fans, home viewers, and advertising dollars. the AAA was founded by Mexico's largest station, Televisa, so is even less beholden to tradition or anything else that might keep it from being the most crass, commercial, spectacularly entertaining vehicle for advertising.

i could go on. maybe i will in another post. but my point is that finally, in Mexico City, i have found a space where lucha libre exists as an art: where men practice sport/theatre because they love it, for what it is socially -- between these men and in their communities.

Bull's Gym is a long way from Arena México, but many of its (other) classes, teachers and students of lucha libre are dominated by its shadow. that is, while they love lucha libre as a sport, or as an art, they measure themselves according to its spectacularly commercialized, televisual archetypes. they want to be better wrestlers, to make connections, to then wrestle for the biggest companies, and to make money and a career out of this art. who can blame them? i too would love to make a living with my art alone, and i didn't grow up in anything like the poverty of parachute cities of Neza and Ecatepec, where all my D.F. lucha friends live.

but still, there's something really different about the group setting on Saturday morning -- something looser, funnier, spontaneous and improvised. this is the heart of what has kept me interested in lucha libre, why i want to understand it, feel it, live it myself -- and somehow communicate the core of my interest, this feeling, through sounds and images so that others, outsiders, might appreciate the same.


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