Las Vegas’ new, free-spirited queer dance party emphasizes inclusivity

Salem Night performs during Bodywork’s kickoff at Oddfellows.
Photo: Miranda Alam / Staff

After nearly three years in Las Vegas, one of Downtown’s most unique queer events, Soft Leather, has come to an end. But sometimes, when one door closes another opens, and that’s the case with Oddfellows’ newest event, Bodywork.

Organizers Kirsten Martin, Ashelynne Cyrena Morales and Brock Goldstein originally ran the Vegas-based Soft Leather chapter but put their talents together to launch a new event after cutting ties with Soft Leather in March. The group’s new dance party, Bodywork, takes place every last Thursday of the month, with the second installment scheduled for April 25. “We’re creating a space rather than re-creating a space,” Martin, the event’s visual director, tells the Weekly.

The reason Soft Leather ended in Las Vegas is complicated. “We take great care in the presentation of Soft Leather in LA, and part of that involves spending hours programming lights and creating an atmosphere that will make people feel like they’re in a cross between the blood rave from Blade ... and Club Hel from The Matrix,” says founder of Soft Leather Johnny Love. "A very important part of that atmosphere is heavy use of a fog machine, which no club that we've dealt with in Vegas can handle without tripping a fire alarm or messing up their HVAC. We had the issue at Oddfellows; we had the issue at the venue we used for the AVN afterparty; and two other venues I reached out to had the same issue. There's no point in putting on a half-assed production and giving people the wrong impression of what the event is. So instead of watering the brand down, I'd prefer for people to come see the 'real thing' in LA."

Also, Soft Leather recently became a members-only event; patrons have to apply to get in. “For the safety of our party and our guests, we are transitioning to being a members-only party, moving location and using a map point to filter out cops, snitches, creeps and bros,” Soft Leather posted to Facebook in March.

So Martin, Morales and Goldstein, who were looking to embrace a different aesthetic, parted ways. “We were alienating so many people by pounding down on one type of queer expression,” Martin says. “We’re too small here in Vegas to be pigeonholed as one type of alternative. We really wanted to get back to the core values of what we founded, which was a pansexual, creative flow space.”

Bodywork will continue to incorporate drag, voguing and dance music culture in its events, with more of an emphasis on freedom of expression. “We just want a space for everyone to feel comfortable, whether that’s drag or dressing up as a club kid, or not identifying as anything,” Martin says. (Folks can RSVP at the website bodywork.club.)“Sex positivity doesn’t have to come in leather. It can and it’s cool when it does, but that’s not what we want to make our final message.”

Martin says Bodywork specifically wants to acknowledge its roots in ’80s ballroom culture. “This is a space that was sort of translated from the ballroom scene [which was created by] queer people of color, so we are trying to interpret that in a modern way … we’re very aware of the music and where it comes from and giving it life in a way that respects its origins.”

The ultimate message, Martin says, is a simple one: “This is a space for you.”

Bodywork April 25, 10:30 p.m., $5, free with RSVP. Oddfellows, bodywork.club.

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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