Inside the hidden world of BDSM and fetish performance art

Inside the hidden world of BDSM and fetish performance art

Main pic: Members of Montreal-based fetish performance art group Backdoor Fairy Tales performed at The Imperial Theatre as part of the Q-City Kink alternative lifestlyle festival over the long weekend. The event unveiled the artistic and approachable sides of an often misunderstood subculture.

Article and photo: Ruby Pratka.

If your idea of bondage, domination and sadomasochism comes from the painful-to-watch abuse scenes in such movies as Pulp Fiction and 50 Shades of Grey, Contessa Alura would like to, well, disabuse you.

“BDSM is not about wailing on each other with a flogger,” explains Alura, a self-described professional dominatrix with a ready smile and an approachable, lady-next-door vibe. “It’s about establishing a connection between you and the other person. People think it’s all about the pain, but that’s not it at all. It’s about the pleasure.”

Contessa was introducing curious couples to the world of flogging and sadomasochism as part of Q-City Kink, a three-day festival highlighting fetish and BDSM lifestyles held over the Victoria Day long weekend. Participants could attend workshops to learn more about the BDSM and fetish experiences, meet like-minded people and take in nightly burlesque and performance art shows.

“The goal of this festival is to open people to a whole new world,” says the weekend’s organizer, Master Severyn Kain. “We have BDSM, fetish, burlesque and a lot of other stuff. People may come for the burlesque show and discover fetish, they might find something completely new.”

“If I had gone by my first experience, I wouldn’t be here now, because it was really scary, but it doesn’t have to be scary. ” says Vanessa Cummings, a retired soldier who is on the board of Montreal’s Alternative Lifestyle Community Centre. She has been part of the BDSM community for over 20 years.

Cummings is also Alura’s live-in partner and collaborator. “I’m collared to Alura, and that fulfils my need for domination and submission,” she says. “People have this misconception that BDSM is all ‘you do what I say’ but in reality, it’s the submissive who holds the power. She [the dominant person] will push my limits but she won’t break them. If she does, that’s abuse. It’s all about respect. I respect her and she respects me.”

“People think we’re all these crazy freaks, buy we’re all so quote-unquote normal that it’s unbelievable,” Cummings said. “There are teachers, doctors, lawyers and people from all kinds of professions here.”

“It’s a fun little world,” said one participant, a leatherworker known in the fetish world as Lord Saxnot. “Events like this are helpful because they have workshops; that educational aspect of it is sorely needed. My personal opinion is that there’s too much ‘anything goes’ and not enough education, mentoring or finding out how to do it properly.”

“BDSM is all about communication,” Saxnot adds. “We’re finding common ground to explore and play on. There’s a lot of give-and-take. When I meet a new person who’s interested in me, we sit down and negotiate what we can and can’t do, we decide how we’re going to fulfill each other. More communication goes on in the first 10 minutes than with some ‘vanilla’ couples who have been together 10 years.”

“Society has always considered it taboo, but the ancient Egyptians have BDSM scenes in their tombs and the Greeks had BDSM orgies. Only in the past 2000 years, with religion and oppression, has it become a taboo subject,” he says. “People are more accustomed to married swingers than BDSM. A guy sleeps with 20 women and he’s such a man, but if you beat someone consensually with a flogger, you’re a freak. People enjoy [BDSM], they get endorphins and an adrenaline rush. If they’re enjoying it, what’s the harm?”

“When I discovered [the fetish world] it was like liberation for me,” says François, a systems analyst from Lévis who is particularly passionate about punk. “When I went to student bars, it felt like everyone was the same. This was different. People are much closer to their emotions, much more authentic. I felt much more at ease with this group.”

“It’s liberating,” says jewelry designer Astrid Apissoghomian, also known by her burlesque stage name Nina Feather. “I’m on such a high that I don’t even notice how the audience reacts when I perform. I’m doing it for me.”

The fetish world also has a theatrical side, more akin to Cirque du Soleil and carnival performance art than NC-17 movies. Goddess Mai is a classically trained pianist and also a rope bondage artist – making graceful suspended shapes with the bodies of willing models (who have to have the upper body strength of gymnasts).

“I saw a [rope bondage] performance once where a couple was doing something so sensitive and deep that it brought tears to my eyes,” sais Mai, who has been doing rope bondage art for the past six years. “My parents wouldn’t get it if I explained it to them, they only see it as torture. They’re another generation and I respect their views, but that’s not it at all.”
“You need to fall in love with it, and then practice a lot.”
“I love the intimacy, the connection with the other person and the aesthetic side,” she says. “I want people to feel what I felt— not just ‘oh, that’s pretty’ but a rush of emotion.”

Categories: Arts & Culture

About Author

Ruby Pratka

Ruby Pratka grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, studied in Ottawa and took the roundabout way to Quebec City via Russia, Slovenia, France, Switzerland, Belgium and East Africa. In addition to writing for LifeinQuebec.com and Life in Québec Magazine, she also contributes to other media outlets in English and French. She enjoys keeping a close eye on international affairs, listening to good music and singing in large groups.

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