Performing “Being” a Man

February 1, 2018

Self-portrait as the New York Dolls
Personas: New York Doll. Embracing the New York Dolls and the one inside me.

As I look at myself in the mirror and photograph myself as men I’m looking for answers and qualities to borrow from them. Why men? In my view,  because men have optionality on their identities and can fluctuate between their different personas with ease and acceptance.

The range of what “being a man” is nowadays has its own burden: to accept a new paradigm in society, home and in work dynamics. From being a stay-home dad or having less income than your female partner, or being more open and sensitive, still can be remixed with being powerful, in-charged, direct and confident. Even in the theater and in the opera, men performed a diversity of roles, including the female ones, which in a way shows an acceptance for the versatility of how we can see men. As an spectator, I see that the range of personas that a men play allows us to accept the diversity of expressions of what a man can be and become.

In the past year I had a blast of creating personas that were inspired by men, still sprouting from my true self.  The men that I use as muses were rock stars. I loved their confident attitude explore the sensitivity of their feminine side from Robert Smith to Bono. This was a liberating exercise, to be become those care free rockers, and to have proof of that in photos and video. The camera and the mirror were my witnesses and oh boy did I needed to let that out in a private space. I danced, became over the top, extravagant, weird, I gave myself permission to come out of my own box and nobody told me to tone it down.

When I see the persona of the male rocker, it tells me so much of how we give permission to man to be outraged, let go, be glamorous and sometimes to be sensitive too. When I listen to Guns & Roses “Sweet Child of Mine” or “Paradise City” I want to dance and just go as crazy as Axl Rose did, with his corky dancing, tight pants, bandana, silver jewelry, cut-out t-shirts, black nail polish and eyeliner. This image is not associated with home making, being a “good father” or a steady provider, yet for men as a society we provide a more wider palette of emotions and expressions. I know many friends that love heavy metal and that are loving husbands, friends and partner.

In these photographs I’m investigating the range within myself and the freedom to do so. I remember being 12 years old and prepping for the final recital at Chevelita Pinzón’s Dance School.

Chavelita Pinzón: my dear folk-dance teacher. She’s been the teacher of thousands of children and has dedicated her life to teaching and promoting Panamanian culture and identity in Panama and around the world.

I studied with Chavelita since I was about 3 years old up until about 13. The traditional Panamanian dance became an integral part of my identity through its repetitive practice. I loved dancing and studying all the elements that composed our national dances and costumes, as well as dancing. There were dances only for boys and only for girls. There was one specifically that I was dying perform: The dance of the Diablicos Sucios de Azuero.

I wanted to perform as a “Diablico Sucio”, a Panamanian folk character that embodies the devil. The music is repetitive direct and quite minimal. Also the dress as elaborate is simple and comfortable instead of the pollera (the woman’s dress that require about 4 hours of dress up ritual, but that whole process is worthy of another post.)

Originally, when the spaniards were spreading catholicism they would wear these elaborates costumes so scare the “infidels” who did not believe on the catholic god. Natural from the central provinces of Panama, this dance focused on “zapateo”, a repetitive direct, clear and strong step, with a lineage borrowed from flamenco. The costume is a red stripped jumpsuit, with a mask depicting a devil, a dried cow bladder and castañuelas (castanets).

So badly did I want to inhabit this outfit, have a determined and clear moment with my feet, wear big bold red and black, as well as investigate being a character that can be scary and beautiful and not have to do 4 hours of make up, like the ones girls use. I played with my brothers mask and outfit and secretly practice. Never performing it in public, because girls didn’t do that. Plus these devils reminded me of those rock stars, unapologetic, sometimes scary other times even naughty.

I found this insightful TED talk by actor Justin Baldoni on the bounding scripts we, as a society, assigns to men, allowing them to perform only within that realm. The limitation of who we are or can be is at the center of my research and work, as I continue to build the personas series and to transform myself in the process by looking at myself in these mirrors.

For me performance is one of the avenues that allows me to draw a sketch between my inner world and the what’s happening outside. Either it is through portraiture, investigating my relationship with pop or Panamanian culture performance serves as tool to expand the emotional palette that I have as a toolkit as a human being, beyond being a woman, Panamanian or as an artist.


After listening to Baldoni’s reflections, I was so inspire to see how by all coming together we can get there. I do find myself finishing some men’s sentences, other times not having the opportunity to be heard and/or feeling belittled. It is the work of both men and women to build space for understanding and compassion leading to freedom to be ourselves. In the meantime performance is my avenue, as within my own truth, I can safely explore my mirrors: Maybe one day I perform the diablicos sucio’s dance, as a male rocker with castañuelas💃👨‍🎤😈 🤘👹 🌟 🎸 !