My brave and magical friend, Cleo Dubois, asked if I’d be interested in talking to her about her Erotic Intensive Seminars, a radical educational initiative that she founded with another Leather legend, Sybil Holiday, over 15 years ago, to provide safe hands-on experiences, mentoring, kinship and support for deep explorations of the intersections between pain, spirit, energy, and BDSM.
I was VERY interested. I’ve been documenting her life-story for over 2 decades, first in the original volume of Different Loving and now in Different Loving Too, and hope one day she will write the complete story down in a memoir. Wow, what a life of change and transformation she has lived! Learning about the intensives, which I’ve never had the honor of attending, filled me in on another side of this extraordinary woman.
CLEO DUBOIS bio (via Different Loving Too)
BDSM mentor, educator, founder of the “Cléo Dubois Academy of SM Arts” and one of the most respected voices in the SM community on the intersections between dominance and spiritual energy.
GB: Your Erotic Intensive are legendary. Can you tell me what inspired you to create them in the first place?
CD: In the mid-eighties, I was invited to present at Living in Leather and the National Leather Association. In the nineties, I was a sought after speaker at BDSM conferences as well as my local community venues, like Janus, Exiles, Differences, Odyssey, and Good Vibrations. I realized that I wanted to offer more than 2 hour classes. I wanted to share my passion for what I call consensual connected erotic power exchanges with larger audiences too. I visualized a documentary film. With the help of a talented camera crew of kinksters, and two marvelous hot subs I knew, it became a reality. My film, The Pain Game screened at the Frameline, San Francisco LGBT film festival in 2001, in NYC’s first SM Film Festival and many other venues in the USA and abroad. It even made it to Paris, my home town. I was blessed.
The positive responses to the film pushed me to be even more creative. I next organized an immersion weekend workshop, focusing on how to naturally connect heat, heart and spirit in play. I approached my long time dear friend Sybil Holiday ( co-author with Dr. William Henkin of Consensual Sadomasochism ) to help me create that first Intensive workshop.
We developed a workbook and a curriculum. Sybil and I were good teaching partners. Our interests and skills were complementary and we were serious! We accepted six students. Eve Minax came from Chicago to take the course. It was a great start!
Unfortunately, that was the last course Sybil taught due to personal health issues. Eve Minax, who had been assisting us at every workshop over the years, was invited to fill in for Sybil. Sybil used to say, “Eve Minax is our brainchild.” Sure enough, she proved herself to be a great collaborator.
By 2004 we were offering the first Erotic Dominance intensives for Men. That first morning, when I arrived at the Citadel the venue for our class, the men were already there in a circle holding hands and getting acquainted. I loved that!
GB: Tell me a little about your students. Are they pre-identified kinky people or spiritual travelers or both? What do you think they seek from the experience?
CD: We tend to attract people who are seeking connection and intimacy in their kinky relationships. They are people who see the link between sex and spirit. They sense that healing and empowerment can be found and cultivated in erotic play. Our students do not only seek safe solid play skills, they also seek confidence and acceptance of their own erotic turn ons. That certainly has been my story! I teach what I have learned. With negotiation, trust, and informed consent in the rituals we play, I have found a deeply loving chosen family.
We offer 6 Intensives a year. There are two for women who want to become professional Dominas, two for Dominant Women and Women who switch, and two for Dominant Men and Men who Switch. Many of us players find fulfillment on “both sides of the whip”!
Until a year ago we only enrolled Dominants and invited their partners to the meet and greet at the start of the course and the play party at the end. Last year we decided to expand it to both partners. It is interesting to note that student Tops prefer to play with and learn from our amazing volunteer bottoms instead of their own partners.
We are truly blessed to have Community players who contribute their time, bottoming skills, and intelligent honest feedback to help guide our student Tops. We could not teach our hands-on courses without them. Their honest sexiness and integrity delights not only me but all those who benefit from their service.
CD: Eve and I complement each other wonderfully. Sybil was right: Eve quickly evolved into an excellent teaching partner. She understands the importance of breath and clear focus. She has practice in Tantra, enjoys a wide variety of BDSM play, and remains the kinkiest woman I have ever known. Super smart too.
We call our course an Intensive because it it truly is encompassing. With the help of the workbook we give our students, we keep it about being in the moment , with lots of hand-on and feedback. We love to spark lively conversations and safely take people to their limits.
We take a maximum of 8 students at a time. We also have an equal number of volunteers as students who attend unpartnered. We encourage the students to play with different volunteers to expand their repertoire. There are so many nuances in our non-vanilla eroticism!
GB: You have pioneered new pathways in radical sex for decades. Can you speak to your evolution as a ritualist? What drives Cleo to continually push to new psychospiritual heights?
CD: My interest in ritual started with my own initiations, first into BDSM and then into the link between ritual and BDSM. In the mid-80s to mid 90s, almost a whole generation of Leathermen, including many of my dear friends, died of AIDS. My community then centered around Janus. I attended all the classes and parties, official and private.
Fakir was a respected presenter there. (ed. — Read about Cleo’s and Fakir’s personal journey over the past 23+ years in Different Loving Too). His lectures and demos fascinated me. One day, I asked him if he would initiate me in a body ritual — my intent was to help relieve my overwhelming grief at my friends’ deaths. I was looking for some healing during this darkest time.
We designed a ceremony together in the country. He gave me many temporary piercings.
I sobbed and danced hard with the balls hooked to my skin that day. It was powerful work.
Little by little, I cultivated an ability to tune in and conduct rituals for groups of adults seeking empowerment thru the timeless practices of body rituals celebrated in non Judeo-Christian cultures. I weave the threads of different rites and traditions into a practice which emphasizes that the body is a gateway to spirit. Please note this is a spiritual practice not a religious one. I now have the honor to bring some of that work to non kink identified folks during workshops I sometimes lead for One Taste.
GB: In addition to group teaching, you also do individual work. What kind of people seek you out for private one-on-one and couples work
CD: As the weight of shame and secrecy is finally lifting in urban culture, through all the diligent work of so many leather folks, including you Gloria, more adults are willing now to look at the desires, fantasies and activities they were programmed to think of as taboo.
A quick list of my clients includes people in new relationships who are ready to come out to their partners and wish to be accepted, people who have met obstacles along their kinky road or have been shut down by partners and “want to do it right this time,” long-time married people who want to rekindle their eroticism, and sometimes just individuals in search of private rituals for self-empowerment or letting go.
Recently a woman who had just recently her father trusted me to do a flogging and piercing/ ritual with her. It reminded me of my ball dance 30 years ago with Fakir . It was an honor.
GGB: What do you consider some of your greatest strengths as a teacher and leader?
CD: I am a good guide. I teach communication skills, give support in coming out, help my clients dive into their desires for dominance or surrender. I know how to share the play skills 30 + years in the Scene gave me. I love to create ritualized play that involves intense sensations –including flogging, play piercing or sensory deprivation/overload. These intentional explorations give all of us profound insights about our shared humanity.
I value their “Aha!” moments when, in the middle of guided play, the Top realizes that s/he is enjoying themselves and that BDSM is not violence, not sick, but rather comes out of love.
It is a true honor to be trusted to guide others through these realms. I help them find their limits, face their fears, and enjoy the kinky dimensions of their sexuality. I can’t tell you how many times couples have arrived at my door, all nervous and unsure only to leave, three hours later, beaming and asking for hugs.
Find out how to register for the Erotic Intensives or to arrange private consultations with Cleo:
www.sm-arts.com for information about the Intensives, plus articles and interviews
www.cleodubois.com for consultatons in office or via skype, and private explorations in her lovely little dungeon/temple
www.cleodubois.wordpress.com for Cleo’s blog “True stories of my 30 years in the scene “