"It's now or never," croons Elvis Presley over the PA. "Come hold me tight."
Ms. Shocks shudders and yanks a strand of faux pearls from around her neck, sending them skittering across the well-polished hardwood floor of One Taste. She scans the crowd as if expecting someone to jump up to stop her, then abruptly takes a seat on a huge black pillow in the corner of the room framed by sagebrush velvet curtains. She crosses and recrosses her legs nervously, flashing a smooth white thigh and the bottom half of a red garter belt as her hemline rises.
"Kiss me my darling," continues Presley. "Be mine tonight."
As if in a paroxysm, Ms. Shocks rips the flower from her hair, followed by a hair tie, both of which she throws violently to the ground. She shakes out her dark tresses and sits there for a moment, chest heaving, eyes darting wildly about the room. The crowd applauds appreciatively. Roxy Shocks leaps to her feet, tugging ferociously at the zipper of her white dress, pulling at the fabric as if the restriction of clothing were suddenly too much to bear even for one second longer. Frustrated and overheated by the mechanics of fashion, she pushes her hair out of her flushed face and lunges for a pair of scissors near the DJ rig of Seattle's Eternal Darkness.
"Your lips excite me," sings Presley. "Let your arms invite me."
With a look of rapture, Roxy Shocks shreds her dress until only her undergarments remain. She smiles in challenge, then, riding the crest of some internal tempest, pulls a woman from the audience, and runs out of the room.
Except for Vienne La Rouge, whose poised fan-work is exceptional, and Estella Estrange, whose gangly countenance, silent-movie stare, and unsettling obsession with the 1920s (from a musical selection of Memphis Minnie to ill-fitting vintage apparel) make her resemble a tragic ingénue from some Tennessee Williams play, the rest of the Glitzkrieg Burlesque Bombshells are fairly typical to the genre: high-spirited, heavily tattooed, and well-versed in alternative music and corsetry. But there is nothing typical about the setting of their performance.
"We're going to take a half-hour intermission," says Glitzkrieg MC Betty Rage, "so grab yourself some wheatgrass and dance."
The familiar thump of the Revolting Cocks' version of "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" vibrates across the bare wood, bamboo thatch, and hammered copper of One Taste as I line up to get a bowl of curried vegetable soup, cracked wheat, and banana nut bread.
Touted as an "urban retreat center," One Taste is a mindful-living clubhouse and transcendental marketplace for all your California-conscious needs. Yoga, raw foods, meditation, massage, gem-stone therapy, motivational speakers, relationship workshops, orgasmic rebalancing, bioelectography, community dancing, and the occasional circus performer, butoh dancer, and/or urban beat-box poet: All these are features on the One Taste calendar. A fully functional cafe, bookstore, and art gallery and an adjoining set of massage studios are on the way. Already, One Taste has launched a nonprofit called Fill Up America, which focuses primarily on alleviating hunger.
"Our vision of One Taste goes beyond that of a community center," states the monthly calendar. "We see it as an experiment in evolution itself, creating new forms of interacting, experiencing, and learning with each other."
Having grown up in San Francisco in the wake of the free-love '60s, I find any space dominated by bare wood, direct sunlight, and self-professed sensualists highly suspect, but One Taste founder Nicole Daedone does not fit any of my preconceived notions of a New Age "visionary": She speaks directly, wears makeup, and has an obvious appreciation for current cultural events. And yet, there is no doubt that her business is a reflection of deeper life choices.
Ten years ago, Daedone was busy with the daily operations of 111 Minna, a multiuse gallery/performance space that she co-founded in the booming South of Market area. Then her father died. Daedone felt her material and personal success meant little in the wake of the tragedy. Rather than turn to friends, Daedone found herself unexpectedly knocking on the warehouse door of a practicing theosophist who frequented 111 Minna.
Theosophical mysticism has its foundation in Plato, Plotinus, and Jakob Boehme, among others, but was most notably popularized by Madame Blavatsky, one of the co-founders of the Theosophical Society in New York in 1875. Arguments against Blavatsky's methods and general authenticity aside, the primary tenet of theosophy is that anyone can understand the nature of God by direct apprehension, without revelation. The tools of the discipline include an eclectic array of Hindu, Egyptian, Gnostic, and other spiritual texts and any teachings meant to guide the Seeker toward the Source.
Daedone gave up 111 Minna and became a student of the five theosophists living in that warehouse. Eventually, her studies took her to different theosophical enclaves abroad. Her own pursuits became focused on sensory awareness, enrichment, and enlightenment. Along the way, she met others with similar interests and distinct areas of expertise.
The 14 core facilitators of One Taste reside in three houses, all within a three-minute walk of one another. They live, work, and play together. Each has a primary role in one of the departments at One Taste, determined by proclivity and desire. Laura Hahn is the juice bar manager; Joshua Boshnack and Lauren Kaufmann are gallery managers; Elana Auerbach and Bill Press are course facilitators; Taosha Gardiner is the event coordinator. All have an overriding interest in the success of the space. Beyond having a progressive business model (based on theosophical principles), One Taste is also the fulfillment of a promise Daedone made to her teachers: Make the information available to everyone.
"Everybody here is a student and a teacher," says Daedone. "We're interested in building a community and providing a place where people can come to expand their physical, spiritual, and sensual health, through the five senses, any day of the week.
I arrive during the first "Spirited Sunday," grab a fresh-squeezed juice, and sit down in the gallery while a handful of One Tasters chat in the morning sunlight. We head upstairs for meditation. The plush velvet curtains are pulled closed around us, and the morning bell rings as we sit. An hour later, we emerge to more juice and sunlight.
Diego Del Sol, a self-taught interdisciplinary instructor from Argentina, leads us in an hour-and-a-half-long yoga class (one of the best I've taken), and we emerge again for lunch: a giant simmering pot of curried vegetables, fresh salad, and tea. We pull our tables together to talk.
An hour later, Janice Campbell, a life coach and minister from the Center for Spiritual Healing, moderates a gentle conversation about prosperity, scarcity, fear, and faith. I choose to skip the contact improvisation class and the celebration dance, but by 2 p.m. I have begun to understand the function of the "urban retreat." Relaxed and inspired, rushing on carrot-ginger juice and Rumi, I step out of One Taste and back into the flow of city traffic, and I think to myself, "Only in San Francisco."