Dancing in my Cockroach Killers Will Make You Shake Your Booty Like Iris Chacon!

By Fanny Garcia
Founding Editor

Photo provided by Pregones

Photo courtesy of Pregones Theater and Puerto Rican Traveling Theater

Comprised of poems and monologues written by award winning poet and playwright Magdalena Gómez, Dancing in my Cockroach Killers is equal parts musical, poetry, and dance club. Adapted for the stage and directed by Rosalba Rolón, the production has traveled from Pregones Puerto Rican Traveling Theater’s New York  stage to the  Los Angeles Theatre Center for Encuentro 2014.

Much of the work used in the piece focused on complex life issues like domestic violence, racial prejudice, and sexism. The combination of poetic language and song and dance made these heavy topics palatable. However, sometimes the show lost momentum during these scenes. Rocky Vega’s performance of a battered woman, for example, was poignant but not powerful. It looked like she understood the responsibility she had to tell the story but halfway through she became overwhelmed by the heaviness of the piece.

The show is strongest when it hones in on the revolutionary and pioneering lives of such Puerto Rican icons as Lolita Lebron, Joe Cuba and the wild, pelirroja dancer, singer and entertainer Iris Chacon. Lebron was Puerto Rican national who, in 1954, led an assault on the U.S. House of Representatives following the announcement of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Joe Cuba was a conga drummer of Puerto Rican descent also known as the “Father of Boogaloo” a genre of Latin music and dance popular in the 1960s.

Chacon’s talent for entertainment inspired the entire show: Her exuberant presence can be felt in the way the women dance around the stage in bright neon, sky-high heels, like the ones Chacon wore when she performed. Her zest for life emanated from the drumbeats and rhythms provided by the live music on stage.

Before JLo, Nikki Minaj, Selena, and all the other bootylicious female entertainers of today, there was Iris Chacon. She paved the way for the rockanrollera voice of Gloria Trevi (also a pelirroja), Alejandra Guzman, and possibly even Shakira before she went blonde and pop on us. She was the wild, scantily clad and unapologetic “Bomba de Puerto Rico.” When I was a child,  I used to watch her on Siempre en Domingo with my mom, mesmerized by her dance moves, her brashness and her sequined animal print costumes.

Chacon made many appearances in the 80’s and 90’s on popular American TV shows like “The Merv Griffin Show,” “Geraldo Rivera Show,” and the “Late Show with David Letterman.” She was one of many other performers who were the face of Latino entertainment in the U.S. at that time.

Although the play is not about Iris Chacon, the references to her and other Puerto Rican icons remind us about the goal of Encuentro 2014 –  to curate a theatre festival comprised of Latino talent that demonstrates the diversity and longevity within this community.

Dancing in my Cockroach Killers contributes to the tradition of historical documentation of the Latino experience. Whether Puerto Rican or Mexican or Honduran, we have shared histories of struggle and triumph. The staging of Magdalena Gómez’s’ literature remind audiences that Latinos have been part of the fabric of U.S. culture for generations. We are not just the recently arrived, we have been here, and we have influenced people worldwide.

* * *

Dancing in my Cockroack Killers based on selected works by Magdalena Gómez and adapted for the stage and directed by Rosalba Rolón continues at the Los Angeles Theatre Center as part of Encuentro 2014 on the following dates:

Friday, November 7th at 8:00 pm

Saturday, November 8th at 2 pm.