When I first became interested in bullwhips three years ago, I had no idea what I was doing, and I was terrified of my own potential whip cracking incompetence. A newly made friend in the small BDSM scene where I lived encouraged me to get into bullwhips, but I had no experience with them, let alone one to use for practice. After a bullwhip tutorial with my friend in the recreational area of his subdivision, during which we endured a casual visit from the police and I repeatedly whipped the hell out of my own leg on accident, we returned to his house to watch a DVD on whip work. Master whip artist and performer Robert Dante‘s Bullwhip: Art of the Single Tail Whip was my introduction to bullwhip proficiency and eroticism. I sat in awe watching this video, my right calf burning from my clumsy errors earlier, inspired with determination to conquer the bullwhip. Robert Dante recently announced his retirement from professional performing due to personal health concerns. However, he’s assured his fans and followers that he has plenty of other plans for the future. Robert very graciously took the time to answer my questions about his career and upcoming projects for FetishMovies Blog.
When a new person meets you, what do you tell them you do?
I usually do not have to. If they have not heard of me, I can enjoy a moment free of preconceived ideas.
How will what you do, professional and personally, change with your retirement plans?
I do not know. I am a writer and performer, but my game will have to change, so I’ll be more choosy about what requires my attention.
I know you write and have other projects you want to work on, so how else are people going to get their fix of you?
I’ll be easy to find, as I always have been. Keep watching the skies. “As constant as the northern star is Caesar…”
You’re known in the BDSM scene and in the vanilla/sport whip world. Obviously, there are big differences in how whips are used in each of those worlds, so what are the similarities and differences between those two communities? Do people ever exhibit frustrations with people in the other camp? Has anyone ever snubbed you for your participation in the other arena?
Good question. Actually, the skill set in both worlds is the same – it is the application of those skills that differ. A person who is good with a knife can be a murderer, a butcher, an artist, or a surgeon. Don’t blame the knife.
Each camp has members who scowl at the other camp, but the overlap between them is tremendous. It’s larger than most acknowledge, or want to. There have always been kinksters who think I’m not serious because I perform on stages with whips, but I have also encountered vanilla people who morbidly wonder what other titillating things I can do with the whips. Nudge nudge wink wink, like it’ll be our little secret. Right.
Yes, I’ve lost opportunities, but nothing that would have been worth lying to get. I can afford do this because I have given no hostages to fortune.
For those who don’t know, what are Western arts?
Cowboy stuff – rope spinning, whip cracking, knife throwing, gun spinning, shooting skills. I suppose it includes horse riding, quilting, apple pie making, yodeling, rhyming poetry, and the like, but these are the five I see most often.
I read about the whip cracking controversy at Olympic College. I’m not in support of their policy, but it makes me think of the different ideas that people have about whips. In your experience, what are the ways that people read the bullwhip? I immediately think of it in a BDSM context, but it’s clearly not the only way to read that object.
Many different stereotypes abound because whips are ubiquitous. Indiana Jones/cowboy/lion tamer/Nazi brute/slave owner/coachman/superhero/supervillain/Robin Hood/samurai/magician/daredevil/dragon tongue/dinosaur tail and beyond. For me, the imagery encompasses all expressions of creativity and power – the spiraling tail of a spermatozoa, the coiling wreath of stars in a galaxy, the curling power of a crashing wave, the sinuous dance of a sine wave, the outward rippling of a shock wave from a massive detonation under the earth – on and on and on. A whip is a living thing, a symbol, a nightmare, a wand, a magic rope, a symbol, the epitome of grace and power, the heart of enlightened SM.
How long have you been working and playing with whips?
Twenty-eight years, and I am still discovering it for the first time every day.
How did you get into whip cracking? What did you want or expect from it when you starting playing with them?
I bought a whip, worked long hours with it, talked to as many people as I could, and listened to everyone. I became an eternal student of it. By default, I became a teacher because I tried to pass on what I had learned to others. I am still the student.
It was bad ass, no-bullshit reality, switchblade beautiful. It was the swirling cape of a matador, a daring, defiant, graceful dance. It was a huge commitment, like being a trapeze artist – you don’t get good doing it halfway. It was Steiner’s eurythmy, Breton’s surrealism made physical, it was physics as poetry.
I understand that you were a reporter in Texas when you took an interest to bullwhips. What was the transition from the interest to the full time job as a whip artist?
The two hardest things I’ve done in my life are writing and cracking whips, yet these are also the two things that have given me the greatest satisfaction when I have done them well. I began as a hobbyist, a dungeon player. Folks saw I had a sense of the dramatic and asked me to crack whips at fund raising events held at leather bars. I had to figure out how to take that millisecond experience and stretch it out to 10 minutes, so I searched for examples in film, circuses, rodeos, etc. I saw overlaps with other performing arts, like juggling and knife throwing. How could I hold the interest of those watching so it wasn’t the boring same-old/same-old? How could I turn it into an integrated theatrical experience not based on illusion or trickery?
The whips called to me the way bagpipes call to a Scotsman. There were years where it was the only constant in my life. It became a path, a mode of communication, a way of experiencing the world more vividly, a meditative exercise, a fun romp physically, an expression of sexuality, an obsession that liberated me psychically, all at the same time. Being paid for my work was a way to validate this, to give it power in my life. The whips have been so good to me. Being able to get big bucks for a high profile vanilla event gives me the freedom to do BDSM events for less than my standard fee. I also do one or two events a year gratis for charities.
Following up on that question-how did the bullwhip enter your sexuality?
The bullwhip didn’t ‘enter’, it informed, expanding the realms of what is possible. SM is the surrealism of sex.
How did your interest in BDSM come to be and what was your discovery process?
I followed my instinct. The coming out, self acceptance process is probably as close as straight people can come to the whole gay experience. The stages are very, very similar. I was fortunate to recognize my specific predecessors in history and popular culture so I could see how they handled it and then apply the relevant parts to my own experience. Sex, philosophy, poetry, spirituality – they all synthesized in a weird and very personal expression of Hegel’s dialectic.
Other than whips, what other kinks do you have?
I do not understand the question. Kink is relative, especially if it’s my normal. I remember when yoga was considered kinky.
How did you meet Mary and how did she come to be such an excellent in your performances?
She approached me at a munch and we talked. The personal relationship grew out of my using her as my Target Girl in shows. She was nervous until I told her the first 100 shows didn’t count. Over time, she was able to relax and spread her wings wider. I give her permission to be who she really is, and she brings it all into what we do, both onstage and offstage. She is remarkable.
What is good form when it comes to whip cracking?
Movement that is efficient, effortless, effective, graceful, powerful. It’s letting the whip be what it really is.
What is bad whip work?
Imposing on the whip your own idea of how it “ought” to crack, in effect yelling over the music. No good. The power is already in the whip.
Who are your heroes, both in whip cracking and in general?
What is a hero? Someone you admire, emulate as you are learning before you become who you really are? Would it be helpful to list names? Okay. Franz Liszt, Andre Breton, Freidrich Nietzsche, Krishnamurti, Charles Addams, Quentin Crisp, Allen Ginsberg, Donatien de Sade, Bob Fosse, Lina Wertmuller, Hugo Eckener, Yamamoto Tsunetomo. That’s a good start with familiar names. There are many more whose names are significant only to me, saints, angels, and magicians adrift in the everyday world of surfaces.
Is there anyone up and coming in whip cracking that you recommend we check out?
All of them. You never know who it will be.