All photos Puneet Sandhu
A thud versus a sting: it’s the difference between a slap on the hand and pinch on the wrist. Some people like both. On April 30, the curious had a chance to experience these and other sensations inside the Fetish Ball 2011 dungeon, which this year had the theme of “A Garden of Earthly Delights.”
Fetish Ball is an annual week-long event at New College that celebrates kink and the exploration of the sensual. As in previous years, the climax of the Ball was the dungeon, a tent erected in Palm Court inside of which attendees at least 18 years old could take part in the multiple “play” stations: flogging, candle wax and ice, Japanese rope bondage and the violet wand, an instrument that shoots electricity onto the skin of whoever it touches.
“What I really love about the event is being able to expose people to things that they maybe thought about but have never done, or never thought about but suddenly discovered that they really like doing,” Claire Miller (’02), one of the organizers of Fetish Ball, said. “And to take away some of the superstition and anxiety about ‘Oh what is it that these weird people do?’ and to see what actually happens and not have it be terrifying.”
Inside the dungeon were stocks, spanking benches, a bondage cube and chairs and mattresses covered with sheets, all for the purpose of getting in different positions for playtime. There was also a St. Andrew’s cross — an upright, X-shaped cross with straps attached to it for a person’s hands and feet to slide into — and a “rack,” a massage table with straps on it. Floggers of a range of sizes and fabrics dangled from a three-tiered table, the “toy table.”
Organizers of the Ball and student volunteers staffed the dungeon, which was open from 10pm to 2am, during the Fetish Ball Wall. Eric Tomczyk (’01), the disc jockey for the night, turned on the attendees with a play list he described as “dark. Sexy. Aggressive.”
Those who wished to enter the dungeon had to fill in paperwork and show identification to ensure no minors went inside. Once cleared, people could stand back in the voyeur area to watch the action or get in line for the stations. Participants carried with them their “menu,” a list of activities they did not want to take part in as well as any health concerns they had. Each station was staffed by trained volunteers and operated on the stoplight safety-word system.
Anya Guerrero (’06) has worked with Fetish Ball since her first year at New College. “I work at the flogging and impact play stations, that’s my favorite bit,” Guerrero said. Impact play is a term for any of the activities that involve physically impacting the body, as opposed to electricity play and temperature play. “When I get somebody, I really like to take them to the toy table and I’ll walk them through the different options. I’ll let them know there are different sensations that we can make. There’s the thumpy, the more deep tissue type stuff. Then there’s the stingier stuff, the flappers … I let them pick out a couple of different [floggers] that are then carried over to wherever we’re going to be playing.”
Guerrero explained that different floggers create different sensations, which she described with the terms “thump” and “sting.” Loosely translated, “sting” means “hurts more than thump.” Rubber floggers create more of a sting than ones made from leather or felt. Thick floggers with many strands give a thumpy sensation, a feeling like an enthusiastic pat on the back, while thinner floggers with fewer strands leave an after sting.
This year, the organizers were able to purchase a second violet wand to keep up with demand for that station. The machine generates an electric current which flows to the metal head of the wand. This electricity is transferred to whoever the wand touches. A body contact probe can also be used to create a chain of people electrically linked — one person holds the probe and touches another person who touches another, transferring electricity down the line. “The effect gets weaker and weaker as it passes through multiple people,” Rew Tippin, the graphic designer for the Ball, said.
Outside the dungeon, staff members held demonstrations for bondage, flogging and the violet wand. Those who did not enter the dungeon could satisfy their sweet tooth at the human sundae bar.
“The human sundae bar is everything a sundae bar should be — chocolate, whipped cream, cherries, but without the ice cream — and the idea is that you put it all on a willing participant and lick it off,” Miller said.
While the dungeon caps off the Ball, five days of workshops and erotic film screenings built up to the big night, starting on April 25. “We always do a ‘play with our toys’ workshop,” Miller said. “We had a really good turnout for … Bill Osco’s Alice in Wonderland [and] … Good Old Naughty Days. The erotic literature reading was a little less well attended than in years past. The single most popular event was the cuff workshop.”
In that workshop, attendees learned to make collars and cuffs from leather, with hemp available as a vegan option. The workshop was organized by Kink Positive. “Kink Positive was originally an extension of Fetish Ball,” third-year and Ball organizer Rebecca Porzig said. “It is a student interest group to provide more education and information about BDSM [bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism] for students who are curious, who want to explore … We host crafting workshops where we get people involved and show them how to convert household products into safe play toys.” Porzig said that they plan to have another cuff workshop on May 12.
According to Miller, anyone can help run a station but they must be trained. “People have to complete a minimum of six hours of training,” Miller said. “We run training at least one night a week and we usually start two months or a month before Fetish Ball. Japanese rope bondage is the most time intensive to learn because there are a lot of different ties and a lot of safety precautions. Flogging is the second most intensive in terms of time commitment because you have to prove … you have good aim and that you know where you can hit and where you can’t.” Miller said in flogging, it is best to aim for fleshy parts and muscle and to avoid hitting over bones, joints and internal organs.
While the stoplight safe-word system is used, those running the stations rely on communication with the participants to keep things safe and fun. “We don’t just wait for them to say the words,” Guerrero said. “We stop and check in with them, see how they like it — do they want to play with another toy, are they comfortable? It’s feedback for us because it’s very important for us as the tops to know if what we’re doing is what the person is liking.”
Because the dungeon can quickly fill up, staff use a loose time limit of five minutes per playmate. “You can have a particular chemistry with certain people and that may mean that you go for a while with them,” Guerrero said.
Miller said this year, they received $900 from the Student Allocations Committee to run Fetish Ball, of which about $300 went toward the second violet wand.
Staff set up and break down the dungeon on the same night, usually putting in about 20 hours of work, according to Miller. “It’s hard, exhausting work, but at the same time, the payoff of seeing people kind of get what we’re doing and being excited about it is a really big one,” Miller said. “The reason that Fetish Ball is important to me is mostly one of awareness. I think a lot of people have fantasies or ideas that involve kink and they don’t know how to express it or they don’t think it’s an okay thing to think about. And they don’t know how to implement it in the real world. While Fetish Ball is not a workshop and it’s not a book, it is a chance to look around and see that there are other people interested in these things and they have knowledge they can share about where to get more information.”
The organizers have already started thinking of themes for next year’s Ball, one of which is Arabian Nights. “If people want to get involved in helping with next year’s Fetish Ball, there’s a group on Facebook called Sketch Artists, as in New College people are sketchy,” Miller said with a laugh.