No pain, no gain: Kinky fitness comes to High Point

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Octavia Harris pumped her legs up and down into the squats, trying to move to the beat of the music. The blindfold around her eyes challenged her balance while a bright red rope snaked around her torso, binding her chest, shoulders and waist and all the way down between her legs.

Nearby, a woman, whose hands were also bound, maintained her balance in a forearm plank while a man practiced kettlebell swings a few feet away. All of them had shown up for the first meeting of Felyne Fetish Fitness, a kink and BDSM-infused workout class, in High Point.

Dressed in a bright red leotard, leather vest, lacy black tights and shiny high-heeled black Pretty Woman-esque boots, fitness instructor Candace Liger, also known as Coach Felyne, sauntered around the room, carrying a black riding crop. She marched up to Illyria Trebek, who held the plank, and began tapping her back and stomach with the crop, urging her to keep her form.

A few seconds later, Liger blew her whistle and the participants moved on to their next stations. In the corner of the room, brightly colored yoga mats and hand weights laid next to piles of rope, a variety of floggers and a tan chest harness.

The class displayed the crucial balance of power often practiced in kink communities. Liger, who whipped and gently slapped her students with props, acted as the dominant to her submissive students. But in the end, those taking the class were the ones with the real authority. They set the rules by clearly stating what things were okay for Liger to use on them and what weren’t at the beginning of the class. In turn, Liger made sure to ask them throughout the workout, how they were doing. A system of red, yellow and green signals was established to create clear boundaries.

“There’s a consent element,” Liger says. “You’re consenting to fitness, consenting to [your] body going through this experience.”

For Harris, who remained bound and blindfolded for the remainder of the workout, a lot of the class was a first. She says she usually works out by lifting weights or doing cardio like running. Eight years ago, Harris weighed 300 pounds and says she didn’t feel comfortable in her body. Now, she’s working to maintain her healthy new weight and have fun while doing it.

Still, the jump from regular fitness classes to a kink-infused one was big for her. She says she signed up for the class after taking a BDSM 101 workshop with Liger in the past. The workshop helped her and her wife of four years become better partners she says.

“The focus was on consent,” Harris said about the workshop. “We’re both victims of sexual violence. We want to regain control.”

Harris says a family member assaulted her when she was 10 years old.

“I used to live in fear,” Harris says. “It caused me to define myself, but I don’t give it anymore power. This allows me to be in unfamiliar territory and still be safe, to not be a victim.”

She says that both the BDSM workshop and the kink class help her to feel comfortable in her body.

During one portion of the class where she was using weights on a bench, Harris remembers becoming overcome with emotion. She says having a dominant-submissive dynamic as part of the class taught her, a black woman who typically tries to uphold the “strong black woman” image, how to let go.

“I realized that I’ve been carrying a lot of unnecessary weight,” Harris says. “I forget I need to put it down sometimes. I forgot I don’t have to take care of everything and do everything for everybody.”

For Liger, these ideas of consent, power dynamics and bodily autonomy is why kink and fitness go well together. She believes they have similar goals: to seek pain and pleasure by manipulating the body in different ways.

“A lot of fitness clients are out of touch with their bodies,” says Liger who has been a fitness instructor and personal trainer for years. “They have no understanding of how pleasure operated in their body or how to conjure pleasure for themselves. Fitness and kink are both part of the self-care category.”

A recent transplant from Oklahoma, Liger started out in the kink world after she took a vow of celibacy. She had gone through a number of unsatisfying relationships and decided to take sex out of the equation.

“We learn to communicate through sex and show emotion through sex but that was not holistic enough for me,” Liger says. “I had to find new ways to interact with folks. When I took away sex, a relationship that I had before could be an erotic one; it could be more spiritual.”

From there, she began doing her own research and became more active in the community. She taught erotic dance classes and tried her hand at Japanese-style rope bondage. She held art shows and wrote erotic poetry. Now that she’s in North Carolina, Liger says she wants to practice restorative work.

“How can we make ourselves feel good on a daily basis?” Liger asks. “How can we practice proactive self care?”

Trebek has been in the kink lifestyle for the past five years. The High Point resident hosts kink trivia every week and is part of a submissive-dominant relationship with her partner. She even taught a kink-inspired yoga class at a retreat for those in the culture a few years back. When she found out about Liger’s kinkercise, as she likes to call it, she felt like it was exactly what she had been looking for.

“Because the kink community is very close knit,” Trebek explains. “It makes sense for us to do things together.”

She says an inclusive space like the one Liger has created is a hallmark of the kink community.

“There’s no judgement,” says Trebek, who works out regularly. “There’s body positivity and a mix of sexualities and gender preferences and you won’t find that level of support and inclusivity in a public form. You get to be you. Anytime people in our community can let our freak flag fly, I’m gonna have a blast.”

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