I have been rigging for about 8 years. I started in a basic class by the Two Knotty Boys, and retained about half of what they covered. It was mostly simple chest harnesses and wrist ties. At the end they did a suspension demonstration. The demo was prefaced with the admonition that we were not under any circumstances to “try this at home.”
It was impressive, and it was hard to follow what they were doing. After the class I worked to remember and repeat the things they had taught us. But it was fun and rewarding to use what I had learned in my first rope scenes.
Afterwards I went to many play parties and watched a number of riggers do suspensions. There is definitely a mystique around suspension. It is a daring feat. It is great theater and takes rope play to a whole other level. I had watched it wondering what the keys were – how was it done? Continuously on many message boards and from people I meet there is interest by new riggers in doing suspension: people asking where and how they can learn.
Suspension is tricky. There are many things to learn and many things that can go wrong. The consequences of a mistake can be serious. Even after years of doing suspensions, I am still learning things about physiology and rope technique. Occasionally, I’ll have a close call that teaches me something new and reminds me of the importance of diligence.
After a year or two of rigging, with many ‘floor techniques’ under my belt, I took a suspension class at the Citadel. I managed to execute a suspension in the class. Kudos goes to the eager and willing woman who agreed to be my rope-dummy. It all came out well, but she was brave, or naïve, or both. After that came the moment to try what I had learned – at home, on someone, without assistance. This too turned out OK. In hindsight, I want to register enormous gratitude to the woman who agreed to be my guinea pig. It might again be a case of she-did-not-really-know-any-better. Lucky me; lucky her.
After another suspension class and some fiddling, I started to try things that were not part of the “process” I had learned. I was going rogue. There have been a few times things did not work the way I hoped, but good judgment and luck kept me and my rope-bottoms safe.
Last Fall I was in Seattle where a group of us were doing suspensions on attendees of a large party – maybe 2,000 attendees. After some simple vetting we would do suspensions of volunteers. I guess we had enough ‘cred’ after they watched us suspend other people, and just by the fact that we were there doing this thing.
Many of the people had never done anything in their lives with rope – let alone rope suspension. But there was a queue of women and men who wanted to “go up.” The problem is that we had only two suspension points attached to the girders of the hanger where the party wass. This meant that not everyone who saw and then wanted to be suspended could be.
Being resourceful and wanting to keep busy having fun, I offered to tie up some of the volunteers on the floor while standing as the suspension points were in use by other riggers. This seemed like a good way to avoid down-time.
But more profoundly, I have learned that I can create a stronger scene without the distraction of suspension. There are almost limitless things you can do standing or laying on the ground and using ropes. I have many ties that create powerful effects. Plus, because there is less physical stress on the rope bottom, you can do more and play a lot longer. Strong sensations are available – you can grab and pull on the ropes, you can lean them over, even hold them off the ground with your arms. The ropes can be pulled tight and create a constricting corset.
I would say that the most intense and connecting scene I did that night was with someone who I had grudgingly convinced to let me tie them up while standing. I had numerous women simply say “no” and wander off when I offered to tie them up without doing suspension. This bothered me. The theater of suspension is so alluring that people are willing to completely miss the power of ropes. Suspension is like grabbing the brass ring.
I’ll admit it is fun to do and will draw a crowd – everyone likes drama. But I wish that people would not fixate on suspension. I think it is a pity that the women who insisted on suspension missed the point and deprived themselves of an amazing experience with rope.
The woman who agreed to be tied up, and with whom I had a great scene, readily acknowledged when we were done that it was powerful and intense, even though she almost had passed up the opportunity. I wish that more people would step back and look at what any rope experience can offer and not focus on getting their suspension merit badge. That said, I will continue to offer suspensions to people at events. Though, I regret the pressure sometimes to get them up in the air. It can be a relief to be in a space that has no overhead suspension points. It allows me to focus on a different kind of scene.
Suspensions are fraught with challenges that can take away from a scene. The most obvious is, as a top, having to very carefully manage the welfare of the bottom. It requires constant attention. You have to anticipate well in advance when they are going to need to get down and out. Once a bottom starts to “go” things go south rapidly and you have to rush and get them down.
As a scene progresses, in the back of your head is always lurking the question of when to start the untying process. This issue is better with a bottom that you have experience with. It is worst of all when you are tying up someone for the first time in their life.
Doing standing work and suspensions has taught me that they are both part of a larger whole. Practice in one area benefits the other. So if you are waiting to be suspended or to do your first suspension, please work with what you have and know to improve your skills and enjoyment. All the effort will pay of in spades because essentially all rope work is cross training.