Just on time, as Burning Man kicks off its ticket madness today, here is a recollection of events at our theme camp Gymnasium and beyond in 2017. If you would like to get engaged with our camp this year in any way, please e-mail us or leave a comment to this post! You can read more about the concept of our camp on its webpage, but overall our theme refers to the Ancient Greek institution for athletics, philosophy and socializing.
Traditionally, our first even was a running race – from the esplanade to our camp at 7:30 Plaza.
Being on the first day of the festival, the race was dominated by our own campmates,
and the winner turned out to be yours truly 😉
This time, we no longer used laurel wreaths ordered online – instead, we had them hand-made by two campmates from the Netherlands. They added a bit of a Dutch twist to it though: judging by the shape of the leaves, it was more of a ‘weed’ wreath 😀
Our Gymnasium also featured a massage station,
especially popular after sport events, and some lucky winners even got a four-hand massage.
Even though our theme camp was first conceived with an idea to revive the ideals of the Ancient Olympics, we keep on adding more elements to have a more complete ‘gymnasium’ in its original meaning – with philosophical discussions and arts as well.
2017 saw our first installment of a pottery workshop, which was a lot of fun, for campmates and guests alike!
It all started with a block of clay.
and after rolling a few pieces, we moved on to creating vessels using the coiling method.
Of course, our inspiration came from Ancient Greek vases,
more specifically, of black-figure type
(but not without some Burning Man twist to it).
Though only the most determined students remained until that stage of the workshop 😀
In 2016, we pumped up the acrobatics compartment of our Gymnasium by adding a gymnastics wheel, aptly fitting to that year’s theme of Burning Man,
but in 2017 one of the campmates brought and entire aerial rig!
Needless to say, it was a very popular attraction among our guests
and campmates alike.
Some poses seemed easier
than the others,
but all of them evoked flying!
The gymnastics wheel was busy too,
but not everyone needed equipment for their acrobatic tricks!
Surely, there was also plenty of fun to be had and art to be seen outside our camp,
and we had a couple of group outings.
A great aspect of art at Burning Man is that it is interactive,
and 2017 was particularly good in this respect.
Many art pieces were calling to incorporate you, to become their part!
The Tree of Ténéré was certainly one of the most popular installations day and night (you can see it by night in the video above).
This cylinder of LED stripes seemed like a pretty simple construction,
but once you got inside and someone spun it, it would turn into an amazing spectacle of color!
Inside this red circular tunnel, one could feel like on a spaceship mission.
And Incendia was our favorite sound camp to dance [naked] at night –
their roof was on fire, literally! 2017 was a hot year at Burning Man, but the nights were still quite chilly, so that fire felt nice.
It was hypnotizing to observe the fire from below, but if that wasn’t enough,
you could use special viewing glasses that multiplied the visual input.
We first saw this camp at FreeForm Festival in 2016, but at Burning Man their installation was much bigger. And thanks to that fire, we could dance naked all night long – till sunrise!
I was gifted glasses that transformed any source of light into a heart ❤ shape, so when I tried them with the rising sun, it was amazing!
The DJ who played that night – Seth Schwarz – was really good, my major music discovery of 2017. Along with mixing records, he played an electric violin, and it wasn’t just a gimmick but an essential and natural part of his set.
… Well, and if you have heard about our camp before, by this time you must be wondering about our famous naked oil wrestling. Of course this was the main feature of Gymnasium again!
Unfortunately, there was a mistake in the Burning Man app and info center that showed our camp in a completely wrong location, which we found out only after a couple of days, but we still had a good attendance of our most popular event.
We had three wrestling events, with a winner in each, and one was particularly memorable. Despite seemingly having a disadvantage,
he knew what he was doing
and sent his opponents out of the ring with ease!
That golden laurel weed wreath was well deserved!
And here is a video with clips from some of the matches, enjoy!
Are you going this year? Let us know and join our events!
Burning Man festival this year saw the second installation of our theme camp Gymnasium, which refers to the Ancient Greek institution for athletics, philosophy and socializing. You can read more about the concept of our camp on its webpage, but here is our report with some imagery that should help you imagine what it was like (or evoke some good memories, if you participated in our events).
Even though our theme camp was first conceived with an idea to revive the ideals of the Ancient Olympics, this year besides the athletics we put more effort into another aspect of the concept of ‘gymnasium’ in its original meaning – philosophical discussions (with wine). For one session, each participant received a quote of a Greek philosopher and lead discussion on its subject, which let us cover all kinds of topics. We also had a session when we talked about our personal attitudes towards nudity as well as our views on the possible role for naturism in the [default] society. The common theme was the feeling of liberation and bonding with others that brings the simple act of social nudity – and the photos here seem to confirm that.
An entirely new idea for this year was the gymnastics wheel (aka German wheel). Several month before the festival, I stumbled upon a photo with German wheel gymnasts from 1920’s and immediately got an impression that it would be a big hit at Burning Man. As you can see below, it provided a perfect link between the theme of our camp and the theme of Burning Man this year – ‘Da Vinci’s Workshop’.
We of course refer to the drawing of the Vitruvian Man by Da Vinci, and expectedly the Man himself took the iconic shape this year.
We were so happy to see that our idea was immediately understood by other burners – as soon as we rolled the wheel onto the playa, we had people queuing to take a picture,
and it seemed like it was self-explanatory that one was supposed to get naked for a photo à la Vitruvian Man 🙂
This was a big success in terms of bringing all kinds of people to try a new fun activity in the buff and in public,
and they were creative with poses.
But we didn’t forget the primary function of the gymnastics wheel,
and the flat playa surface was perfect to roll it.
We had to be careful to avoid possible injuries, as even one rotation proved to be a lot more difficult than we had anticipated. The gymnastics wheel turned out to be a great magnet for people back at the camp too – dozens of passers by stopped to try it every day; only a few managed though, even with helpers.
In their defense, I have to note that in the first days we only knew one, difficult way of holding yourself in the wheel during rotation: pushing up with your arms with all power while maintaining them as straight as possible. That was until someone came by and said that there had been a workshop on gymnastics wheel at Hellfire Society camp. (On what subject isn’t there a workshop at Burning Man?) So we went there, and the camp lead gladly arranged another workshop specially for us. It turned out that while our technique wasn’t impossible, the typical and much better way to hold yourself during rotation on the wheel was by hooking your feet.
After we learned that, the success rate among all the newbies to gymnastics wheel skyrocketed, and we were on the roll 🙂
Our first athletic event in the week was the running race.
This year we only had a short race on our street,
but it was a nice way to get attention from our neighbors and passers by.
It was all for fun, but it was a competition nevertheless.
Our Gymnasium also offered daily fitness exercises, with Matt leading push-up sessions every morning.
This year we had a certified yoga/acro-yoga instructor among our campmates,
so we had a few sessions at the camp
and also played a bit on the playa.
We probably should have spent a little more time posing with those amazing and massive art pieces,
but unfortunately some of them were burned much earlier in the week than we had anticipated (e.g. the pyramids on Friday morning).
Some installations were quite interactive and served as great frames for photos, literally.
Other installations referred to familiar views of the “default world”, like NYC skyline at the Kostume Kult, making the whole experience only more surreal…
(I wish we could sip our morning coffee in Manhattan just like that!)
Unfortunately I enjoyed my nights out in an immediate manner, and recorded neither my own naked dancing on the ashes of the burned Man and at the White Ocean nor the performance by a couple of naked fire-spinners at the Mayan Warrior art car, which was probably my favorite mutant vehicle in terms of the music (and certainly in terms of the lights). But here is a short clip from that night I found online, where you can see those two naked fire-spinners, but resting in the crowd at the time – perhaps a video with their performance will appear at some point too, but I’m just happy to have witnessed it.
As you can see, our camp was primarily focused on providing interactive events rather than art and installations,
but we arranged some decorations to highlight our reference to Ancient Greece.
This year we added a statue depicting Hercules wrestling Diomedes for his 8th labor. By the way, I haven’t been able to find an explanation behind that ‘penile grip’ – so if there are specialists in history of art among the readers here, please enlighten us in the comments 😎
Here comes our report from Burning Man festival this year, when 18 of us gathered together to create a camp themed around Gymnasium as an Ancient Greek institution for athletics, philosophy and socializing. You can read more about the concept of our camp on its own webpage; we launched this project a few months earlier at FreeForm Festival, and here you can see how it came about at the festival of festivals, Burning Man. (But keep in mind that this is by no means an attempt to write about the festival as a whole, there simply “too much” fun stuff happens to be able to grasp more than just a fraction of it.)
After months of preparation, the last days before the festivals were very exciting but also a bit scary – with this endeavor being our first experience as such a theme camp, something was likely to go wrong! Indeed, our early arrival/construction crew had a flat tire at the start of the trip in San Francisco, and as we collected all the stuff that we planned to carry to Black Rock City, we realized we had to buy an extra trailer. We resolved all the issues smoothly but experienced another setback due to the weather, as on Saturday before the opening of the festival, when we had planned to construct our camp, a severe dust storm took place; we could only enter Black Rock City in the evening and started construction early on Sunday.
Well, luckily we didn’t plan on building anything complicated, so we raised most of our shade structures before the rest of our campmates arrived. (Then later on in the afternoon a strong gust almost blew off a part of our shade structure, bending some of the carrying metal parts and tearing apart one of the tarps, but we were able to fix it; although it doesn’t say so in the instructions, it is apparently important to fix the structure with additional ropes and rebar.)
The final touch was putting up the banner of our camp.
Our location was great – at 7:30 Portal and A, we were at a busy intersection, but also with easy access to the Esplanade and an open view all the way to the man.
And that view proved to be nothing short of amazing on the first night, with the supermoon rising next to the Man statue.
Another nature’s wonder was a mini-tornado coming to us from the playa –
it was not any dangerous though, as you can see in the video below.
Well, this video shows a few other things too, but there’s still a lot more to the story (and two more videos) – so keep on reading. A couple more words about the camp:
We had a simple bike rack available for the visitors (note the horse head masks used for its decoration, I’ll mention them later).
For decoration, we used an olive tree (artificial – live plants are prohibited at Burning Man), columns adorned with ivy, and a small statue of Poseidon (without a trident, to make him look more like a generic Ancient Greek athlete…) – next time, we plan to team up with a 3D-printing camp to make a bigger statue.
The schedule of our activities was put daily on the blackboard.
Our first event included two running races – a 100-yard sprint
and a longer, approx. 1.8 km run from our camp to the Man and back.
The sprint was won by Chris, and the long run by yours truly 🙂
Admittedly, there weren’t that many participants, but it was still very early in the week, while many camps were still wrapping up their construction. We had other races planned, e.g. piggy-back and barrel-run, as we did at FreeForm, but we had to postpone and eventually cancel those due to dust storms and because the horse head masks which were meant for the final run of that race were stolen borrowed without asking from our bike rack. We also had to cancel our only night event – ‘discus (LED-lit frisbee) throw in the dark… and in the buff’ – because the nights were bitterly cold in the second half of the week! (Though as you can briefly see in the video above, we still managed to dance naked at some night parties getting warm by the fire from the art cars.)
Our ‘Naked Philosophy’ session was more of a personal introduction among our camp mates, as we did not know each of us in person; and then we discussed our experience in naturism and what it meant for us.
Our most successful event by far was the naked oil wrestling, and here is our second video dedicated to it. Unfortunately some of the video is quite blurry, because oil got on my camera, and most of the footage was not usable at all Oh well, at least it was a GoPro in a sealed casing, so the camera was totally fine after washing.
Our naked oil wrestling drew a lot of attention, even people in fancy mutant vehicles stopped to watch the match.
As at FreeForm Festival, we used sumo rules, which are the easiest to follow from all wrestling types, and added some Greekness to it with olive oil (and nudity), as a reference to the authentic Olympics.
Each match started with ceremonial wide steps, and then opponents tried to push each other
until one of them stepped outside the ring;
and the soles of the feet were the only part of the body allowed to touch the ground – so pushing the opponent down could also work.
But perhaps the most effective approach is simply carrying the opponent outside the ring, preferably keeping him upside down! 😀
For each pair, the victory was decided in 2 wins out of 3 matches.
We didn’t structure the whole event as an ultimate competition though – anyone could challenge whoever they wanted, and more than once. But we had two wrestlers that stood out
and were well matched –
so their sparring was very intense and captivating.
But even the fiercest match ended with a hug.
And both of them received well-deserved golden laurel wreaths!
(By the way, I lost their contact, so if anyone knows them – please put us in touch!)
After the final match, all wrestlers were welcome to go to an amazing massive group shower ‘perfoamance’ at the camp called ‘Something Freaky Foams This Way’. Next day, we arranged the same competition at their camp – so that people queuing up to get foamed would try their strength in wrestling and entertain the public, and skip the line. We got in touch with one of the organizers of this camp at FreeForm Festival, and this was the best collaboration we could ask for – getting clean and relaxed felt particularly amazing after days in the dust and then even more so after wrestling. Decent showers are obviously quite sought-after at Burning Man, but this camp brings the whole experience to the next level by making it a massive group (40 people at a time) and entertaining activity (with countdown and music, water and foam sprayed under high pressure).
Here are some more photos from the wrestling matches at our camp and ‘Something Freaky Foams This Way’, if the ones above and the video aren’t enough.
Besides planned events, we had a few spontaneous activities, e.g. dance practices by Antony and damoN.
Unfortunately, we don’t have any footage of our fun session of a naked Greek dance with music from ‘Zorba the Greek’. It was lead by our new friend from another camp, and he rightfully suggested we would like the idea of performing this dance naked, which he said was his fantasy from a while ago, when he learned it at a Greek restaurant.
And if you follow this blog, you shouldn’t be surprised seeing some naked capoeira here 🙂
And with Tam around, acro-yoga was bound to happen sooner or later –
to our own and guests’ entertainment.
Then we toured a bit around the playa and did more acro-posing with some of Burning Man’s most interesting art constructions in the background.
This structure proved to combine very well with acro-yoga,
as its multiple lines were quite easy to align with the body parts of the posers.
From afar, it looked as if the giant metal ball was resting on Antony supported by Tam’s legs…
And one of the Mars Molecules seemed to be designed perfectly for acro-yoga, not just as a background, but as a base too.
Here is a composition with three men again.
And now, three men intertwined into one ‘laughing dragon’ –
laughing and causing laughter in viewers alike.
There were a few other camps that offered activities in the buff. Besides washing your body from all the dust, sweat and, in our case, also oil at the ‘perfoamance’ camp, cleaning the nose from accumulating dust seemed like a good idea too… and of course there was a camp for that – Neti’s (naked) Nose Spa – and naked too! I really liked how I felt afterwards, so when I got home I immediately ordered a neti pot. Some events were missed due to dust storms or cold nights (e.g. black light naked twister), others I simply forgot about (e.g. naked skateboarding session).
The camp across the street from us, Decadent Oasis, provided the best light show at night, with their technicolor ever-changing palm trees and great music. We were invited to do a striptease for their bachelorette party, though we first had to find some clothes to put on 😀 They also had a slackline,
and we were treated with a show of really good slackline walker who was naked and walked it all way through.
which featured plenty of nudity in its decoration among other elements.
Another view of the R-Evolution statue.
Riding on the bike in the heat of the day felt pretty nice thanks to the light wind (unless it turned into a dust storm!)
But the best conditions seemed to be around sunset time – the sun wasn’t scorching but it was still very warm before the onset of the cold night, and the air was still – that’s when we liked strolling around in our altogethers. But the photo below shows how you can be well protected against the elements while being naked!
And for comparison, this is how the same place looked like one day after the end of the festival…
Sad that everything has to come to an end, but on the other hand Burning Man celebrates immediacy, so realization of the temporary nature of… everything is part of the festival.
We made sure to leave no trace behind us and were ready to go home for the next adventure. Gymnasium proved to be a great experience for its organizers and visitors alike (hopefully all of them, let me know if not) and will hopefully develop only more in years to come!
And here is our third, bonus video with damoN performing on the playa. This was shot while the festival was still rocking, just outside Black Rock City. In case you thought it was difficult to escape from the crowds at this massive festival, it is actually easy to find a place where you can be alone when you would like to reconnect with your ‘inner self’; and the vast open landscape of the desert will only help with that. But it’s good to know that you’re next to the city full of your friends or yet-to-become friends.
FreeForm Festival really lives up to its name, and after I had so much fun there last year, I was determined to come back, and even more excitingly, together with our theme camp Gymnasium. FreeForm brings together a very diverse crowd, and although you wouldn’t see many naked participants, it is officially a clothing-optional event. Our camp was the only one where nudity was at its core, but there were some occasional fellow nudies here and there, e.g. two naked fire-spinners at the effigy burn (to which I unfortunately forgot to bring my camera). So, we saw it as our opportunity to reach out to many people who don’t have experience in naturism (or simply said, those who are not used to hang out naked) and show them the great fun that comes with nude recreation. This was also a good test for us before launching our project of Gymnasium on a much larger scale at Burning Manlater this summer. We got lots of encouragement and ideas for collaboration, and here are just some highlights.
Our first event attracted about a dozen people, but only our camp members were naked. Well, we thought it was still a success, as to bring across the idea of social nudity, people should get comfortable with others being naked, and then maybe it will not be too long until they feel comfortable in their own skin too.
And our event required quite a bit of collaboration, often between ‘skins and shirts’, as it was a race that combined a piggy-back ride
and a barrel run.
It was pure fun,
but to add a bit of competitive spirit and even more fun, we arranged a final race for the first 4 pairs from the initial run;
for the final, the leading person had to wear a horse (or pig, in one case) mask, which partially obscured vision.
Thus, besides making it more fun for the spectators, these masks were supposed to encourage communication between riders and horses.
At the turn from piggy-back ride to barrel-run, riders and horses had to swap, so the participants in each pair experienced both roles, though in different versions.
Just seeing these photos, it looks like barrel run in the mask was a bit more difficult to control,
but everybody made it till the end 🙂
My pair won, and is it was the only one where both participants were naked, let me conclude (admittedly, in an anecdotal manner) that communication and collaboration work best between naked people 🙂
And the horse sort of became our camp’s mascot (we hung our program with historical references at the entrance to the camp).
Later in the day, we went to the temple area, played wind gongs
and climbed trees (because why not? This won’t be an option at Burning Man :-))
Then it was time for our nude dance workshop aka NuDance, for which we collaborated with our neighbors, ‘Priority 5’ camp – they provided the soundtrack. Thanks again, guys, in case you read this! We were really lucky to have them as our neighbors, as they had some of the best music around (probably among my 2 favorite music camps along with ‘Echo’).
But here is a sad side note about music at FreeForm: apparently, some outdoors after-hours music sessions that were not supposed to take place kept some locals in the neighboring village awake to the extent that they filed a complaint and now FreeForm has to find a new home 😦 Hopefully, it won’t be difficult for the organizers.
Then there was another event that triggered some joyful nudity – a crossover from Holi festival, where participants splash each other with brightly-colored powders. I missed it, as I was getting massage at that time, but luckily other campmates brought some extra powders, so we had our own naked celebration of colors.
And our colorful rabbit with a powerful jump deserves an extra credit 🙂
We continued with Indian-inspired activities by doing yoga that turned into a symposium (as you may know from our theme camp description, this idea of drinking wine in different poses was also inspired by depictions of symposiums from Ancient Greek vases).
We discussed a bit how to increase attendance of our events next year, and one solution was obvious – we should apply for workshops at the lawn by the main stage to increase visibility and traffic.
But then our last event was very successful indeed. Perhaps because people started packing and bringing down their tents, so our camp became more visible, or simply because many liked the idea, we had a very good attendance at our oil wrestling match. Even the founder of FreeForm Festival stopped by; he liked the idea of our camp, being both very interactive and educational, and advised to get some Greek-themed decorations such as columns (which we’re already planning for Burning Man).
Quite a few people showed for our wrestling match, and then more were joining from passers by. It was a good idea to use oil for participants (and we used a good quality Greek olive oil), as this encouraged them to get naked (and all did except for one who kept his underwear, because his girlfriend was strict about that allegedly :-))
Here are just a few highlights,
so you get an impression of how our matches went.
We used sumo wrestling rules, which are the simplest of all wrestling styles, i.e. only the soles of the feet are allowed to touch the ground and you have to stay within the ring.
The most common winning strategy was pushing the opponent outside the ring, sometimes quite vigorously,
but even then all matches ended in a peaceful manner
and the whole atmosphere was very friendly.
Another strategy was lifting the opponent and bringing him, or her as in this case, down… Though it didn’t work for me, as my opponent clung to me, and I had to extend my arm to the ground not to fall.
Lifting the opponent and carrying him outside the ring worked well too.
And some more selected moments for you:
I really like these pictures,
as they show interaction between people,
many of whom are complete strangers to each other,
while some are close friends,
but in either case, it is both very physical and social.
At times it looked almost like a fist fight,
and then more like a dance,
but keeping it balanced was the key to maintain the fun,
even when the opponents were of quite different size.
Which by the way wasn’t often a good predictor of who would win:
our match showed that size doesn’t matter, but skillfulness does! 😉
Admittedly, the matches between more similarly skilled and sized opponents
were the most exciting to watch
and lasted longest.
And I guess you’ve been wondering – yes, we did have an all female match too!
And I’ll just finish here quoting a comment from one of them, which makes me think that our mission was accomplished: “thanks for making me feel so comfortable naked and learning how much I love how it feels!”
PS I actually love these photos so much, and I think they quite grasp the essence of the whole idea of Active Naturists and our theme camp, so here is a gallery with an extended selection for your enjoyment.