A New Orleans veterinarian who sought refuge in Pittsburgh after Hurricane Katrina might seem unusual enough -- but a love of animals isn't the only thing Dr. Aileen Ruiz brought to town. Ruiz also imported her goth/fetish party series, called Elise's Playground, which combines local music and artists with fetish skits, DJs and occasional guests such as The Genitorturers, VNV Nation and Gene Simmons. A Cuban-American native of Miami, Ruiz now resides in Lawrenceville; when she's not working with animals, she's taking Elise's Playground on the road, using her dark side to raise funds for cystic fibrosis, UNICEF and other charities.
So you initially came to Pittsburgh after Katrina hit?
I came up here thinking I would evacuate and hang out for a couple days, and then go back home. My clinic was destroyed; I had a text from my boss in New Orleans that the clinic was underwater. I went back down two weeks later to do animal rescue. I was down there for two weeks living in a naval ship, working with the Marines doing animal rescue. And then I packed my house and then decided to come up here.
Why'd you become a veterinarian?
I've always loved animals since I was a kid. I can read [animals] -- not read them like, "they tell me things," but it's just second nature to help them, fix them up.
How did Elise's Playground get started?
It actually started in Baton Rouge. I think my first show was May 2003, something like that. All I wanted was a place to dance to alternative music, listen to alternative music. At [Louisiana State University], it was all meat-market, hip hop and rap, and I couldn't stand it. So I came up with an idea: What if we would spin music, you know, and have a girl on stage dancing? 'Cause that's what I was used to, going to clubs in Miami, seeing that kind of scenario. And slowly it evolved to what it is now, 'cause I would always get people's e-mails and ask their feedback -- what they wanted to see, what they wanted.
What did they want?
They wanted to see more acts onstage.
Acts like what?
I usually try to make it very costumey -- it's not just a girl in rubber clothing and beat-beat-go. One of the nicest ones that we've had was geisha[-themed]. They all were wearing little robes and the hair in crazy industrial goth with the chopsticks on and the makeup that went all the way up. And the skit was, you have the main dom -- she was teaching the rest of the girls how to do little fan dances. And one kept messing up, so she kept hitting her, like "this is the way you do it." And then the music changes to something more hardcore, and they take off the robe and she's wearing something crazy underneath. There's never full nudity, 'cause I don't want it to be a titty bar. It's more sassy-sexy clothing, and then it's kinda discipline, this and that, you know? There's always a story, and that's what I kinda like about it.
Have you always been into goth culture?
Growing up, 17, 18, 19 years old, I was introduced to that scene. And then I started going to more clubs, and they'd have these dancers onstage wearing all this crazy clothing, and I was like "That's so cool!" I don't know how I incorporated that into the fetish of people spanking -- I don't live that lifestyle. I know it's hard to believe -- a lot of people that I date, they're like, "Can you do, uh ..." and I'm like "no ..." I do [the shows] more for art, really -- I think it's more artistic. I like seeing the clothing, what they wear under, I like seeing people's reactions. And at the same time I love music a lot.
Have you found a big scene for this kind of event in Pittsburgh?
Apparently it was pretty dormant, and then when Elise's Playground started it was "Oh, we're trying to throw this show, we're trying to throw that show." Then I had competition. You know, I do this on the side. This is not my passion -- my passion is veterinary medicine. It's an escape, I like dressing up, it's fun. This is what I brought from New Orleans, and people have accepted it, and it's sweet.