This is Between You and Meme, a series where we talk to people whose most awkward, embarrassing, or weird moments made them go viral, and try to understand the impact of internet fame.
In 2019, a then-38-year-old man named Dante Gulapa soared into memehood—and he’s still flying.
In nothing but a hat, underwear, knee pads, and some bling, Gulapa performed some sexy dance moves from a room in his house in Malabon, Philippines. He uploaded videos of his performances online. The next thing he knew, the internet was calling him things like “Big Papa” and “The Flying Eagle” (the latter being a reference to his now-signature dance move of swaying on one leg and leaning forward, with his arms flailing behind him).
That Gulapa’s gyrations caught people’s attention shouldn’t be surprising, because it’s not the first time they did.
He used to be an exotic dancer (known as “macho dancers” in the Philippines), just like his dad and some of his uncles. But Gulapa was not just any macho dancer, he was a competitive one. He used to join what’s known in the industry as “inter-gay bar” dance competitions to win a few hundred pesos. While his competitors had the backing of Manila’s leading gay bars, he practiced by himself and joined independently. Sometimes, he was a runner-up. Many other times, he won.
“I used to be so good at erotic dances. It was really wild. Really wild. And my body was so elastic back then,” Gulapa told VICE.
It was in memory of his macho dancing days that he recorded his first videos and posted them on Facebook, something his wife did not take kindly to at first.
She and some members of her family eventually saw Gulapa’s videos and asked him to take them down, partly because she was worried about what her children would think. But Gulapa said he was hard-headed and, at least on that front, was not swayed.
“When I want something, I want something,” he said.
His kids, however, were bullied over the videos.
“Hey, your dad’s dancing in his underwear,” their classmates would say. Gulapa’s kids would sometimes cry and he and his wife would have to talk to the parents of the other kids to get them to stop the teasing. At this point, Gulapa said he considered deleting the videos.
But “there was something stopping me,” said Gulapa.
He realized his videos had gained a lot of traction when he started receiving direct messages from strangers and getting recognized in public. Some people would even call out to him and start mimicking his moves.
Then, some local TV shows featured him.
Gulapa started receiving invitations to appear in events and more TV segments, scoring months-long endorsement deals and commercial gigs with a bunch of local brands. Restaurants and other establishments also started giving him and his friends discounts on their meals and services, if not giving them for free.
It was around this time that Gulapa’s wife, who had previously wanted his videos taken down, thought he should pursue show business full-time. But Gulapa didn’t think he could do it, partly because he didn’t finish school. He has a hard time reading scripts, he said, and didn’t want to risk being too slow on the job or being a burden to other people on set.
Of course, not everyone was dancing to Gulapa’s beat. He also faced plenty of haters who said things like “Aren’t you ashamed? Your kids will see this stuff,” or “You’re so fat, it’s hard to look at you.”
Gulapa said he didn’t let these affect him and would sometimes respond with jokes like, “Oh, it’s your first time seeing a roasted pig dance?”
But he understands that people have different tastes and that he can’t be to everyone’s liking.
“Some people like you, others don’t; some people get irritated by you, others get good vibes,” he said.
If there’s one thing he learned from going viral, Gulapa said it’s to be smart about money.
He made some dough from the endorsement and commercial deals, but said he lost a lot of it to some less-than-smart investments. He wishes he had just kept the money and used it to put up a business or help pay for his kids’ education.
But the music is still going for Gulapa, and it seems like he’ll keep dancing.
“Going viral, that’s a short stint. I didn’t expect to be viral for this long, even until now.”