Massage with a backbeat

Special to The Times

Spend any period of time within any of this city's more happening clubs or parties -- say, Grand Avenue's Club Naked or Monster Massive -- and you'll see massage tables set up among the glow sticks and the smart-drink bars. A reflective sign reading "Lotus Bodyworx" is positioned on one of the tables, a hula hoop with torches around its edge leaning against it.

If business is slow, Lotus owner Kandice Bishop might swing the hoop around her body, onto her arm, back onto her neck and down her torso. If the venue will allow it, she'll set it aflame. Once she's gathered a crowd, the patrons will spot her massage tables, and some will decide to part with a sawbuck for 15 minutes of rehabilitating massage.

Paying customers visit Bishop's tables at a club or party for many reasons. Some are repeat customers who seek out her services at parties, and others enjoy the novelty of massage therapy transplanted to the raucous, overstimulating environment of L.A. night life.

Incongruous as the idea may sound, Bishop, a raver and clubber since her early teens, insists that she and her team of up to 12 massage therapists are in their element. "We actually dance with the music as people are getting worked on. We use a lot of martial arts stances, a lot of lunging. And the people on the tables are also feeling the music, the bass of the music vibrating the massage table," Bishop relates. "So it's never been too much of an issue to be in an environment that doesn't originally have a healing perspective. We turn them [around], and there are people who go home a little more enlightened because of us."

Bishop, 24, was born in Pittsburgh and came to California at age 9. Excelling at sports, with experience as a gymnast and an ice skater, she developed a hyper-extended back that still gives her trouble. That's what initially drew her to bodywork, but with her introduction to L.A.'s desert rave underground she met promoters such as Pasquale Rotella from Insomniac Productions and Reza Gerani from Go Ventures, who would later throw parties of their own.

Bishop first set up shop at a downtown L.A. party called Nation in 2000 and was immediately booked for San Francisco's Cyberfest the next weekend. Since then she has worked with every major dance promoter in Los Angeles -- without paying a dime for vendor space.

"It's kind of nice to know that I'm helping my promoter friends who have helped me for so long by actually pulling in an extra crowd for them," she says. "So it's a mutual respect. They don't expect anything from me. They don't take any money from us. We provide a certain healing, entertaining environment for their events."

Gerani says he doesn't know how many people come to his events because of her services. But he uses Bishop's private practice services frequently and stands by her professionalism and business savvy, even if the idea of massage at clubs seems to escape him.

"Being able to relax and have a massage while there's 132 beats a minute banging on the sound system [seems] kind of awkward," he says, "but still, it works for people. It's something that clubbers can do rather than go to the bar or the bathroom."

Like the night life industry itself, Bishop's business has its ups and downs. She experienced a dip soon after Sept. 11, but she has handily filled the gap with fire dancing, teaching hula hoop at the Bodies in Motion gym in Northridge and her private practice, which she has filled with clients she met through the clubs. In the busy summer months, she and her therapists will work as many as three or four parties a weekend.

Bishop will finish up a split degree in psychology and philosophy this spring and plans to return to graduate school to study child psychology. The one constant for her work, she points out, is healing and dance culture, and she intends to expand her contributions to both fields. "I'm within a community that I'm comfortable in, I'm surrounded by music that I enjoy, I'm usually familiar with all of the people."

Many of those people, she says, are sympathetic to the ideas underlying massage therapy.

"Somehow the underground has really grasped some of those ideas and some very spiritual ideas, a lot of Eastern philosophies, a lot of Hinduism and Buddhism," she says. "They are people who do meditate, and who do yoga and do surround their lives with a healing energy."


For relaxed clubbing

What: Lotus Bodyworx offering massage for clubbers.

Where: Naked L.A.'s "Winter Chill" theme party at the Grand Avenue Club, 1024 S. Grand Ave., L.A. DJs include Joseph Christopher, Reza Gerani and Adam Law.

When: Friday, 9 p.m.-6 a.m. Also Jan 17.

Cost: $25

Info: (213) 891-2775

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