By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Taught by Sabrina Belladonna and Ilsa Strix, two of the most well-known and sought-after professional dominatrixes in town (not to mention the international fetish community), Bondage 101 is just one in a continuing series of monthly workshops. For the past couple of years, based upon their combined decades of experience, the pair have been holding classes teaching the finer points of BDSM (bondage and discipline/ sado-masochism) including coaching on spanking, sensory deprivation, flogging, and the like.
Like any adult education class, the 20 or so people in attendance are a mix of young and old, gay and straight. Almost everyone is dressed in jeans and T-shirts, though there are a few more piercings and tattoos than would be found at your average Learning Annex course. One or two students are busily scribbling away in notebooks, and many seem to be pals, laughing and joking. Tonight's class is being filmed for a documentary, and a camerawoman moves through the crowd as unobtrusively as possible. Besides my boyfriend and me, there appear to be only two other couples. There's an average-looking man dressed in entertainment-biz casual whose date sports pigtails and a Catholic school uniform, and a heavily made-up person of indeterminate gender, holding a chain that attaches to the spiked collar of a slip-clad woman who is sitting on the floor. Aside from the woman on the floor, it's hard to tell who's a "top" and who's a "bottom." During a break in the class, a strapping, clean-cut, rosy-cheeked guy whom I'd pegged as a top turns out to derive more than a little pleasure from dropping trou and getting a birthday spanking from the entire class. Appearances — even in this world where roles and looks are more defined than usual — can be deceiving. Except for Mistresses Belladonna and Strix, of course.
Even seated in folding chairs, like glamorously evil talk show hosts, they ooze authority and control. An imposing duo, they present a contrast in opposites, and work well together. Belladonna is a sultry brunette with piercing eyes; Strix a pale, removed ice queen. Both look every inch the dominatrix, even without the cliché uniform of corsets, fishnets and spike-heeled boots. Like their students, they are dressed down tonight, but their body language and composure says it all. In head-to-toe black, they present an impression of . . . maybe goth movie studio execs or perhaps a couple of wicked news anchors.
But right now, the mistresses are unconcerned with roles or appearances, focusing primarily on safety. In well-modulated tones sprinkled with both humorous and cautionary anecdotes, they go through the finer points of performing bondage safely. Some of what they discuss is pure but rarely practiced common sense. For example: Both parties should be sober. You should know your partner's medical history. Granted, these days, talking about STDs is de rigueur, but who thinks of inquiring about diabetes or hypoglycemia . . . or even about the last time your partner ate? Fainting could be potentially life threatening in a dungeon situation. Strix goes through a list of supplies to have at arm's reach or on your person during a session, simple items like a handcuff key, smelling salts and scissors. Who wants to waste precious seconds fumbling through drawers for a pair of scissors when a slave is choking on a ball gag and you can't undo the knot? Belladonna lists sensitive areas of the body to avoid binding for health and safety reasons, and adds that the person in charge should routinely check with their captive about pins and needles sensations in extremities — never a good sign — especially when one is hog-tied! She expounds on the myriad types of ropes and restraints, and the drawbacks of using certain materials. Silk scarves? Maybe in a cheesy movie, but in real life . . . forget it! They don't give, and can easily cause nerve damage, especially on the wrists.
Belladonna explains that her fascination with bondage began in her teens. Raised on a Midwestern farm, she was adept at the knots and hitches used for roping livestock. Instead of engaging in lover's lane parking, she'd bring her dates to the barn and tie them up with bailing twine, which served its purpose then, although she doesn't recommend it now.
Strix delves into a drawer, pulling out various restraints, introducing each one like a movie star at a premiere: common items like handcuffs, moving up to more exotic and intricate immobilization devices, including a full-body suspension system, along with practical architectural advice for its installation in a home. An entire segment of the class is devoted to collars, and appearance versus practicality. Lengths of ropes are passed around the class in kindergarten show-and-tell-style as Belladonna starts a step-by-step demonstration of basic knots. The old Go-Go's song "Fun With Ropes" goes through my head as she urges everyone to partner up and try out the maneuvers.
Picking up the practice rope I've been handed, I hope I've correctly absorbed the information as I turn to my date.
"Right hand or left?" I ask.
My date raises an eyebrow and asks, "Oh, you're going to tie meup?"
I explain that I figured we'd take turns on each other. After a pause, he offers his left arm around which I slowly and carefully try to reproduce a basic hitch that Belladonna said was popularized in vintage Bettie Page photos. It takes a while, but when it's done, it's not bad — for an amateur. I admire my handiwork before holding out my own arm. My boyfriend replicates the knot swiftly and I tell him that I'm amazed he's such a quick study. Then it clicks in: He's done this before.
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