It began as a tame Friday evening. But after sipping on wine at Swirl with friends, it was time to head to the Maison for a throw down. That's right.
At first, the scene at the Frenchmen nightclub was relatively calm, but when a group of fired up women wearing outrageous costumes burst through the bar, the atmosphere suddenly became rowdy. I decided to switch to brewskies and then pushed my way to the stage. After Nina Feldman gave a lively greeting to the audience, a Grecian goddess who goes by the moniker Venus De Mayo prepared to arm wrestle a fur bikini-clad Swamp Thing for the night's first brawl. And then the crowd went wild!
Welcome to the New Orleans Ladies' Arm Wrestling competition: a.k.a. NO LAW.
Organizer Nina Feldman describes NO LAW as a "combination of competitive sport, and theatre," adding that it also serves as a "space for women to be empowered," while raising money for local charities that benefit women.
"It's a tournament at it's core," explains Feldman. Beginning with eight arm wrestlers, the first round is sudden death, followed by the best two out of three, and then the final showdown. Sometimes arm wrestlers will compete in a thumb war or a dance off until the best women wins. The fierce competition is followed by a dance party. The fabulous DJ Justin supplies the music for both events.
And it is nothing short of a show, yet none of it is staged. As each wrestler enters, DJ Justin plays the lady's theme song, which is consistent with her character. Entourage members may also be in tow. Referee Maggie Calmes keeps close watch while mock celebrity judges provide side commentary and additional humor. Then the match begins and the wrestlers - fist in fist - fight to the sound of loud cheers and heckles from the crowd.
While the ladies battle for victory up on stage, entourage members move throughout the audience, collecting bets on behalf of their wrestler. A ticket is drawn from a bucket, resulting in a prize for lucky winner. But the bets go towards the designated charity.
Although the ladies love to incorporate theatrics in their act and create a show for the crowd, they keep the tournament on track. "We are trying to foster a competition," says Feldman. While having a good time and engaging the audience, they follow the rules and keep the tournament flowing in the right direction.
Some of the women are seriously strong, which leads to a real showdown. Since the wrestlers feed off of the crowd's enthusiasm, the night becomes unpredictable. Each arm wrestler, like Madison Curry, who goes by Doris Dooms Day, puts a unique spin on her character.
"I wanted to be a feminine arm wrestler. Someone who you might not think could take down The Viper or The Fiery Phoenix," says Curry.
After her entourage, which resembles the cast from Mad Men, tosses daises to the crowd, Doris removes her '50s style hat and peels off her arm length gloves before engaging in the throw down. And you better believe she polishes off her look with a pair of pearls! Doris' theme song is "Que Sera Sera."
Currys' involvement with NO LAW began when she was running a cafe in New York City. Sometimes after drinking coffee, she would become hyper and arm wrestle her staff.
"At the time I was pretty good," she admits. "I always beat the girls." Curry recalls winning a match against a guy once. "He was so mortified that he worked out and asked for a rematch. He won." She soon became famous at work for her arm wrestling skills.
Curry also notes a night out on the town when she ended up in an arm wrestling match with a boxer. "It felt like we were arm wrestling for a half hour. Sweat was rolling off my forehead. But I wasn't going down. I won."
But Curry believes her victory was more about empowerment rather than mere muscle. "I attribute my success to determination, not strength."
After Curry moved to New Orleans, a friend told her about NO LAW. "I don't think I really knew what I was getting myself into when I first signed up. I just wanted to arm wrestle. The persona, the theme music, and the entourage seemed a little intimidating. But, hell, I have a B.F.A. in acting. Why not?" Doris Dooms Day, along with such wrestlers as The Pagin? Cajun and French Quarter Pounder, have contributed to NO LAW's growing popularity. And although the organization is still relatively novel in New Orleans, it's practiced in other areas of the country.
The concept actually began in Charlottesville, Virginia, but Feldman built on the idea while in college up North and eventually brought it to New Orleans. The arm wrestling league quickly caught on.
"We just started talking about it," says Calmes. "Everyone thought it was a fantastic idea." And since the ladies know many people with a background in event planning, fundraising, and general hell raising, they were able to find support. Friends volunteered to help, chose tasks, and began participating.
They spread the news about NO LAW through their website, social networking, and simple word of mouth. Fans eagerly await updates about the ladies' upcoming competitions.
"We've gained a following and people get excited get about the brawls."says Calmes.
Since the organization is built around the theme of female empowerment, Calmes and Feldman would like these events to serve as networking grounds for ambitious women. "It's important for women to meet and exchange business cards. They can be mentors for each other, get involved, and interact," notes Calmes.
Although the crazed crowds range from 18 to 35-year-old men and women, they hope to appeal to an audience who can contribute heftier donations, which will allow them to provide even greater assistance to local charities and projects.
The funds from the last event went towards the New Orleans Birthing Project, which aims to reduce the high infant mortality rate among minorities. So although the wrestlers compete for fun and glory, they mainly flex those mighty muscles for a good cause. So get out there and place your bet!