7 Sep 2018

Jacob Tamata: Pushing back against toxic masculinity with dance

10:30 am on 7 September 2018

Jacob Tamata is an exciting emerging dancer, voguing his way across Auckland. Ahead of a Both Worlds documentary on directing his first show,  he explains why vogue isn't just a genre of dance, it's a lifestyle, darling.

I am Cook Islands Māori - my mother is Māori and my dad is a Cook Islander - and I grew up in Mount Roskill. It’s a suburb where there’s such a diverse array of cultures; looking back, I’m proud of spending the past 22 years there.

When I was really young, I was always moving around the house. It wasn’t dancing to begin with - it was just a need to move - but pretty quickly I was able to channel my energy. I instantly enjoyed dancing, not because I wanted to impress others, but because it gave me a chance to listen to what my body was saying to me. Dancing for me, whatever the genre, is therapeutic for my mind, spirit and heart.

I discovered voguing as a dance form about five years ago, but over time it’s become a lifestyle. Voguing gives people the ability to translate how they feel into movement, while their bodies are able to articulate empowering stories. Being able to applaud and support each other in voguing is a bonus, and that love is always reciprocated. We give each other life.

Vogue culture ties in with my sexuality and me being a queer person of colour. It gives me a space to own, and feel safe and powerful in. I love that it brings people so much fulfillment. It comes from a place within that just feels right.

Earlier this year I directed my first full-length show, BIONICA, at the Pacific Dance Festival in Auckland. I had the wonderful opportunity to work alongside the co-founder of FAFSWAG (an LGBT Pacific arts collective), Tanu Gago, who was the producer of the show.

Our vision for BIONICA was to break away from the personal grievances we queer people of colour have endured. Rather than focus on our pain, and how badly we were treated growing up, I wanted the show’s narrative to be one of revolution. BIONICA is set in outer space in an imagine future.

The future holds limitless possibilities and creative ideas, and the hope that certain stigmas against queer and trans people of colour can be defeated. By creating our own imagined future, it gave us a way for us to show our idealistic attitudes towards body sovereignty. The show depicts a utopia that reflects my, and my community’s, voice.

BIONICA also represents a revolution against the idea of toxic masculinity, which personally reflects the stigmas men have had towards me, and what they’ve always expected of me before I flourished in my queerness. I wanted to strip away masculine feelings of entitlement, and show my authentic self. The collaborative nature of the show also allowed others in our community to contribute their stories of sexuality empowerment, and their hopes for what’s to come.

In terms of the real future, I feel a real need to keep making art through dance, and while I don’t know what it actually looks like for my community, I know we all have a part to play.

*As told to Max Towle. Edited for clarity and brevity.

Jacob Tamata features in Both Worlds at 10.55am on September 9 on Three.

Both Worlds and The Wireless' video of Jacob Tamata were made with support from NZ On Air.