The Echo Between Kink and Performance

By Kegan Marling

February 2, 2024, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

Editor’s Note: 

I am curious about the other creative passions dancers are into, the influence of dance on those pursuits and vice versa. I originally met Kegan Marling years ago when they were on staff at Dancers’ Group. Later I had the joy of performing with them. More recently I became aware of Kegan’s photography practice when they were shooting a show I was in. When I learned that Kegan worked as a photographer for Mr. S Leather I got really interested in the intersection of dance and kink in photography.   

It’s a joy photographing dancers, yet I’m also drawn to how movement exists outside of the dance studio and off the stage, within the bodies of those who might not necessarily consider themselves dancers. 

When asked about the confluence of dance and photography in my work, I immediately thought of the fluidity and performance within the kink community – the dramatic movement of a whip through space, the choreographed architecture of the body tied up, and the entwining of bodies during aftercare. 

There is an interesting echo between performance and kink. Terms like scene, roles and props are commonly used, as are many of the guiding principles of improvisation. I’ve heard people talk about their “pre-show rituals,” and roleplay and cosplay are essentially theater. 

The accompanying two scenes reflect some of these dancerly qualities in kink. The first set (featuring Danny Nguyen) suggests a performative energy and flow, with numerous props including ropes, floggers and roses and the Folsom Street Fair crowd watching from all around. The second set (Johnny Tohme/Welder ONYX and Rey ONYX) leans into the composition of space and entwining of bodies, and closes with Rey in their pup hood receiving aftercare. 

Kink scenes often end with some version of aftercare – a sort of closure ritual. Like dance, kink can be very physically and emotionally demanding. Aftercare is an intimate check-in with each other: How is your body? Where is your mind? What support would help? What does your body need right now to come down from that emotional and physical high? 

Perhaps this is one area where I could have taken a lesson from kink – when I think back to the crash that often came at the end of a dance performance, a little aftercare wouldn’t have hurt. 


A man whips another man in a kink scene.
[ID: ID: A shirtless, bearded, brown-skinned, muscular man wearing blue shorts whips a lighter-skinned man in a kink scene outside in front of a large crowd.]
A table with props is set up for a kink scene involving two men.
[ID: A table with props is set up for a kink scene involving a man in blue shorts and a black leather ONYX vest and a man wearing an apron over his naked body, outside in front of a crowd.]
A man leans back in the act of cracking a whip.
[ID: A brown-skinned man with a well groomed black beard and faux-hawk, and rose petals scattered at his feet, leans back in the act of cracking a whip as a crowd looks on.]
Two men gaze affectionately at each other.
[ID: Two men gaze affectionately at each other: a brown-skinned man with tattooed arms, his hands behind his head, and a lighter-skinned man with a salt and pepper mohawk carefully wrapping a red rope around the tattooed man’s torso.]
A man in the act of tying a rope in a knot around the wrists of another man.
[ID: A cropped photo of arms: a lighter-skinned man in the act of tying a red rope in a knot around the wrists of a brown-skinned man whose palms are pressed together.]
A man gently cradles the jaw of another man who leans back in pleasure with a rope gag in his mouth.
[ID: A lighter-skinned man with a salt and pepper mohawk and beard gently cradles the jaw of a brown-skinned man in a black beret who leans back in pleasure with a red rope gag in his mouth.]
Two men holding and looking at each other.
[ID: Two men holding and looking at each other: a man with a salt and pepper mohawk and beard in yellow briefs with suspenders, and a man in black chaps and vest in a leather puppy hood.]


Photography by Kegan Marling, in collaboration with ONYX Northwest members: Graylin Thornton, Danny Nguyen, Johnny Tohme (Welder ONYX) and Rey ONYX. ONYX is a nationwide organization formed and operated by queer Men of Color who enjoy the leather and kink lifestyle. The organization provides information, resources and community activities to help educate and empower BIPOC men. ( Additional thanks to The Academy SF for providing the location. 

This article appeared in the Winter 2024 issue of In Dance.

Kegan Marling is a visual & movement artist and arts consultant from the San Francisco Bay Area. Influenced by artists Della Davidson, Lea Anderson, Brian Thorstenson and Joe Goode, their work focuses on alternative queer communities, dance and theatre artists, body positivity and documenting queer pursuits of play – including gaymers, pups, drag artists, wrestlers and faeries. Their work has appeared in venues & publications including the de Young Museum, Frameline Film Festival, SF Chronicle, SF Weekly, National Queer Arts Festival and SF General Hospital. (