Dynamic Tensions: The Physical Culture Theatre Show & The Global Transmission of Health, Fitness and Manliness

Activity: OtherTypes of Public engagement and outreach - Public lecture/debate/seminar


In the 19th and early 20th century, physical fitness was spread internationally through theatrical performances, which included weightlifting, wrestling, strongman acts, gymnastics, and posing. The ‘physical culture show’ combined spectacle and lecture, with the ‘science’ of bodily self-improvement sitting alongside theatrical and sometimes freakish displays. International tours of such performances served to broadcast the message of physical culture worldwide. While physical culturists aimed to serve the world by spreading the gospel of health and strength, they also invented and spread models of modern masculine identity.

Dynamic Tensions is a performance that flexes the memory of the physical culture spectacular, deconstructing its messages of health, strength, and manliness to find other, less dominant narratives of bodies and gender that have always been worked out through physical practice. It features a cast of performers, athletes, and fitness professionals, performing exercise demonstrations, weightlifting, strength feats, gymnastics, and posing. Looking to the theatrical origins of physical fitness, Dynamic Tensions establishes the performative nature of masculine identities built through fitness regimes both historical and modern. It examines how a male bodily ideal interacts with global racial and sexual identities, and how the practice of physical culture can be a site for new identities to be built. The performance is written and directed by Broderick Chow.
Period13 Oct 2017
Event titleArts and Humanities Festival 2017: World Service
Event typeOther
LocationLondon, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionNational


  • physical culture
  • history of science
  • masculinity
  • performance
  • lecture-performance
  • body
  • history of the body
  • fitness
  • gymnastics