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Lifestyle

Night Tripper

What rises and falls in Detroit nooks and crannies after dark? Our new itinerant clubs columnist reports in four chapters.

Photos by: Ele Bardha, Michele Lucassian and Laurie Smolenski
Sirdy: "Master of Motown" at PlanB.
Rich Saramillo and Rachel Shulman at Harem.
Showing affection at Tonic.
Two blondes at Tonic.
Showing affection at Tonic.
Levon Millroff and Extrata.
A slave at the Eagle.
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A dude named Beer nabs an old carriage house and the Woodbridge neighborhood might never be the same

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Published 6/27/2007

Tonic for the troops

I escape into the ladies' room, where the boys are really missing the fun. Chicks powder each other's noses, grab ass and insist "ohmygawdyoulooksohot!" with mouths full of bobby pins. It's a racy mix — part titty-bar backstage, part beauty pageant dressing room, a runway of skimpy corsets, strappy camis and sheer chemises.

Even Coffee, the leggy loo attendant, sports a lacy black chemise. Perched on a stool with a tool kit of girly products displayed, Coffee makes sure these ladies are silky and spotless and smell delicious. We ask Coffee for a photo, and Precious Reed pops her red mop out of the stall, commanding the voluptuous Coffee to pose "Like you 'bout ta get some!"

For Coffee, the toiletry gig is more for social intercourse than it is money, although, she admits, drunk girls are good tippers. When I ask her how her clients would describe her, girls call over my shoulder, "excellent, sweet, generous, honorable." Coffee also reveals a softer side to these debauched damsels. "The drunker they get, the sweeter they are," she confides. Coffee demands respect too, and she gets it. "Yer makin' a mess in my bathroom!" she jokes to a girl who has dropped a tissue on the spotless floor, and the girl drops her garter-belted gluteus to grab it.

We're at Tonic nightclub, and teenage whoremoans are rampant. Frederick's of Hollywood's going-out-of-business sale meets a Miami Beach blowout. Tonight's Spring Splash Sexy Lingerie Bash is packed with three floors of kinky, half-naked young girls flashing flesh in babydolls, bustiers, boas and bralettes, all accented with teddies, thongs, fishnets and fur.

For years, this Pontiac club hotspot has been the scene for Sunday nights, and its owner, Marty Coats, estimates tonight's attendance at more than a thousand sexy (and not so sexy) bodies. DJs from 95.5 spin a deafening mix of hip hop, trash pop, Ibiza rave tunes and ghettotech booty beats. Six hunky bouncers who could be moonlighting Navy Seals keep order at the door, and, by midnight, the line stretches down South Saginaw. As if any extra incentive is needed, the evening's best (barely) dressed will bring home $200 cash, a limo ride and dinner at Lily's.

Before things get rolling, we get the grand tour with club GM Brian Goleniak. I can't help but ask Brian if he participates in the club's frequent bikini and lingerie contests.

"I have to wear a suit and look professional at all times, for some reason. It'd be hard to kick someone out in a Speedo," he explains. Brian assures us, however, that the waitstaff (all chicks) will be dressed for the part tonight, and leads us to the bar.

"How do you manage to hire such darling bartenders?" I inquire. Our drinks tonight are on Courtney Tyburski, the 18-year-old bombshell bartender with a toothpaste smile.

"Er ... I'll be PC and say we just get lucky," Brian answers.

Courtney tosses back her colossal curls and reveals a satiny magenta number trimmed with rhinestones. What a sweetheart, I think. She's wearing her prom dress! Maybe prom was this weekend. Courtney reaches for a bottle and I see that Courtney's "dress" is actually hemmed at her hips. I choke on my Grey Goose. Where else can dudes slobber over teenage bartenders rocking negligees and teddies while they sling drinks?

On the club's main floor, raven-headed trollops gyrate atop giant speakers that double as a stage. Tonight is 18 and up, and the getups range from elegantly arousing to downright dirty. Dudes salivate, sidle up to this makeshift altar-stage. A few dad types slink around the premises, and I overhear another geezer confess, "I have sons the ages of these girls." Well, Pops, if your sons know what's good for 'em, they're in here someplace.

Radio station 95.5-FM is hosting the event and their foxy frontgirl, Detroit's very own faux Paris (like Hilton, she reminds us), is kickin' it at the DJ booth. Yes, fresh-faced Paris even resembles the pre-jail real thing. The host for the night is 95.5's suntanned, gum-snappin' and frosted-locked Millen. He looks more Baywatch than booty-contest presenter. Throughout the night, he encourages slutty stage action by shouting, "Girls, I want all your fine asses up there!"

I ask Millen about past contest highlights, and he reveals his personal appreciation for "girls who show affection to each other."

"You mean like, girls making out?" I ask.

Millen nods, flashes me his pearly whites, and offers a reporting tip. "You need to experience this to get into the story."

Two of these very girls are Shannon Harrisen and Tiffany Jensen-Tan, busty, very young only-for-show lesbos grinding in the DJ area. A massive butterfly tramp stamp peeks out over Tiffany's short denim skirt, which she wears like a second skin. Shannon shakes her ass in even shorter rhinestoned cut-offs, and the duo's tiny black tops confirm carefully coordinated outfits. These comely chicks are clearly not making it to first hour on Monday morning. When I asked how they landed here they smile, "Oh, we're friends of the owner."

"Do you ever get nervous dancing on stage?" I ask.

"Sortaalittlebitkinda," Shannon giggles.

"Nah. I like to get dirty," Tiffany bats her heavily mascaraed eyes.

"What is the dirtiest thing you two would be willing to do on stage?" I venture.

"I like ta grind shit." Shannon thinks she's got one on Tiffany, who simply shrugs, "Get naked!"

"Do you girls ever take boys home from the club?"

"No!" They insist in unison, and exchange suggestive glances. "Well maybe girls ..." Tiffany adds and they erupt into shrieks of laughter.

"Do you ever fight over boys?"

"No way."

"Do you fight over girls?"   

Long pause, and they fall back into the couch, giggling.

Shannon and Tiffany engage in a lurid lip-lock for the camera, and I thank them for such tender insight. Then Tiffany smacks my ass, a move that she will repeat throughout the night.

Not everyone gawks at T&A. Rob Zimmerman has eyes only for his new bride, Tanya. By new, I mean Tanya is getting down on the dance floor in her wedding gown. The lovebirds' reception had just ended, and Tonic seemed like a good place to keep the party going. At this point I run into Millen again, who is disappointed that we left our teddies at home. He reminds me dramatically, "You gotta be your story."

By the end of the night, I have a host of accounts referencing the sexiest or dirtiest things dudes have seen at Tonic.

"I'm pretty sure I saw a girl get fingered on the dance floor," chimes Marko Mandaric, the dance move maniac hiding behind aviators.

"Me taking home four girls at once. They call me a porn star now." This one is from 95.5 DJ and Tonic vet Ryan Richards (whom you might also know as "Boom-Boom").

As we're leaving, I realize that if anyone knows the ins and out of Tonic, it must be Coffee. I am sure she'll reveal something steamy, sexy or smutty.

What's the dirtiest thing she's ever seen here?

Coffee inspects her perfectly manicured orange sherbet nails and shakes her head in disgust. "Women not washin' their hands when they leave the ladies' room."

Spread eagles

Strobe lights illuminate an eclectic mash of sexy, slim-hipped disco devotees, walking-art fashionistas and prominent Detroit and international DJs. From the likes of this dance floor, you'd never guess that there's a guy upstairs strapped in a straitjacket getting shocked.

Welcome to the Eagle.

Next to the checkered dance floor, a mythical little booth plastered with '70s porn images houses the Disco/Secret DJs. Flags from various leather clubs hang proudly from the second floor. The bartender shakes his head at my first two beer requests — this Detroit hangout at Trumbull and Holden keeps it simple. Bobby Orlando is playing, and it's dark inside.

First things first, I venture upstairs to find what I think is the ladies' room. Instead, I set eyes on a man being tied to a post. He sports merely a black thong, combat boots, sweat socks and a huge boner. The men around him have their choice of hardware with which to tantalize and torture him: The pool table is covered with spiked roller tools, metal collars, handcuffs and loads of leather straps, whips and chains, as well as scissors that, before my very eyes, slice a penny in half.

Meet the Detroit Bondage Club. The Eagle is Detroit's premier lair for leather lads, and it is here that DBC gives monthly bondage demonstrations on the fourth Sunday of each month. They're ideal for folks who are intimidated by the DBC's private parties ... perhaps because they are held not at the Eagle but in a dungeon. Dave Hill, one of the founders of the DBC, sighs, "Newcomers might fear something out of Silence of the Lambs."

The DBC's dungeon comes to life once a month, when 10 to 20 gay men gather in Dave and his lover Julio's converted basement to engage in what Dave calls "play sessions" or "play parties." There, "tops" or "masters" engage in improvisational play ranging from such time-honored acts such as whipping, flogging and "any type of beating" to more elaborate scenes involving metal cages, mousetraps and mummification.

"No one has ever really gotten hurt there ... unless they wanted to," one member assures me as I pore over candid photos of dungeon phenomena, proudly displayed on a poster board. The "bottoms" or "slaves" are mostly masked in black leather blindfolds and facial harnesses. (Anyone see People Under the Stairs?) In one impressive series of photos, hot wax is being peeled off a man's back. It looks like skin, it looks excruciating, and, Dave, it looks very Silence of the Lambs.

The man in the wax photos appears as the slave in countless others, and I recognize him as the gentleman tied to the post tonight at the Eagle. (At this point, passers-by are whipping him with leather straps). When later released (but only temporarily), he's introduced to me as "dave the Slave" (not to be confused with Dave Hill; I'm told the small "d" denotes his slave status). The Slave, like the other DBC men I meet, is friendly and speaks with librarian gentleness.

"You must have an incredible threshold for pain," I wince.

"I gradually took on pain over time, and that pain turned to pleasure," dave the Slave responds modestly.

"Do you ever get scared during a session?"

The Slave shows a small smile. "No, it's more like anticipation."

"What kinds of day jobs do DBC members typically hold?" I ask Dave Hill.

"Doctors, autoworkers, lawyers, businessmen, a therapist. Every week, we hold Tupperware parties." Dave is kidding about the Tupperware, but not the professions, and nods as if there's nothing unusual about trading in three-piece suits for studded straitjackets.

Imagine your shrink suspended from a dungeon ceiling, his balls roped in a harness.

At the bar below, the dance party crowd is kickin' with no concern for the acts upstairs. On Sundays, the first floor strays from the leather-daddy crowd with an unprecedented preservation of rare disco music, an event separate from the DBC. Tonight, a somewhat straight crowd is captivated by DJs including the Navy, Stallone, Relaxer, Loup Garou, the Bodydecker and Mike Trombley, as well as a host of other DJs from around America. Here, some of Detroit's (and the world's) most dedicated DJs throw down seamless tracks of Euro, Italian and classic disco played nowhere else in the city, and at few other clubs in the country. Loup Garou sums up the night well, saying, "We all push the 'disco' boundaries — and it's not just about rare records, it's about making people dance."

Levon Millroff and friends are in full force celebrating his 26th birthday tonight and as usual, these artists and stylists exhibit a hodgepodge of head-turning outfits that are at once whimsically carnival-like and colorfully provocative. Out as tranny burnouts one night, suited space-age the next, look for them in wigs and wings.

"Wherever we are, our goal is to captivate," improv stylist Amanda Gordon says of her friends. Gussied up tonight in a foxy policewoman-esque getup, Amanda describes her own style as "comic book villain." "Our motto," she says, "is 'Wherever there is a stage, conquer it.'" Justin adds, "We're on stage anyways, wherever we go."

A fashion designer and makeup wizard (he works for MAC Cosmetics), everything about artist Justin Ruppel is gorgeously exaggerated. Decked out in 24-carat gold teeth, an armful of bangles, enormous gold high-heel earrings and long blond hair, Justin towers overhead in larger-than-life glam. (He's 6 feet, 4 inches tall). While stroking his platinum locks, Justin tells me he draws inspiration from the early '80's New York drag scene, sideshows, carnivals, and anything subculture. Justin doesn't describe himself as a cross-dresser, but says when he finds a hot dress, "Regardless of what gender it was intended for ... I'll work the shit outta that outfit and not give a fuck."

A vibrant young hairdresser-designer with a passion for sewing, the birthday boy himself strives each week to create outfits for his and his friends' weekend romps through Detroit. Levon, a self-described "sponge of the fashion world," tells me his creations are experimental, nontraditional, and more recently, highlight a greater emphasis on cultural pieces.

"How do you describe your style?" I ask.

"I'm in the fantasy realm of my fashion — my goal right now is to look otherworldly, or more worldly."

"You make entire costumes for yourself and your friends every weekend?"

"I don't consider them costumes," Levon clarifies, "but, yes, I definitely spend a week making an outfit."

Tonight Levon's snuggled in a handmade silver cocoon cape. He opted not to wear the new shoes he made to match; they were coated in rhinestones and might not have survived the night's events. Levon has just returned from L.A. and Chicago where he saw two Björk shows for this birthday and insists, "It's great to be me." When I press him for tonight's plans, he smiles "Wait till I'm drunk, I'll be more expressive."

DJ Bodydecker will tell you the Eagle is his favorite place to play records because "It's OK to feed into those guilty pleasures here." When I pull myself from Electra's "Feels Good (Carrots & Beets)" to check on the bondage boys, they're feeding into guilty pleasures of their own sort. A small crowd has gathered and Dave Hill seems pleased with the turnout.

"After midnight it is a kind of circus around here, as you see," he smiles. The Slave still boasts an enormous boner, which he rests on the pool table like a tired limb. Inspired by a young onlooker's interest in nipple stimulation, Julio embarks on an unabashed demonstration on dave the Slave. It culminates in him massaging a vibrating tool over metal clips that hang from the other man's nipples. The Slave's eyes close, his head lolls around, his body pulses. Julio cups a hand over the Slave's masked mouth as he moans, inducing an arresting dichotomy of pleasure and pain.

All the while, the onlooker cocks his head and stares intently as if observing creatures in an aquarium. I watch this guy mesmerized by the Slave and pull Dave Hill aside. "Are these demonstrations where you recruit new guys for the private parties?" I ask.

"Yeah. ... We also kidnap them," he jokes.

See you in the dungeon.

Visit the Detroit Bondage Club at detroitbondageclub.com.

Poo 'n' roses

Woodward Avenue, Saturday at midnight: The SUV of frat boys bonging beers out of their sunroof surely signals summer's arrival, while the black dudes climbing out of their SUV windows to hit on girls is a testimony to Detroit flavor. Together we crawl for more than an hour from Mack to Jefferson and at one point get sardined in a triple-bus gridlock for five full traffic light changes. The whole experience is exacerbated by subwoofers and crotch-rockets, as well as hordes of Tigers fans and country-music junkies. The Downtown Hoedown is ending, and chubby cowgirls crowd the streets — the car next to mine nearly mows down the beau of one, and she bellows at him to "Get outta the street, you fucking reeeeetard!"

When I finally arrive at Detroit's PlanB nightclub, I have high expectations of clubgoers who've made the pilgrimage here, not to mention the doormen's scrupulous selection process. Yet I'm cautioned by Ernesto Mirjamc, the sexy, well-dressed Croatian standing outside. (I instantly give Ernesto credit for being one of few men who's not wearing a half-open short-sleeve button-down shirt.) Ernesto has already had enough of his "first and last night" and PlanB. He nods in the direction of the convertible sports cars barricading the club's entrance and sighs, "These people watch too much MTV. Everyone in there lives with their moms."

Inside, PlanB brings back memories of dances in my high school gym. The air hangs damp with sweat and bad cologne, baseball capped guys huddle in groups, and the nondescript dance floor could be a basketball court by day. Girls with long hair, low tops, and loads of makeup move tiredly to pulsing lights and techno.

I anticipate a migraine. Are girls into this? I wonder, and set out to investigate. I spot a lascivious lass standing alone in the corner, but before I can pull out a pen, she passes out face-first on the floor in front of me. A bouncer appears. He escorts her out. His casual expression suggests routine procedure.

The next three girls I approach refuse to comment, and a fourth makes an elaborate gagging impression when I inquire about the men.

Understandably then, busty PlanB regular Angela DiSimone has gotten herself into trouble with some boys here by feeding them a fake name and number. (Angela, are you aware that a "rejection hotline" number exists for times like these?) She runs into these men the weekend after, and tells me she usually spends most of the night avoiding them, and others. Sounds like a blast, Angela; I can see why you come here every week.

Earlier tonight, I'd wondered if the club's name references the morning-after pill, which teenagers apparently refer to as "plan B." Judging by the attitudes of these gals — wasted, bored and repulsed by the gents in attendance — I'm not so sure. ...

Blair Pover, looking smug behind his shades, tells me he plays it cool with the club chicks. "Girls are looking for guys who look like they aren't looking for girls, right?" He asks.

"Er, yeah." I answer. "What about the girls here tonight?"

"Girls that I pick up here, I might fuck, but not date ..." He spreads his arms across the white couch and adds, "Unless some freak incident would occur." With this attitude and Blair's little-brother looks (spiky blond hair and the omnipresent white-button down) I foresee no 'freak incident' in his immediate future.

I'm soon graced with an account of a different sort of freak incident as I approach a security guy on my way to the bar upstairs. Turns out, bouncer Shann Childress has a comical tale: "I once saw the flower guy jump in the air from one speaker to the next."

"Flower guy?" I ask.

"Yeah. Man jumped into the air like James Brown. You know that John Travolta pose? He did that. When he likes a song that come on, he dance. He's an older guy, but he act like he's twenty. Spinning around, like James Brown ... but with the splits!"

Shann squints to survey the crowd on the dance floor below, and after a moment, points out a goofy-looking little man with a sea of roses in arm. "You wanna good story?" Shann nods. "He's your man."

I finally corner this character near the basement dance floor. He is Sirdy, Detroit's very own self-proclaimed "Master of Motown." Known as "the Flower Guy" by night, Sirdy is a sly one. While he makes his living selling roses, Sirdy also uses the club as an avenue to network his music skills. He is a passionate singer (R&B), dancer (modern), and actor (he had a major part in the Detroit-produced gangster movie R.I.C.C.O — order your copy from yorkentertainment.com for just $7.99). Part cupid, part comic, Sirdy's sweet demeanor and offbeat humor instantly charm me.

"How long have you been in the city, Sirdy?"

"One hundred and twenty years," he says immediately, straightening his shiny purple suit. (At the risk of losing track of him, I would not let Sirdy sneak off to the bathroom to get gussied up before his photo op.) "Detroit is the most fantastic city, (yet) there are a lot of haters here. ... I'm one of the best singers on Earth, but people don't want me to be a success, because I'll take all the women."

This brings us back to another important topic: Detroit womenfolk. "Detroit has the most beautiful women in the world," Sirdy reminisces. "But women," he shoots me a serious look, "are just the customer. I like women, but this is bizzness!"

"Do you ever pick up girls while you're working at the club?"

"Aw, I have thousands of thousands of women. Women that see me dance, watch me on TV." He leans in, "Although, I'm more of a monoton[ous]— monogamous guy. I live a gangster life. I tell women I live in the Elmwood Cemetery. I tell 'em I get to stay in the mausoleum if I wipe off the headstones." Sirdy chuckles and adjusts his braided comb-over. He flashes a seductive, crooked-tooth gaze for the camera.

"Sirdy, what do you think of this place tonight?" I inquire. Before handing me a rose, he spins it around like a drumstick and finishes with a snappy little dance.

Then he looks around and offers up his philosophy: "I get pimps to spend money, and I get women happy."

Harem scarum

They look as if they've stepped off the set of a health-care TV ad: ethnically diverse, representative of all socioeconomic corners, an equal shake of men and women, young and old. I watch a fetching young blonde in a polka dot dress grab a gray-haired grandpa, and a slight Asian man rhumba with an exotic Afroed beauty. There's a trans in the mix, arm-in-arm with a straight teacher-librarian fellow. A 74-year-old named Nellie dances the night away. Women who could be fifth-grade lunch-ladies rub shoulders with the young hip-hop artists who perform here on weekends. There's a yogic-flying Ph.D. physicist searching for energetic connection in his mate for merengue.

Thursday is salsa night at the Harem club on Telegraph in Detroit, the only night when the club's owner Mohamed feels comfortable bringing his family here. The place is packed, and yet most people know each other by name. Women tell me they feel safe here. (Though the Harem has a full parking lot, a valet is offered in part for this purpose). At no other nightclub have I ever seen purses left untouched on tables while mammas go off to mambo. Ladies also feel respected; at the Harem, men politely petition for a dance, and real gentlemen offer their partners a towel after a dance. The regulars refer to their fellow salseros as family.

Show up at 8 for a salsa lesson with professional instructors; three bucks takes care of cover charge, two hours of lessons, a salsa CD. You won't hear mainstream Latin pop here; the promoters play classic salsa songs for the "connoisseurs of salsa music ... jazzy, soulful, and authentic." They also pass out chocolates, because "No one can be upset with salsa and chocolate." Harem is also free from the self-conscious stare-everyone-up-and-down routine I sense at many dance clubs. Forget "club attire," but most women dance in special salsa heels with suede bottoms (easier to turn on) with extra ankle straps for support.

Salsa at the Harem is intuitive, sexy, passionate. Under streams of hanging colored lights, dancers transform the circular dance floor into an exotic, high energy spectacle. Couples seem to move with intrinsic salsa insight that enables them to glide seamlessly as one, never fumbling, tripping or bumping. Through every hip-shaking swing, head-hanging dip, and arm-clasping twist, intricate sequences are impeccably executed. Between songs, partner switching takes on the same unspoken fluidity. Dancers smile the whole time but barely talk — they don't need to. Moving without a moment of hesitation, confidence oozes from their infinite twirls. As if by magic, everyone on the floor looks strong, lean, beautiful. Their expressions are intense. And everything is fast.

One man catches my attention. Short, slight and spry, he twists, twirls and dips a different damsel for nearly every song. During a song by Ray Rodriguez, I finally pull in from the floor. He introduces himself as Dr. Claude Windenberger, and within two minutes he's rapping about subatomic particles and Maharishi.

With boyish gestures and a perpetual grin, Dr. Claude appears much younger than 50. Distinguishing features are his shiny bald head and thick dark eyebrows, offset by thin lips and wide ears. His ageless blue-gray eyes exude insight, sympathy and enthusiasm. Dr. Claude's careful diction and gentle speech inspire me to choose words carefully. As it turns out, this little man is a French engineer and quantum physicist.

With perfect English and a subtle accent, Dr. Claude tells me his story. Penniless and jobless, he came to America in 1984. Shortly after, he received a full scholarship to study at what was then called Maharishi International University in Iowa. He enrolled in the newly created Ph.D. program in quantum physics.

Why Iowa? I ask. Dr. Claude's initial motivation for coming to America lies in his interest in Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the creator of Transcendental Meditation (TM). At the time, Maharishi was gathering the square root of 1 percent of the population (about 7,000 people) in Fairfield, Iowa. Dr. Claude explains that he wanted to be part of this "taste of utopia," the purpose of which was to "practice TM and advanced techniques such as levitation, and to create world peace."

Dr. Claude leans his thin shoulders forward and explains, "I knew Maharishi had the technology to do it ... It was just a matter of participating." He remembers that for two weeks, thousands of people slept and ate in facilities built for a thousand, and yet he felt nothing but "harmony and coherence ... everything just seemed to flow." The clarity he gained from this experience convinced him to stay in Iowa.

Why study quantum physics? I wonder, and ask if he had been previously interested in the field. Dr. Claude shakes his head and shrugs, "I knew it was important to understand quantum mechanics to understand consciousness, and vice versa." At this point, it occurs to me that Claude Windenberger is probably that last person I had expected to find chachacha-ing at the Harem.

I also ask Dr. Claude how he became involved in Transcendental Meditation, which he studied seriously for 20 years. He tells me he began his college education in France at the ENSAM (École Nationale Superieure des Arts et Métiers), and became the top student in his undergraduate engineering program. His grayish eyes begin to glimmer. While looking for a yoga group, the doctor stumbled upon Transcendental Meditation in, off all places, the phone book. It was through this practice — which he believed to be "the most powerful technology on the planet" — that, he says, he learned to levitate. Dr. Claude would later lead the TM center in Paris.

"Por eso que yo te canto, llegue el ritmo que te traigo (For that which I sing to you, comes the rhythm that I bring to you)," goes a Ray Barretto record. A handsome couple with tangled tresses hop from their seats and tango past, and the doctor continues.

While studying to become a TM teacher, Dr. Claude was called to serve in the French army. He and a colleague then had been demonstrating "yogic flying" (meditation), and they recorded how the brain wave patterns altered during this experience. "The brain wave patterns of someone who flies are similar to those of an 'unusual' person," he exclaims with his slightly high-pitched French accent. After the army psychologist took one glance at the papers from that experiment, Dr. Claude was released from the military.

He sighs, "I wanted to learn to teach Transcendental Meditation, not kill people."

"How does your understanding of science contribute to your dancing?"

"My physics mind helps me a lot. Dancing is about mathematics, physics," Dr. Claude says eagerly. When I press him to elaborate he explains, "The music, the steps, is mathematics. ... When it connects," his smile widens, "there is this pleasure, and so radiance comes out."

Dr. Claude rubs his hands and insists that knowledge of centrifugal forces help him to perform with the balance needed to salsa. He edges forward on this chair and says that, more importantly, "The physics of it [is in the] connection; if you want to lead someone, you have be connected ... action and reaction, it's all physics." He is beginning to remind me of a Ricky Martin version of Stephen Hawking.

Dr. Claude's dusty penny-loafers begin to tap along to Tito Puente's "Jugando Mama, Jugando" and I can see he's itching to be back on the floor. He tells me dancing is one of his greatest passions. Dr. Claude hits the town to dance four or five nights a week, and the Harem is a usual stop on his salsa circuit. In addition, the doc enjoys teaching dance, and he loves women. He beams, "I can take first-time dancers and if they surrender and connect, they feel like they've been dancing for years." In his 20s, Dr. Claude considered becoming a monk by studying under Maharishi. He was denied because he couldn't honestly take a celibacy vow! His quirky myspace page (myspace.com/unconditionalfreedom) reveals the definition of what he seeks in women: "beautiful ladies, (meaning really happy)."

"What else do you love about dancing?" I ask Dr. Claude.   

"It helps you to learn to connect with another human being. ... Joy, happiness, pleasure ... that's why I dance. It happens when we are connected."

I'm soon driving alone down McNichols, blasting my new salsa CD and reflecting on the Harem. The bear hug Mohammed gave me the moment I entered his club — Dr. Claude's eagerness in explaining the union of salsa and science — the warmth I felt from this salsero family although I don't know a single step. ... Celia Cruz and I sing at the top of our lungs past neon-haloed used car lots that illuminate tattered empty sidewalks, puzzle pieces of rusty shapes, in the hum of the night. I feel connected.

Laurie Smolenski’s Night Tripper column will appear regularly in Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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