Red(head) in Tooth and Claw
A night shmoozing with the sweetest hooker in the biz.
Dana and I actually talked about how nice Dana is. Renowned not just for his piercing and suspension work, but for being all around such a fucking nice guy. From his early come-ups in California to veering off into being one of the most notable suspension practitioners, taking his skills all over the world at suscons, Dana is truly one of those old heads that’s seen some dynamic shifts the industry has taken and rolled with the punches. We sat down to talk about his introduction to suspension, the ebb of ritual, and why age helps lock down the sweet spot of professionalism in the piercing room.
Ari – Let’s do the really generic usual intro, except I want you to do it for both piercing and suspension.
Dana – The beginning of my piercing career was pretty straightforward, I was able to start an apprenticeship and attend the Gauntlet beginning training seminars the second year I believe they were offered, 1993. I don’t remember if it was the second year or not. I took the Gauntlet seminars at 17. Sharrin was running the seminar, Sharrin from the NY Gauntlet, she was a real awesome old school Psychic TV head. I “never really finished my apprenticeship” according to Jerry Metzler (Shiva) but as far as all purposes were concerned I was piercing full time by myself, with Julian Ganesha in and out of the shop because he had another full time job to pay his bills. This was in Fresno at a shop called Spear of Shiva. In 1999 I made the move to San Diego to work at Superfly, and then got an offer to move up to Portland and I was there for a few years. My introduction to suspension started a little bit more in 1999/2000, when I got involved with the San Diego crew, and once I got to Portland it was really heavy, I moved to Portland, walked into doing performances once a month at Fetish Night for five or six years straight.
Ari – What group were you with up there?
Dana – It was Transcend, run by Mike Pitts. We were pretty isolated with that situation for a long time, that was the very beginning of IAM, or my introduction to IAM. There were people on there sooner by about a year but 2001 is when I really got involved with that, got in touch with the extended community.
Ari – Had you been on rec.bodyarts or anything like that?
Dana – Nah, Luis Garcia and I were helping Adam try and police some of the piercing threads on bodymod.org for about a year before that, as the only verifiable professionals in the equation. Luis Garcia and I were the ones trying to moderate that the best we could. We both just kind of gave up because we got overwhelmed by like 1500 members. That was tough, it was like a full time job.
Ari – Lets go back, how long was the training seminar with Gauntlet?
Dana – It was a week.
Ari – What did you walk into clientele wise at Spear of Shiva?
Dana – It was really interesting, only people who have ever worked High Priestess will ever understand, the clients were very similar to Georgs. Honestly my clients started off on the verge of old school Gauntlet clients, there were a lot of professionals who wanted a lot of heavy under the suit work done, so lots of heavy genitals, and in about 97-98 is when we saw a big upswing in the more popular commercial stuff like tongues and navels and stuff. We were never APP members but we were operating under APP standards, and so we were the only decent referral shop between the Bay and LA, for a very long time.
Ari – You were around for pretty early APP, do you remember the events the led to Michaela ultimately stepping away from there?
Dana – You can straight up print this, I was up to my eyeballs in basic piercings and politics about why we weren’t going to join the APP in the studio I was in. We were doing 20-30 piercings a day in the only small town between the Bay and LA, it was tough to even come up for air. There was a lot of bad blood between Jerry and some of the other founding members of the APP. My impression and relationship with Michaela only lasted the seven days I was there for training. She was a wonderful instructor, her and Sharrin and Jim and Chance and Paul were fucking fantastic. She and I interacted a little bit on Facebook a couple of years ago for the first time in forever, and I don’t even remember what happened, we weren’t even on the same page anymore, we went different directions with our lives so we stopped communicating. We were never really close and I wasn’t present for the drama and the chaos .
Ari – You came up to Portland, and Portland right now does seem to be dominated by a small group of reputable shops. Was that the case when you first moved up there?
Dana – Not even close, there were only dominant personalities. This was the beginning of the era for Black Hole. When I moved there it was roughly six months after Tracy Faraca decided to hire Mike Pitts instead of trying to run him out of town (because she couldn’t run him out of town). I ended up taking over his position at 21st Century with Jesse Enz, who is still in Portland but tattooing now. There were really only a handful of decent Portland piercers working inside tattoo shops that did not have any sort of budget. It really took Desta to step up, it took Desta being the piercer owned tattoo shop and Tracy being the piercing-only shop to really raise the bar in Portland around 2002-2003. I did work at Adorn for a little while, and that was a really positive thing for both of us until a relatively negative end, but we’re over it – it’s fine.
Ari – Portland is where suspension really takes off for you, had you any prior experience either going up or putting other people up before that point?
Dana – Threw a couple hooks before that.
Ari – But no tying or rigging or anything like that?
Dana – No, everything started in Portland for real. It was both a blessing and curse, trial by fire. Essentially, we don’t really know what we’re doing, but you don’t know any more than we do. We have a few more years of experience so lets just roll with it. At this point there wasn’t a big internet presence, there were some people on IAM and people like Hilary Lobitz, who was going to school overseas and meeting other people in the suspension community that were tying us all together, so we had a little bit of interaction on IAM. I remember a question about something really stupid, and Mike had to pick up the phone and call Obscurities to talk to Allen. That’s pretty awesome, it was like “hey, is Allen there, we have a suspension question for him. No? He’ll be back in on Thursday? Rad. What does his schedule look like? Cool, we’ll call at 1:30 on Thursday.” It was really cool like that, we made time to talk to him, left a message, so he made time to talk to us. There was this group in Texas that was doing shit, there was this group in Portland that was doing shit, there were these weirdos in New York doing shit, little pockets that we knew of each other all over the country. Håvve was doing stuff in Oslo and we knew about Wings of Desire but we didn’t have any real communication yet, we had emails, and then IAM really started to trickle together a lot of information. Then we got Allen to come out and they were like wow, you’re doing stuff a lot different. In some cases it was like hey you know I had this thing break on me, you shouldn’t use this anymore, we were like oh shit! yeah ok, cool. And in other cases they were like wow we hadn’t thought of that, we’re gonna take that home and run with it! That was a real eye opening experience. The reason I ended up in Portland was very interesting, and it was definitely suspension related. I was working in a shop in downtown San Diego and I was friends with a few people who were friends of friends of friends of friends, as this industry tends to go, and I was asked one day “hey do you want to come up to Portland with us for December 11th?” I said yeah sure fuck it, lets go. Circumstances as they were, I ended up quitting the shop a week before we left for that. I got in the car with the crew from Inner Energy, we got in a beat up old Volvo, five of us, and we drove 26 hours nonstop all the way to Portland. We stopped at High Priestess in Eugene and gave Georg and Jo and Jared some hugs and kept going. That was the introduction to suspension and Portland. I was an integral part of the December 11th ritual for the next 6-7 years.
Ari -You start in Portland and after end up in Arizona – was there an established suspension scene to jump into by the time you hit Arizona?
Dana – Ish. Let’s talk about the conversation I had with Allen Falkner when I moved to Phoenix. He said if you’re going to come to Dallas Suscon, you need to start a team or join a team, because it makes it easier for me to put you in the category that you already exist in, which is, for lack of a better category, Allen had created Team Leaders for the Suscons. Team Leaders are people who could help other people who had less information, or make judgement calls. So Allen flat out asked me why don’t I just join a team, and I said I don’t play well with others, and he said fair enough. I managed a small group of people that I got together on a regular basis and we had fantastic experiences and I do travel a lot for suspensions. I travel a lot because I love it and especially being in a weird market like Phoenix was, it was already one thing and I added a different dynamic; I chose to embrace the larger picture.
Ari – When you look at these different communities, when it comes to basic information share, how do the states compare to when people are meeting up in say Mexico or Oslo or anywhere else?
Dana – The information share at these events are universal, everyone tries their best, everyone does the best they can to share any information at any given point, and it’s great. The only thing I’ve noticed that is different are the structure of these events. The energy of the events is different from country to country. US events tend to be more party events, for lack of a better term. Allen in the last 3-4 years has developed the Dallas Suscon into a much more elaborate teaching Suscon, by the fact that he’s doing classes for 2-3 days and suspensions for 2-3 days. That’s fucking fantastic, I love that structure, it makes things so much better because we keep having to try to have classes around suspensions and it’s not working because everyone wants to see all the pretty shit. But by having it separate it creates a wonderful environment, I really hope that more people can embrace it, especially people that are trying to learn, and I hope it will continue. It’s got to be a difficult thing to do but I really really hope it continues to be a thing, whether or not I can contribute I will still attend. The international scene is very different. The international scene is very hands-on, and it’s slower. Not that things aren’t efficient but going to the Oslo Suscon for 4 years in a row has allowed me to understand that you can slow down the distance between steps and still be just as efficient. You make fewer mistakes and you calculate things more and you preplan more, so the vibe and overall energy in Oslo vs the energy at Mecca are completely different. Mecca is its own animal, it’s the largest space we have ever been allowed to use indoors so it’s always just so much chaotic creative energy, everyones trying so hard to just get out all the shit thats in their heads, and its difficult. It sometimes makes for a lot of distress in communication, where in Oslo it’s very concise and calculated. It’s very different energy all over the world. Not that sharing information is any different for what comes across, but the manner in which it comes across changes dramatically.
Ari – Let’s go back to some of that 90’s-early 2000s era, what are some of your favorite things that just didn’t work out? Like is there shit that you love that didn’t take off, or shit that flat out didn’t work?
Dana – Where to begin. My favorite shit that never took off, that I’m really glad didn’t take off, was PTFE, plastics – real fucking glad that didn’t work. I am also real fucking glad that eyeball implants didn’t work out, though that’s a different animal altogether. Man, we did a lot of really dumb shit in the 90s. The 90s were categorically “lets see if this works”, that’s the generation that it was. The 70s was Jim Ward and the gay leather SM scene, it was the heavy genital, heavy nipple, heavy sex scene. The 80s were a little greyer and faded a little, got kinda quiet, the building blocks essentially; thats what solidified a lot of the techniques and jewelry designs. Elayne was heavily involved in that, Crystal Cross, Cliff Cadaver, they were the 80s personas that came out of that into the early 90s. Man, Cliff was a fucking badass! Going into the early 90s we had this boom, it was the beginning of peanut butter and jelly. The beginning of the idea of being able to pay your bills by body piercing, and just talking to other people in other cities, and when I’d get a day off I’d go visit, or just a referral with some phone calls, talking with Blake or Ron Garza or Paul King, talking to people in other larger cities and they were fucking slammed. The idea became that it wasn’t just a viable living for whoever owned the studio, but you could work for someone and pay your bills – that created a different niche for us, and man, we started trying to pull some bad ideas out of our heads.
Ari – Moreso then favorite things that didn’t work out that you’re relieved about, what are some of your favorite things that didn’t end up working out?
Dana – What things I wish worked out? I really wish big surface piercings worked. Can you imagine a fucking 6ga nape? Or wrist surface piercings you can wear a bracelet through?!? That’s the kind of dumb shit I wish would have worked. My friend Michelle had seven inch long tygon surface piercings in her hips, five and seven inch long tygon. I did those with Mike Pitts tandem, one on each side; our idea was to do these initial piercings and get them healed, and then cut them out from end to end to have completely healed open scar channels. That kinda came from let’s just take a 6g 1” bar and round the ends off, pierce someones nape and let it heal, leave it there for a couple years and let it form a fistula. Then punch the ends out and we’ll drop a surface bar in there! It’ll only have to heal the tips! My friend Joe actually still has a 6g bar in the back of his neck! Another dumb thing was Uvulas. Have you ever done one?
Ari – I haven’t, I’ve never had an interest in doing one.
Dana – Originally when Louie Sanchez and I talked about doing his uvula he was showing me all different kinds of stupid tricks, so I clamped his uvula and he threw up. He was like yeah you can grab it, like he stuck his fingers in his mouth and grabbed it and kept talking to me! I was like alright, fine, but as soon as I grabbed it with a pair of clamps he was dry heaving! But I tell you what, doing a septril on someone with 1/2” nostrils, 1/2” septum, you slide a receiving tube right down in that bitch and it makes it super easy. Now that thing is a fucking 2g. I just think it’s awesome he still has it, and wears crazy expensive jewelry in it.
Ari – Nowadays where do you typically draw the line, keeping within relatively safe parameters?
Dana – It’s tricky. The older I get the more conservative I get. I mean if I have a walk in client that wants cheek piercings, and mind you this hasn’t changed in a very long time, I do my best to talk them out of it because it’s so difficult to heal. If it’s something that is relatively safe and sane and just not going to work, I try and talk them out of it. I mean I did so much dumb didn’t-think-it-all-the-way-through experimenting in the 90s, like hey let’s put a fucking piece of ptfe with threaded balls on it horizontally in your forehead type shit, and it just didn’t work. I’ve seen either stuff I’ve done or others have done fail so frequently that I choose not to do it. I really like to stick now with things I know are going to work long term, and lets say for example it’s something really big, like big cartilage – I’ll try and talk them out of it, give them a 24 hour cool off period, then I’ll do it, because they’ve thought about it. If it’s really big mouth stuff, like large gauge labrets or off center stuff, I want them to take a month to think about it, primarily because of my history with my own tongue piercing.
Ari – Well now I gotta hear the history of that tongue piercing.
Dana – My tongue piercing was originally pierced at 6g stretched to 2g immediately. I wore a 2g barbell with 1/2” beads until it pulled through, and then I wore a 7/16 thick quarter inch long barbell with 5/8” beads for 10 years, all steel mind you. One morning I woke up and my gums were sore behind my front four teeth, so I took my jewelry out, thinking that was probably the problem, and I’ve never put jewelry back in my tongue since. But because we didn’t have dental insurance in 99-2000-2001, I couldn’t spend that money on my mouth. All the while I have a 1/2” labret, so that was wearing away my enamel because it was really really high like yours is, but my jewelry didn’t fit right. By the time I was able to get insurance I went and got my teeth fixed and checked out, I had to get my four front bottom teeth removed, two bone grafts, two implants and a bridge, just to replace the damage my tongue piercing had done, because the bottom bead sat too far forward. If it had been 25-30 degrees farther back on the angle when it was originally piercing, it wouldn’t have done that. The simplest shit on a larger scale created so much drama.
Ari – We definitely are in a pretty amazing time for getting any specs needed for larger gauge jewelry, luckily.
Dana – Because we’re dealing with the same aftermath of the shit I dealt with on a smaller scale. People were dealing with gum erosion, people were dealing with enamel damage, people were learning that angles mattered a lot more with bigger stuff, people were learning you can’t just stick a scalpel in someones face and just start cutting.
Ari – I think it’s fair to say through so much trial and error you’re feeling more conservative about things, is any of it also less concern with the grind and hustle? Feeling less concerned with having to make every sale that comes in?
Dana – I don’t think it has anything to do with that, I think it has everything to do with the market. Now, it’s al 1.5 cz or 1.5 diamond nostril screws, it’s all Body Vision, it’s all genuine stones, it’s all 18g piercings. The difference between the early 90s and now in the market has changed tremendously, it went from lots of heavy consistent genital work to let’s experiment with our bodies to now it’s all about the high end jewelry
Ari – Which is funny when you look at how jewelry seems to have been an afterthought in early piercing, you just got what you got.
Dana – Right, it’s a massive change, it really kind of evolved, I don’t know, the beginning of it was about 12-15 years ago. 2000-2001 we saw a lot more gem curves, gem introduction, a lot more sparkle, and a little bit more legitimacy in the jewelry world as it related to body jewelry. An example, we had local Portland area jewelry stores start making navel curves in 2003, they made them in platinum with genuine diamond, and they stamped 14k on the wearable surface, right on the middle of the post, and they were externally threaded. They were $900, so they were undercutting body vision by several hundred dollars at this point, because at that point body vision was the only company we could get platinum from. I was working at Adorn at this time, every week Carrie from Body Vision would call and say I have your weekly order of 1.5 and 2mm CZ and diamond nostril screws ready to go, should I send them? And the answer was always yesterday. Because the market by 2003 had already changed tremendously, we had gone from 10g barbells to 1.5 diamond nostril screws and thats just in six years, piercings had become more mainstream, and my clientele went from the guys getting pierced to enhance their sex lives behind the scene to their wives getting pierced in front of the scene. When I was growing up it was a very important part of peoples lives. I pierced for almost 2 decades as an important part of peoples lives. It is no longer an important part of peoples lives, and that is weird, strange, and an evolution that I am currently taking and not necessarily handling easily. I’m used to the fucking conch punching rituals of 15 years ago, I’m used to helping change peoples lives and they just want a fucking nostril piercing. That jades me, it does. It stresses me out because I can’t give them everything – they don’t want it. I’m just there to be a friendly person and go through the motions and be a robot. I can’t guess what everyone is after, I only know what they give me, so if they don’t give me a “hey man, this is some shit I need to go through”, then I dunno. It’s a different world now.
Ari – You’ve had your hand, like anyone in this industry who’s been around as long as you have, in that eroticism and fetishism niche. Where would you draw the line for behavior during a procedure? Was there a line at all?
Dana – For me there’s always a relative professional line. I’ll let joking go on and keep it lighthearted, but I’m always gonna keep it professional. Honestly, the largest perpetrators on breaking the line, and now I see that maybe I could have been more proactive at it, were the Doms. If I would have been more communicative before we got in the room, said things like “hey I’m going to be professional, I will answer all your questions, this is how I have to run things, these are the answers that I need and that I need from the piercee, I respect your relationship but these are the answers and how I need them”, I would’ve had a much better response. Early on there was a lot of puff up and a lot of male chauvinistic don’t-touch-my-girlfriend bravado bullshit. One of my favorite stories is I had a football player pass out watching me pierce his girlfriends navel thirty seconds after he told me “don’t hurt her or I’ll kick your ass!” It’s a fun story to tell but the reality is its up to us to diffuse preconceived ideas in the room and just professionalism can’t do that. You have to be able to read the situation better, and it’s tough sometimes. I didn’t even really learn a lot about the BDSM structure then, I’m really glad that I now know that the most open communication for that community is the best because I can literally stop before we go in the room and say I mean no disrespect, this is how I run my piercing room, and they both go “holy shit, that’s amazing” and everything goes smoothly. I didn’t know that at first. I had a bunch of Doms talking down to me and trying to boss me around and there was a power struggle in the room and thats not conducive to a positive piercing.
Ari – Who are bigger babies? Piercers or Suspension practitioners?
Dana – Piercers involved in suspension are the biggest babies!
Ari – The apex predator of the field!
Dana – Apex whiney. But there are people that don’t fit that mold. There are people that are piercers that are fantastic suspension ninjas. Steeve Easley is a fucking ninja. There are other suspension practitioners that are fan-fucking-tastic, but he is a piercer/shop owner/suspension ninja, he is amazing. I don’t know how he has a viable relationship, I don’t know when he sleeps, he just does so much, but he’s amazing.
Ari – With the internet making some customers assume they know everything already, how has that impacted the customer service end of this job?
Dana – Really, we have to be super delicate with our clients, more-so now then ever before. You have to walk on eggshells with the clients a little bit more these days, they do know what they want within reason. Back in the day when someone came in and said I want a 4g guiche, the answer was that may not be realistic based on your anatomy, and they would accept that. Now, the question is I want a 3mm diamond in my nostril, the answer is the companies we buy our jewelry from charge us this much, and they say no, because the internet or my jeweler tells me otherwise. I think the largest impact in this is something Shannon solidified some years ago, and that’s the internet is going to help and destroy the body modification industry.
Ari – You don’t think we’re doing it to ourselves?
Dana – We’re doing it to ourselves by maintaining a connection to the internet. Not just to ourselves, not just to each other, not just to our construct. I think that it’s possible that we maintain a secondary communication and commitment to just our industry and just post and put forth what we want the rest of the world to see on specific levels, but we don’t. We choose to make everything open and honest. There’s full transparency, and we shouldn’t have full transparency. You know who doesn’t have transparency? Any other fucking jewelry industry.
Ari – Is there anyone you feel like doesn’t get enough credit for being awesome or innovative?
Dana – Innovative in what they do, or innovative in their jewelry selection? I think that’s a valid question. Because these days, it’s about jewelry selection, not about what you do. It’s not about what you pierce anymore, it’s about what you put in it.
Ari – Ok, so let’s roll with that, who do you think is the head of the game for innovative jewelry combos?
Dana – I think the advent of creating a new vessel within the studio, a new position, not just a front counter person and not a piercer, but creating a jewelry specialist, are people like Brianna Sheehan and Lilly O’Neil. Using that type of person in our business is going to change the game. The game keeps going this direction, and piercers are becoming more and more behind the scenes. It doesn’t matter what we do, other than making straight holes. It matters more that there are people like Lilly or Brianna who are creating new ideas and new visions and new jewelry selections for us. Not to demean or deface what they’re doing, but the fact that we spent 35-40 years building up us as a craft to have it all broken down by commerce, to where the person who selects and designs the jewelry makes all the rules is tough to wrap your head around. I miss the focal point of the process being the act, not the jewelry. I’m ok with it, I’m still paying my bills with it, I’m working with it, but it’s become a job, not a living. I don’t live for this. I mean that’s why I chose suspension, thats why it became my passion – because the sheer act of it was to help people do whatever it was they needed to do. Because piercing wasn’t that, and hasn’t been that in almost 20 years.
Ari – If we were to reroute this “industry” to a more legitimized position, to compare with other industries in the country, where is the catalyst for that to occur? Is it within the APP? Is it outward?
Dana – The answer in that relies in eliminating the ego in the practitioner, and the business owner, and creating a working class piercer as opposed to an artist class piercer. Piercers need to shut their egos off. My response for people that want to learn how to pierce is don’t. I keep telling them straight up, if you want to drop everything you know and love and live out of a backpack living on the couch of someone you know for three years, do it, because thats the kind of dedication it should take to learn how to do this properly. But I can’t speak for everyone. That’s not what it is anymore, it’s being hired as a minimum wage employee, it’s you work a front counter customer service position for two years, and then you’re guaranteed to learn how to pierce within 18 months after that.
Ari – Favorite literature – photography or word based.
Dana – I grew up with Modern Primitives 1, and then I kept going into RE/Search and got into The Industrial Culture Handbook 2The other one that’s awesome is Super Masochist 3, several hundred pages on Bob Flannagan. RE/Search was a good start though. Aside from the RE/Search books I like William Gibson, Phillip K. Dick,Peter J. Carroll, works of gnostic mysticism, magick. I like reading about madness completely connecting with things we can’t understand, ya know? I’m pretty sure it was Carroll that came up with a theory of channeling spirits into god damn silicon computer chips. I love that shit.