On the second day of the Erotic Authors Association conference in Las Vegas, I participated as demo model for Gray Dancer’s “Hands-on Kink” workshop. And although he was then jetting off to various exotic ports, I was able to get an interview out of him as well! So here is both my report on the class and a follow-up interview with him.
Now, bear in mind that he was giving this workshop to erotica authors — so the overall emphasis was on how to write convincing BDSM scenes and stories, not how to have a hot time in bed. (Of course, if anything reported here leads people to have a hot time in — or out of — bed, that is warmly encouraged!)
We negotiated a bit in advance by email — the types of acts he’d probably demonstrate, what I was up for, any physical limitations, what to wear.
His class covered an overview of BDSM, a particularly versatile acronym covering Bondage, Discipline — both physical and mental — and Sadism & Masochism; but then some people think of the D and S part as Domination & Submission. The kinky acts. Google for more if necessary. He discussed the variety of roles (which I’m not going to attempt to cover here), common practices, safety concerns, resources… and then it was time for the good stuff! The demonstration part! I came up to the front, stripped off my dress, and stood there, stark naked, as he bent me over the table.
Ha. You wish! Please, people. This was a professional conference of writers. We behaved with dignity the whole time. (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!) I did peel off my dress, but to reveal the leotard beneath it.
The first part of the demonstration focused on impact play — that is, whacking. Spanking. Hitting. Impacting someone’s body with something else. He demo’ed bare-handed spanking, paddling, flogging, and a bit of showy whipping with a … whippy sort of thing that was not a bullwhip. I’m sorry, you’d have to ask him what it was. My back was turned!
Now, most people do indulge in this sort of thing naked, yes. But it “works” clothed as well — in fact, clothing sort of disperses the vibrations and sensations from the impact over a larger area. He went over things like speed, intensity, keeping a steady rhythm, not keeping a steady rhythm, and staying connected with your partner and checking in.
The latter part of the demonstration focused on bondage — tying, both the practical and aesthetic types.
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But enough of all that! Let’s get to the interview! If you read carefully, there may be another picture or two at the bottom.
Shar: You do a lot of teaching and demonstrations. What are some things you enjoy about that?
Gray Dancer: I’ve been a performer literally as long as I can remember, so there is certainly a level of enjoyment from being in front of an audience in both my teaching and demos. However, much like the rope scenes themselves, it’s more about a connection to the audience — entertaining, titillating, revelatory, whatever. It’s also a goal to open up a doorway into what’s possible in the same way my teachers and partners have opened doors for me.
Shar: Suppose someone sees one of your demonstrations, and is intrigued. What are some next steps?
Gray Dancer: One of the best beginner’s resources on the web is twistedmonk.com, which has about a dozen well-produced free videos on the subject of rope bondage (as well as selling some of the best rope out there).
Next I’d recommend going on Fetlife.com and joining a local group — there are “munches” (informal gatherings of kinksters) all over the world, as well as special interest groups such as the Pittsburgh Rope Bite or Elevate in Wisconsin or… well, you get the idea. These are places where people get together just to enjoy and talk and explore their kink in a practice mode.
You can also just dive in and attend Shibaricon in May in Chicago, but that’s like going into the deep end. I know a lot of people who do it, though, and come out much the happier for it.
Shar: Do you think someone who does not personally partake can still describe bondage and impact play accurately and emotionally? What would help a writer “get there” better, other than personal experience?
Gray Dancer: I don’t think you have to partake, any more than you have to kill someone to write about murder. However, it certainly can lend some different insights and often new directions to your scenes. I went through a fire-cupping experience (an Asian medical practice) even though it is not my kink so that I could more accurately describe in in my book Nawashi. I discovered that while most of it was the same as I expected, there were more sounds involved that lent a greater depth to my scene (at least, I hope so).
However, it would be presumptuous to think that because you try rope you “know what it’s like.” You only know what it’s like for YOU; someone else may have a totally different reaction, and that’s where I think a writer has an opportunity to use a rope scene in a book not only to make it hot, but also to reveal something about the characters involved (top and bottom) or let them use it to discover something new about themselves or each other.
Shar: When you read erotica that involves BDSM, what kinds of elements do you appreciate? That is, are you looking for accurate scene descriptions, or more oblique references, or something else?
Gray Dancer: Much more oblique — I don’t really care what the mechanics are, I want to know what the characters are feeling. Don’t tell me how long the whip is; tell me how the top feels when her hand curls around the handle and she looks at the man on the bed. I don’t care where her arms were bound, I care what she felt when she realized she could no longer cover herself from his gaze. Most of all, show me through the characters how the BDSM is forming a connection between them, or not (because that’s a conflict too and therefore interesting). Honestly, the best thing about erotic romance is that you can get the connection without all that annoying communication stuff that is necessary in real life.
Shar: You’re also an erotica writer yourself. How much of what you personally enjoy or know about shows up in your writing?
Gray Dancer: A lot. In fact, there is some fear that at some point I’ll stop having experiences worth writing about, and actually have to rely on something scary like imagination or (shudder) research. All of my short fiction is based on actual experiences, and my first novel was almost completely populated with romanticized versions of actual events.
My second book and third book were more about imaginary scenes… but the strange thing is that since I’ve written them, many of the experiences have happened to me in one form or other. I also take great joy in including real people such as Michelle Belanger as characters in my books — or thinly veiled characters based rather obviously on real people.
However, I don’t feel that I need to be turned on by something to make it sexy. It’s enough pleasure to take something and craft it into a piece that someone else finds hot. In fact, I’d say it’s the same instinct that makes me enjoy topping that makes me enjoy writing erotica: the ability to capture someone’s attention and then turn them on.
Shar: For me, the most interesting part of our demonstration was your response to someone’s question about how quickly you could restrain someone. Although I had volunteered for the entire demonstration, and would certainly have done anything you asked to the best of my ability, you called up an audience volunteer for just that portion. I have my explanation for why you did that, but I’m interested in hearing it from your perspective. [The demonstration involved having a woman stand with her arms outstretched, and then Gray placed a hank of rope in each of her hands, and then he pressed various parts of her body to the point of causing discomfort or mild pain. The woman was “bound” instantly.]
Gray Dancer: There’s a few different reasons behind that. The easiest one is that I had been asked by the conference organizers to include people from the audience in the demo, and I knew from prior conversations that VineyardRoad (the volunteer) would enjoy helping out.
That’s a bit of a cop out, though, because the real reason lies in the dynamic between you and me vs. her and me (incidentally, I missed your grammar lecture because I had to read, and you refused to share your notes, so that sentence structure is entirely your fault).
[Shar’s note: It is true, I don’t send out copies of conference presentations; but note that his use of “between you and me” and “between her and me” is entirely correct! The man is a natural.]
You were a delightful bottom, communicative and cooperative and sexy. You told me what you liked, you encouraged me to do more, and you were, as you say, willing to do just about anything I asked. As your top, it was an equal partnership between us, with the goal of first, presenting a good show, and second, having some fun while we were at it.
VineyardRoad is a submissive. When I called her up, I was not topping, I was dominating. There is no value judgment there; it is like saying she has blonde hair and you have red hair — one is not better than the other, and while some may have a preference, others (myself included) enjoy both.
More to the point, in a top/bottom relationship, if I tell you to hold the ropes out at arms length as I did to VineyardRoad, you do so as long as you feel like it, then you might decide that you are tired of that game and want to do something more interesting. And why shouldn’t you? You are under no obligation to do what I say unless you feel like it.
A submissive, though, does what a dominant asks because doing so is essential to their self-identity. If I had asked her to stand there with her arms out for the entire class, she would have. She would have probably burst into tears if her arms had given out, whereas if she’d kept them up until I released her with a “good job,” it would have made her glow with pride for the rest of the weekend.
Because of how busy the conference was, Gray and I didn’t have much time to talk after the demonstration. In fact, this interview (conducted by email) was really the first “debriefing” that we had, so I was particularly interested in hearing his perspective about that last question. He is perfectly correct: I was not submitting, I was volunteering. And while those two actions could look the same to an onlooker, they are not the same. What’s different is the emotional response.
That’s what’s important to remember as a writer, I think (you do remember this entire post is about writing, don’t you?): If you are going to effectively portray bondage, or spanking, or domination and submission, what “counts” is the emotional connection. Yes, you can describe where his right hand goes and what she smacked him with and how she was tied, but without that emotional element, you’re just giving stage directions, and it won’t be convincing. If you’ve ever read any bad BDSM erotica (and I hope you haven’t), then you know what I’m talking about — the reader is thinking, “He’s a bully, and she’s a doormat.” With the emotional connection evident, the same scene can be intensely moving. Is it hard to write that? Of course. It’s hard to write love, too, but plenty of novelists manage it. As Gray said in his interview, though, it’s that feeling that’s compelling to read about, not the blow-by-blow (heh — a little pun there!) descriptions.
So, writers — go forth and write strong connections!
Impact play photos courtesy of erotica writer Cecilia Duvalle. Bondage photos courtesy of erotica writer K.D. Grace. And starring Gray Dancer as himself! There is tons of info and good stuff on Gray’s website, so I recommend checking it out.
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