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Professions 29 March 2017 9 5765

The Good, The Bad and the Loco. Bolivia’s female wrestlers in national costume

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“Lucha libre” – a free fight – is a version of professional wrestling that originated in Mexico. Bolivia adopted this partially choreographed, violent and physically demanding entertainment and put a twist on it. The stars of the show are women from the city of El Alto.

Related: The mighty girls of Karachi's first female boxing club

These female wrestlers are known as cholitas luchadores (fighting cholitas). They are indigenous Bolivian women. Traditionally, they wear bright multi-layered skirts and plait their hair. They pride themselves on looking their best in the ring. The show is a mix of genuine fighting and theatrics. Cholitas play one of two characters: either an evil “rudo” or a good “tecnico”. The latter usually wins this pre-arranged fight to send a positive message to the audience, but not before she gets a good beating.

Related: Homeless by day, legendary fighter by night

Luchadores don’t hold back in the ring. For them it’s more than just work, a show or a sport – it’s a chance to escape their everyday worries, to become strong and free. This empowerment mirrors changes in the treatment of cholitas in Bolivian society. While they previously faced discrimination, cholitas rights and opportunities have improved over the last decade, since the country got its first indigenous president, Evo Morales, in 2005.

Traumas are a regular occurrence in the ring, but they don’t stop the luchadores, some of whom are even prepared to fight while pregnant. They also have aliases, names for their powerful and fearless alter-egos. Luchadores are looked up to, envied and sometimes feared, even though outside the ring they are regular women: wives, mothers, business owners and even schoolgirls.

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