As a human statue, Joshua Estrada-Romero gets paid to not move. Slathered in bronze, gold or marble-white body paint, he poses as Zeus, a cowboy, Rodin’s “The Thinker” and other sculptures at celebrity parties and corporate shindigs.
“Sometimes people poke me to see if I’m real,” says Estrada-Romero, who earned an M.F.A. in dance at UCI last year. Occasionally, he breaks character to surprise viewers. “I’ll open my eyes and wave, then go back to my pose. Or I’ll jump out and scare them,” he says.
Although standing motionless may seem like an odd job for a dancer, Estrada-Romero says his ballet training gives him the muscle control and strength needed to stay frozen in sometimes awkward positions. “I look at statue work as dance,” he says, adding that 10 minutes is the maximum he can go without some sort of movement. “People always ask how hard it is, so I tell them, ‘Try standing still for one minute.’ They usually can’t.”
One of his toughest gigs was portraying a Hindu god at a Beverly Hills wedding, sitting cross-legged atop an 8-foot-high pedestal for an hour. Bad weather and skimpy costumes can add to the discomfort, he says.
Estrada-Romero’s favorite undercover sculpture assignment was for a Halloween bash at Sylvester Stallone’s mansion, where he was allowed to “come alive” to spook guests who thought he was an immobile bronze cowboy.
When not pretending to be made of stone or metal, the La Puente native operates Fuse, his nonprofit dance company, and teaches at Orange County School of the Arts and local colleges. He also choreographs and performs dance pieces across the U.S.
Estrada-Romero got into the arts almost by accident. As an undergrad at Cal State Fullerton more than a decade ago, he planned to major in business so he could open a restaurant or club, he says. But after taking a beginning dance class, he switched gears. Later, an instructor connected him with Don McLeod’s living statues company.
Not all of Estrada-Romero’s roles for McLeod require being stationary. At one Los Angeles party, he portrayed a dancing robot. And some clients permit him to interact with guests. But typically, he tries to stay static, except for a 15-minute break once per hour.
Playing a statue is “extremely hard on the body,” Estrada-Romero says. “I love to move and dance, so when you’re asked to stand still for moments at a time, you realize how much work that actually is. Still, I’d much rather do that than sit at a desk.”