"I'm into it for the altered states of consciousness," says Steve Joyner, who founded the group two years ago but has been pierced and strung up for nearly eight years with various other organizations. With the aid of yoga breathing techniques, he says, it's possible to reach a state of meditation while suspended; he has even been able to hallucinate. "Some people use drugs to do that," Joyner says. "We don't."
Eddie Chavarria thinks being hung on hooks is a good way to dig deep into himself and release his stress and anger. He comes by CoRE for a session when the going gets tough. "It makes you shine in a different light for a while," he says.
Joyner was into just tattoos and body piercing until he read an article in National Geographic and came across the book Modern Primitives, which described the techniques used in Thailand and in other cultures for rituals. After he tried it, he was hooked. "I'm not looking for God," he says. "I just want that natural high."
He became dissatisfied with his first group because it seemed more interested in blood and mutilation than in the art of suspension. When Joyner formed CoRE, he wanted to show the beauty of a practice that is often misunderstood by the public, despite its long tradition in primitive societies. To that end, Joyner choreographs routines set to original music and dresses his performers in lavish costumes. Often CoRE's shows have a story line and look a bit like something you'd see at Cirque du Soleil.
"We do a theatrical take as opposed to the shock value of it," says Rene Richards, who's in charge of CoRE's marketing. The group is one of only two in the nation to put a little showmanship into the act, she says. CoRE's unique take on this cross between S&M and New Age spiritualism has allowed the group to tour internationally. They're set to highlight the upcoming French film festival L'Etrange, and they've even appeared on the Discovery Channel and Ripley's Believe It or Not.
The skin will sometimes tear during a show if someone gets a little rambunctious, though CoRE has yet to have a hook rip completely through. As a general rule, the hide on the back tends to be stronger than on the knees or calves. The scars left behind, however, tend to be relatively small.
But the group is quick to list its disclaimers: A medic is on hand before, during and after all shows; the spots for piercing are marked and disinfected beforehand; and CoRE has a rigorous training program on how to handle blood-borne pathogens, prevent cross-contamination and dispose of biohazardous waste.
One still wonders if there aren't less gruesome methods for stress relief. What ever happened to looking up a decent masseuse?