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'Superheroines' wrestle to be champion of Portland community arts

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'Superheroines' wrestle to be champion of Portland community arts

PORTLAND — In a diverse, blue-collar part of East Bayside, fundraising can be a little difficult for the Mayo Street Arts center.

"We have great neighbors, but everyone's working," Director Blainor McGough said. "We're not as well-heeled as some."

To raise money for center programs that teach dance, writing, puppetry, and other performing arts to neighborhood youth, the organization is turning to superheroes – superheroines, really – for help, although they've largely had to invent their own.

The center has scheduled the first tournament of its new Superhero Lady Armwrestlers of Portland league – SLAP, for short – for Saturday, May 5.

The alter-egos of eight local women, with names like Durga the Demonslayer and Lumber Smack Sally, will compete for the title of toughest arm in town.

The wrestlers have been gathering weekly for the last month to train, talk technique, and watch videos about arm wrestling. (The 1982 and 1983 championships on Youtube are favorites, McGough said.)

The wrestlers have realized that the sport is about more than brute strength, said Annie Seikonia, known in the ring as Awful Annie. A Gothic, self-styled vigilante hero who "doesn't mind breaking the rules," Seikonia started a training regimen of 50 push-ups a day, up from zero. Otherwise, she said, "there's a lot of strategy." 

Most of all, McGough said, there will be drama.

"It's not really just about arm wrestling, it's about theatrics and raising money for charity," she said.

Each wrestler will bring an entourage, also dressed in costume, whose job will be to amp up the crowd and collect "SLAP bucks," given to the audience upon entrance, for their superhero.

The SLAP bucks will determine a fundraising winner, a sort of moral victory potentially separate from the actual arm wrestling champion. 

"I'm the getaway driver," said "Cutlass" Kimberly Convery from behind a pair of steam-punk style goggles last Saturday morning. "In case Annie needs someone to pick her up in a tight spot."

The theatrics are such an opportunity that the center had to turn interested participants away. Potential superheroes had to arm wrestle their way into the final spots, and Mayo Street Arts already plans to hold a second SLAP event in November.

"Portland is full of creative ladies," McGough said.

While competitors said the event will be great spectacle, it should lack the demeaning aspect of some physical competitions often assigned to women, like mud wrestling.

"In some ways, it's a parody of say, a beauty pageant, or mud wrestling, an irony that makes it fun," McGough said.

The league is the latest of more than a dozen women's arm wrestling organizations operating around the country, in cities like Charlottesville, Va., where the first one was started; New York City, and San Francisco. Each employs charity and drama to draw people in, but some very serious arm wrestlers have been molded out of those festive beginnings, the SLAP organizers said.

The tournament will be held at 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 5, at Mayo Street Arts, 10 Mayo St. The surf band The Beach Zombies will also perform. Admission is $5, and proceeds will also benefit the local arts supporter MENSK.

Andrew Cullen can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or at acullen@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @ACullenFore.