A Brief and Unnecessary Defense of Lucha Libre as Art – Part I

This blog has generally been dedicated to the sharing of various events in my life as a luchador, from shows and publicity events to fiestas. For those of you who have read the “about” section of this blog, you may well be aware that my intent was also to have a sort of cultural studies bend to this blog as well, which—prompted through some recent readings—I now feel prepared to begin undertaking.

But be not afraid: while this will ultimately change the overall tone of the blog, photos, fun musings, and the less-academic side of lucha libre will likely still dominate the blog.

I should start by noting that I consider lucha libre to be an art form. Lucha libre is an interesting and unique crossroads between pure athleticism, performance art, and creativity proper. At their best, luchadores are supreme athletes nearly unparalleled in talent: brandishing skills in improvisation, acting, stage combat, acrobatics, stunting, and regularly performing feats of strength and fearlessness. Because of the origins of lucha libre—i.e., an impoverished country that maintains nearly zero international political and cultural capital—lucha libre will always be considered a sort of “low-brow” cultural folk art.

“At their best luchadores are supreme athletes nearly unparalleled in talent: brandishing skills in improvisation, acting, stage combat, acrobatics, stunting, and regularly performing feats of strength and fearlessness.”

Lucha libre then, will always struggle to be recognized as a “legitimate” art form. Whether or not lucha libre ought to be, and how it ought to be, ranked against the “classical” arts of the European bourgeoisie (who, after all, established the historic definition of the “fine” arts) lies outside the scope of my current focus. However I am keenly interested in addressing those who would suggest that such lucha libre is merely a hobby—perhaps silly—and is not to be considered an art. Never mind the oversights regarding the everyday dangers implicit with every flying move, or the necessity to disregard basic survival instincts to, say, take a proper bump (which is something like a “prat fall” for you theatre kids) from 5-15 feet in the air.

But I digress, for lucha libre’s inherent dangers are apparent to even those who are largely unfamiliar with it. Although perhaps not in succession, I will be sharing a short series of personal explorations that will expound the creative processes within lucha libre. While there is some overlap, I have been able to identify three key areas I will be discussing.

  • The match: storytelling & narrative arcs
  • Embodiment of a luchador: character creation and articulation
  • Using symbolism: the hegemonic and transgressive properties of luchadores.

These elements, I am sure, are familiar to many of you, for they are shared with lucha libre’s two closest relatives—sport and theatre.

I expect that some members of the old guard of wrestling (those same stubborn old-timers who threw tantrums when professional wrestling “came out” as sports entertainment in the late 80s) may object to what these short essays will share, as I am—to some extent—breaking kayfabe—or pulling back the curtain, so to speak. For starters, I am not terribly interested in American professional wrestling, but only lucha libre, as the two differ largely in various ways. However the two share a great deal of basic mechanics, and so while discussing lucha libre I will also indirectly be talking about American professional wrestling. In addition because of the abundance of media covering American professional wrestling, I may use popular historic examples from the WWE.

To those ancient fanciers of that old world—those desperately clinging to that nearly extinct perception of wrestling—who would argue against sharing the “secrets” of the sport, my answer would be this: the world of lucha libre is one of intrigue and mystery regardless as to whether or not some of its mechanics are revealed, for the truth of the simultaneously competitive/cooperative nature of the sport can only be realized in the ring as a luchador—not through a ringside analysis. If nothing else, an explication of the mechanics will serve to illustrate the complexities of the culture of lucha libre.

“…the world of lucha libre is one of intrigue and mystery regardless as to whether or not some of its mechanics are revealed, for the truth of the simultaneously competitive/cooperative nature of the sport can only be realized in the ring as a luchador—not through a ringside analysis.”

It’s worth noting that I perceive lucha libre as a performance art, and thus treat it as such in my analyses just as I do when I perform. My goal is not to elevate lucha libre to the pretentious heights of those classical arts, but instead to illustrate how lucha libre contains several facets of wildly creative expression, and in turn, attempt to illuminate the internal drive to “do” lucha libre that many luchadors are subjected to.

Inspiration for the title comes from Nicholas Sammond of the University of Toronto.

2 Comments Add yours

    1. El Fénix says:

      Gracias por tus palabras amables!

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