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A petite, elegant German woman in flowing wrap-around Thai pants rises to her feet from the edge of the circle where the students are gathered. The warm sun rays, rare during this unusually cold Berlin summer, plays on her fine features. The students are poised, focused and freshly alert after a brief meditation. She spills the contents of a small bag onto the floor. Dozens of old fashioned wooden clothes pegs scatter about. The class on Pain Processing is about to begin.
Mean time, in another room, two handsome gay men are leading a men's breath, pain and eroticism workshop.
In another room, an Australian scholar, who's a heavy-playing switchy kinkster, leads a discussion on the eroticization of cultural trauma and internalized guilt. This is Berlin after all, so you can guess that it's a very, very heavy topic. As the song goes in the musical Cabaret… "All we ask is 'ein bißchen verständnis', a little understanding!"
Later, an English genderqueer therapist facilitates a conversation on the healing potential of sadomasochistic sex and ritualized role-play combined with conscious self-examination.
These were but a few of the very interesting workshops offered during the weekend event called in Berlin last month. Organized by Felix Ruckert , a highly respected contemporary dance choreographer, and Caprice Dilba, an accomplished performer and producer, Xplore created an intersection of various paths of self-expression and sensuality, including yoga, SM, performance and dance.
A truly unique event, it put the "alternative" back into alternative sex.
In the past few years SM conferences have become quite common. That is a good thing. Unfortunately sometimes the offerings and the mood at the events end up feeling commonplace. That's not a good thing.
That's not to say that classes that cover the essential basics are becoming tiresome, although at times they are taught in tiresome ways. Quality classes and information sources on the basics are always absolutely necessary, and they can be very dynamic and sexy. But increasingly it feels like we dumb down contents, make gross generalizations and believe deeply in simple rhetoric with out questioning the validity of our own ways and thoughts.
Xplore, on the other hand, delightfully combined German intellectualism with Berlin's notorious streak for anarchism and creativity. The discussions and dialogues at times were difficult, struggled or even confrontational. But that's so refreshing when it comes to something as important as humanity's expression of desire and authenticity.
By combining the discourse of sadomasochistic pleasures with the discipline of dance, performance and Yoga, the attendees were more able to free themselves from the stereotype of D/s power dynamics. There were collars and acts of devotion to be seen, but nowhere did I see gratuitous demonstrations of ye' ol' dominance or over-acted submission. While there were commanding personalities there, there were certainly no non-consensual impositions of self proclaimed dominance over unsuspecting others. Attendees gracefully interacted with one another. Scenes in progress were fluid and sexy. Many people switched modes and moods mid scene from one to another as gracefully as dancers switch directions.
The wind-down play party was one of the most elegant and sensual affairs I've been to in a long time. The simple dance studio / loft quickly converted from a seminar venue to softly lit alcoves of erotic adventures. The participants conscientiously engaged in sex + SM as identity performance and performance as authentic sexuality. Not trapped in the cliché of fetish wear, they wore what expressed their power, vulnerability and grace.
(Ok, except for that one creepy guy who wore black jeans, black t-shirt, leather vest and a decrepit old floppy leather dom cap. He was icky and everyone stayed politely clear from him. Fashion advice to single men: Don't wear this combo and leer at women. It's really NOT sexy and you'll get instantly categorized as a lurky geezer.)
Beyond the play alcoves was the lounge area where people mingled and chatted while snacking and sipping on fine German wines. The smokers were out on the roof top lounge, hovering just under the awning, staying out of the drizzle. The space operates on adult respect of mutual respect and moderation. Rigid, puritanical and prohibitionist rules are not the norm here as at many of the US events. In Berlin this would be considered bordering on Fascistic -- which of course is one of the gravest insults among these bohemians. You may think that people might be drunk off their rockers, and playing against Safe / Sane / Consensual principles, but that's not the case. There was one obnoxiously drunk local domme who made a vulgar ass of herself, but people stepped back and seemed amused as she unknowingly entertained the lounging crowd with her self-sabotaging antics. Drunks are funny, at a distance.
The party continued into the wee hours. Initially, I was tired enough from the emotionally and intellectually engaging weekend, but once the party started it was just hard to leave. So once again, I saw another dawn warm the skyline of Berlin.
So are all play parties and SM events in Berlin like this one? Probably not, but some things such as adult respect for personal decisions are likely to be more pervasive in Germany then in the States. I say this because of the general difference social attitudes around adult responsibility and weariness of top-down dictation of moral codes. According to the attendees, however, even in Berlin Xplore is unusual for its crossover demographics and interdisciplinary approach. It is indeed a brave experimentation in the exploration of kink play.
The US kink subculture and its network is enormous, simply because we sample from the sheer size of our national population of over three hundred million. We are also privileged to speak the current global lingua franca with a large net using population. We certainly wield great influence upon the flow of information. At times this makes us quite culturally chauvinistic in many facets, even in the practice of alternative sexuality. We didn't invent sadomasochistic or fetishishtic sex, yet we are often guilty of behaving as if we did.
Take for example, the credo of "safe, sane and consensual", the various basic formats of scene negotiations or the language and jargon or D/s relationships that we take for granted. Against the time line of human sexuality, including all the various power and pain play, what we treat as nearly gospel are totally modern blips in this time line with identifiable epicenters in twentieth century metropolitan US. By putting aside the near fundamentalist attachment to these values and examining how other cultures approach "alternative erotic interactions" we give ourselves an opportunity to truly grasp what is good in the ways we've developed and critique our beliefs and behavior that may be meaningless, misguided or possibly even harmful.
Frederick the Great, The great Prussian king of the 18th century, built his pleasure palace of Sans Souci ("Without Worry") just outside of Berlin. Perhaps someday a people's Sans Souci may grace us with pleasure and intellect. For that we must engage in more travel and discussion with other culture and community members. We must fend off stagnation of thought and rigorously fend off the potential for fanaticism of alt.sex fundamentalism. To grow as sexual and intelligent beings, we must, to quote my Berlin friend Steph, "dare to really challenge belief systems by not shying away from controversial discussion."