Every time you watch an erotic video, attend a large BDSM party, read a website like mine or follow a workshop about one of the hundreds of practices around which the kink world revolves, it is easy to forget that all of that is the result of lots of work. Behind these pleasant activities there are people who invest time and money into popularizing their passions and allowing others to live their sexuality in a more serene way.
For most of these persons this is a hobby or a second job, but there are also those who made extreme eroticism their entire profession. Among them there is Andrea Ropes, a Japanese bondage expert born in Italy and renown worldwide for the excellent quality of his creations. The following interview peeks behind the curtain to see what the life of a fellow “professional kinkster” really is.
Hi Andrea. Before we begin, can you introduce yourself to our readers?
Sure. I am Andrea Ropes, born in 1979, Italian (although over the years many people thought I was Mexican), performer and shibari educator. Two years ago I chose to make this my profession, but I’ve been practicing and performing nationally and abroad for about ten years now. I have been travelling a lot since I turned my passion into a job: right now I was finalizing the workshops and performances tour I’ll be doing in France in September and October, then I have to begin promoting to find work in Autumn and Winter.
In my (little) spare time I prepare the ropes I sell during my workshops and I enjoy braiding whips and cilices.
A job like yours has to be rooted in exceptional passion. How did your interest for bondage begin, and how did you grow into a rigger?
A lot of water flowed under bridges since the time I was a complete vanilla guy and now and sure, my passion for ropes just kept growing. I smile when I think back to how I started out with these things, taking up half on a lark my friends who pushed me into performing because they reputed me good at tying, or to my first time on a stage at that Secret Fetish Party you organized. However, I also recall all the sacrifices I made, the money I invested and the hours spent practicing, the failures and successes… and there I understand I am moved by a great passion indeed.
A passion that began quite by chance however. I was your common vanilla guy who enjoyed (and to tell the truth still enjoys) ogling photos of more or less naked ladies, until I stumbled on one featuring a bound woman. That picture struck me somehow, but I didn’t immediately recognized the reason; later analyzing the photo I figured out it was because of the ropes, the shape they imparted to the body and the eroticism behind it all. I bought my first cotton rope (which I think I still have laying somewhere) and I started practicing with no guide. I experimented a lot, then I had the luck of attending a five-days intensive workshop with Kinoko San in Rome: I’d say that was the turning point where I began getting seriously into it. Since then I studied with several great teachers such as Bob Ropemarks, Otonawa, Yukimura Sensei (RIP), and lately with Shigonawa Bingo and Nawashi Kanna.
I remember visiting you at home a few years back, and my surprise in discovering that in that period you were living with your parents. Exquisite and very polite people, who however I suppose were quite perplexed when they learned their son’s hobby was to tie girls up – not to mention the high rotation of fetish model in and out of your attic! How did your coming out to family and friends go?
You’d probably be even more surprised to learn that I am still living with them, and I have their full support! I had my own flat for a while, but when I chose this new lifestyle that often brings me around the world I returned to the fold. Paying rent for a house I only used a few weeks a year would have been pointless.
I can say however to be rather lucky, as my parents never had anything to complain about the mischief happening in my attic. Truth to be told, more often than not it was just practicing: don’t think ill of me! Coming out was consequently simple enough, and I also tried to choose the most fitting event to do it. At the time an important high fashion dummies factory had asked me to style their Milano showroom by tying mannequins up, followed by a series of installations, so I thought that was the less traumatic opportunity to reveal myself.
Another game-changing coming out must have been at work, when you decided to leave your job to become a full-time rigger. How did you get to such a unique choice, and how did people react to it?
I honestly can’t remember how the topic was breached at work, but I think they knew I was doing bondage even before my parents did, and in this case too I consider myself lucky for never having received negative judgments for what I did.
The choice to leave the job didn’t come out of the blue. I hadn’t feel very fulfilled in my role within the company for a few years already, so when I was offered a part in a project that meant to cast several international riggers and models to bring shibari on theatre stages worldwide in a year-long tour I jumped at the opportunity. I talked with management and we agreed on a temporary leave. That tour didn’t happen for a number of reasons, but since I had no job already I decided to try and follow the path I had been dreaming of taking for a few years. Then the leave ended, the will to get back to my former job was nothing to be seen, so I left it forever. And this is how I have been binding for a living for two years now.
From an outsider’s point of view you suddenly gave the impression of being just everywhere. Between your workshops, performances, photographic projects and study trips all over the world, getting hold of you for a relaxed chat became so complicated that even this interview is happening by email. But what is a professional nawashi’s day really like?
My first year was in fact pretty hectic: I travelled to England, France, Spain, Scotland, Germany, Russia and a few times to Japan. I once calculated that I spent no more than a total of three months home in twelve. That really was a great time, but on the other hand it also was counterproductive, for people couldn’t figure out when I was in Italy, so I missed on various club jobs. Now my workday mostly consists in sitting at my computer and doing promotion, making people aware of who I am, what I do, where I am. Then you have to answer emails, select the photos from the various events and shootings I appeared in, update the website, plan my many travels, and so on. And this is just the “virtual” part of it, to which you must add all the “concrete” one, consisting in lots of practicing over old material and experimenting new ties and show sequences.
Lots of people who approach me say I am lucky because I get paid to bind people and have fun, ignoring that it is just the tip of the iceberg. Sure, it is undoubtedly true that I am lucky because I am doing what I like to do (nowadays a rare treat), but you must also take into account all the backoffice listed above and the need to sow before you reap, just like in any other business. I admit this is far removed from working in a factory: if I had no will to work today I could allow to be lazy, but I also know I’d have more to take care of tomorrow.
Which was your greatest satisfaction in your new career so far? And the biggest disappointment?
I don’t know. I had so many good things lately, it’s hard to choose. Maybe I’d pick the first one among them, the one that made me embark on this journey, that is being selected to appear in that stage show tour I mentioned above: to be the one Italian invited into such a big and important project, featuring artists from all over the world and aiming to make shibari mainstream, was a huge motivation and satisfaction for me.
Conversely, the worst episode is easy to see and it is directly connected with the other: the way the tour never materialized. Everything was ready: the show, the crew.. we had lots of expectations, then the project ran aground and got scrapped.
Let’s get back to your travels. One thing I am fascinated by whenever I’m abroad is discovering different cultures through their erotic character, which often reveals unsuspected sides of their society. Over a post-show dinner you once mentioned to me that the Japan of kinbaku is very different from what Westerners believe, both in terms of behavior and people, practices and so on. Can you elaborate?
I noticed that in the West (meant as Europe: I haven’t debuted in America yet) we all more or less do the same stuff; someone has been doing it longer or with a broader awareness, maybe because they have a special cultural freedom, but we are quite similar to each other. Japan is almost another planet entirely, not just in its eroticism. The territory, the culture, the approach with objects, the approach with people… everything is different and deeply conditioning. Anything you do, you must do at your best and with the right spirit. It is very hard to explain properly, so I always suggest to go there at least once in your life.
Strictly speaking about eroticism, to describe this difference I could tell you about the time I attended a public interview with Norio Sugiura, where someone asked him whether he had even considered exhibiting his works in a museum. He calmly replied that he couldn’t see a reason, since he didn’t saw it as a suitable venue: «I do pornography, while museums are for art». Even their concept of art is removed from ours!
Another example of the differences in bondage is this: in the West we like to brush off our pervy vibe by saying that the art of binding derives from an ancient martial art that dojos and theatres passed on through the centuries. Which is true, but we then expect to learn the various techniques from a couple of workshops, maybe even calling ourselves Nawashi. Over there, on the other hand, even if they consider themselves perverts they commit to studying the ropes just as seriously as they approach a martial art. They try the same move, the same figure countless times, and they move on to the next only when they truly understood it and made it personal. We often just do stuff without understanding its meaning and reason: we just monkey what we’ve been told.
By the way, a nawashi (from nawa = rope, and sensei = teacher) is a ropes master, a title you don’t claim yourself, but which is attributed by other masters. You called me that and I took it as a compliment, but I really don’t feel I’m good enough for that title.
Is globalization affecting eroticism too?
I honestly couldn’t tell. I cannot get an objective view, since I entered this world when globalization was already happening. Listening to the stories and conversations of the veterans I can venture saying that relationships have maybe gotten shallower due to a larger offer, but this may well be just a general inclination helped by globalization. This is partially related to what I said earlier.
I believe that the move from classic – we could say old-style – kinbaku to its newer forms depends more on regular evolution than on globalization. It is a very empirical “science”: you have an idea, you test and develop it, then someone else pops up to revisit it, yet another one adapts it to their needs, and maybe in the end the final result turns out to be very different from its starting concept.
They say that when you turn your passion into a job, the fun goes out of the window. This is fortunately not my case, but what is your take on it after two years of professionism? What would you suggest to someone who told you they want to make a similar job choice?
For the moment I am still enjoying myself, actually more than bevore. The girls are queuing up to get bound by me, my experience is growing, I am very happy with what I manage to realize and what I manage to teach to the people attending my courses. So we are on the same boat there.
It is obviously true that it is not all a walk in the park: there are times when you have to work with people who are real pain in the a…cademy, but I try to have fun in this case anyway by enjoying the challenge they pose. A really uncomprehending student of who keeps repeating the same mistake incites me to find new ways to teach a notion, a somehow disabled model who demands to be bound (and you never say no to a woman, that would be dangerous!) urges me to adapt my bondage.
I wouldn’t recommend this job. It is filled with sacrifices, you have to constantly seek new approaches and, beside everything I said so far, you often end up penniless.
Precisely. We share our enthusiasm with many other people who work as educators, performers and extreme eroticism operators. The other side of the coin however is that none of those persons is really well off financially. Is this also true for riggers? And, above all, would you repeat such a unique professional choice in hindsight?
I seriously want to put the myth that you get rich with ropes to rest, and that also goes for BDSM!!! Sure, you might pocket some dough if you have the idea of the century, but you otherwise have to make do, and harshly… or maybe I’m the dumb one who couldn’t find the right connections.
The only “wealth” is spiritwise, which is maybe the only one worth anything. Measuring yourself with so many different people, travelling here and there, exchanging ideas and opinions, seeing where and how they live… This is what I believe enriched me greatly, but if you look inside my wallet you will normally only find sales receipts in it.
All this nothwithstanding however, I am not regretting having left my old job. I had a wage, but I wasn’t satisfied with what I did; I only went to work to wait six o’clock on Friday, then I had a ropes weekend and on Sunday evening I gloomly faced another week of anguish. Today I barely get by but I am doing what I love, and this absolutely overshadows my former wage.
Who knows: maybe in a few years I’ll be living under a bridge and I’ll cry having made the greatest mistake in history, but for now I’m in it and enjoying it.