by Andy Cataldo
It’s Bear Season! At least according to the Center’s OctoBEARfest programming this month, an expanded set of activities leading up to the ever-popular Fur Ball dance. It seems the whole world has gone bear-crazy these days. Even The New York Times has reported the trend. In any case, the summer’s behind us and it’s time to find something warm to curl up with. That’s what was on the minds of all the attendees of Bear Baiting, a spin on traditional speed dating targeted at men of the ursine persuasion that took place at the Center last Thursday, October 4.
As this was the inaugural Bear Baiting event, Paul Menard, Director of Cultural Programs, developed a model that addressed the gripes about traditional speed dating: feeling uncomfortable or nervous, being matched purely based on chance and not having a good time overall. “I’ve tried to design an event that’s fun and surprising…where everyone can participate as much as they’d like,” Paul explained.
Upon arrival each bear, cub, otter and unspecified woodland creature was given a numbered sticker showing either Yogi Bear or his furry sidekick Boo Boo. I had the opportunity to participate in the event as Yogi Bear #4. We enjoyed sodas and cocktails by sponsor El Dorado Rums while we discussed our expectations of the event.
“It’s a Grindr alternative,” one participant said, starting a discussion about how Grindr has changed the way some gays socialize. Attendees ranged from those who arrived in New York as far back as the 1970s to as recently as two weeks ago. I asked if anyone had done this before – most of us were speed dating virgins. One guy had met a boyfriend at a similar event, he told us. Another commented that he wasn’t expecting necessarily to meet Mr. Right tonight. “Who knows? I might make a friend here who could introduce me to someone special down the road,” he said. That’s really what these events are about – stepping outside of your comfort zone and expanding your social network.
The first half of the event was structured as a series of multiple choice questions that had bears shuffling around the corners of the room to stand near the letter representing their answer. The questions, such as the following example read by Paul, aimed to allow individuals to identify similar personalities: “When you watch a movie, it usually involves A) Subtitles, B) Bette Davis, C) Fart Jokes or D) The Evil Dead?” or to identify other levels of compatibility: “If you were on a baseball team, what position would you play?”
Only after guests had a chance to break the ice and get to know each other through the series of questions did the speed dating portion begin. Yogis were paired with Boo Boos for five-minute conversations while seated across from each other at a long table. In keeping with campy bear culture, each mini-date ended at the sound of a Madonna song playing on the stereo. If you liked your date you would write down his number and the Center sent match confirmations and email addresses to the lucky furballs who picked each other.
Did you meet someone special? Share your stories with us in the comments section below!