Most charity events raise money to help alleviate some form of suffering. This Saturday's Black Heart Ball is no different, except that it also is a celebration of suffering -- the fun kind, that is.
Sponsored by LeatherWerks, the ball is the annual gala for the National Leather Association's Florida Chapter. No, this is not a biker gang having a black-tie affair. Eric Lawrence, president emeritus of the NLA-Florida, says the group promotes "leather, S&M, and fetish lifestyles." The ball benefits the Wansiki Foundation, which provides medication for poor HIV and AIDS sufferers throughout South Florida. And before you get the wrong idea, this ball won't be just a tiny, leather-clad group running around smacking each other.
"We're hoping for about 1000 people," says Lawrence. "There were about 800 at our last ball."
According to Lawrence, interest in the leather life and its attendant naughtiness is growing every day. "People come into leather bars for the first time all the time," Lawrence says, "Usually when I hear someone who comes in, their comment is, "Wow, everyone is so friendly.'"
Indeed, getting up close and personal is what this is all about -- really, really close and extremely personal. The NLA hosts a wide variety of events every year, including Leather University, at which classes are taught by experts in the fields of bondage, blood sports, caning and bruising, and a wide range of other categories too numerous to mention. While it seems as if anything goes, Lawrence is quick to point out that the NLA's motto is "safe, sane, and consensual."
"Always practice safe sex," he intones. "Condoms need to be used. And whenever you're playing a scene, you have a safe word. When you're in a flogging scene, for example, there's always a word you can say and things will cease."
So, that covers safe and consensual, at least. Sane, as with almost anything else, completely depends upon one's perspective. Still, apart from the dress, which Lawrence promises will include a great deal of "leather chaps, vests, and caps; people carrying floggers; and people in latex and rubber," this seems like your typical benefit ball. Along with the ambient-goth stylings of DJ Robbie Leslie, the event features a VIP lounge, where food will be served and folks can rest on couches after working up a sweat from dancing or other activities. A silent auction will also be held, featuring erotic art, a color TV, a trip to Mexico, and weekend passes to a local guest house.
While this ball benefits the Wansiki Foundation, the next fundraiser will raise money for the NLA itself. "Our next big event would be our Marquis de Sade Dinner and Auction," Lawrence says. "We auction mostly used leather items that are donated."
One can only hope that everything has been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized beforehand. You never know where that flogger's been.