Things do not always come naturally. Sometimes you have to work at them, but I'm a believer in the idea that anything (and anyone) worth doing is worth doing properly. Over the past few months I've been more and more dominant in my play and that's something I haven't done much of outside of switching during my relationship with The Photographer or complete adhoc one-offs in clubs with borrowed bits of kit. I have strong ideas about the sort of dominant I want to be, and the kinds of things I'm interested in doing, but that's not the same as being able to do them. Domination isn't all lying on chaise longues being fed peeled grapes - to quote Flagg it's "work, work, work".
But it's also fun work. I enjoy new experiences and broadening my knowledge. I'm learning a lot about how to dominate different people, people who I like and care about but I'm not in love with. The emotional connection has a huge impact, and one I'm only really starting to get to grips with. I'm going to park the "let's talk about our feelings" side for now and share the four important things I am actively doing in order to make me a better dominant:
Ask an expert: I'm really fortunate to have lots of friends who are really good at BDSM, a case in point is The Ladies Who. I spent a happy Friday night learning how to stick needles into someone. Generally people are pretty happy to teach the things that they know, and I know I get a kick out of being able to pass along advice or skills.
Breadth and depth I'm trying to both play with a range of people and also play extensively with one or two people. This way I can explore and understand a variety of bodies as well as really getting to grips with the nuts and bolts of submissive psyches. The former is probably going to give me more experience of topping, also of learning how to manage bodies and deliver impromptu play, the latter will give me a better knowledge of emotional and psychological domination as well as working out the sort of D/s relationship I'm interested in conducting. Things like protocol, chastity play, master/slave and suchlike are - to my mind - better done within the confines of a more invested situation, they rely on knowing someone quite well in order for both parties to enjoy and be comfortable with that kind of control.
Listen I talk a lot about BDSM. I need to listen more. Obviously listening (and generally paying attention) to the bottom during play is vital, but there's lots of handy hints and signals that can be picked up before and after, especially for psychological play. Things said and not said can give clues to the sort of play that people are interested in. Then there's the direct route - just ask. I'm getting very fond of email feedback, especially because I can refer to the text later if I need to refresh myself. I also listen to other people when they talk about their experiences of domination (and submission) mentally filing it away to try later when I've got someone to hand.
Practice, practice, practice: Learn by doing is a good mantra. I am a theory bitch at heart and love to read kinky books and blogs but they are no substitute for muscle memory and JFDI. Of course, in the beginning getting hands-on means accepting that you won't be amazing first time, so a friendly bunny who is able to provide good, clear feedback will be worth their weight in gold. Naturally, the offer of repaying the favour by turning tables is always a possibility and allows you to experience receiving - understanding the impact and effect can help improve your abilities, to a point...
Which brings me neatly onto the one thing that I need to do less of:
Project: Because I'm a switch I've got a good idea of what different sensations and kinky activities feel like. I know where the edges of pleasure and pain lie, fluctuations of brain states and subspaces, what certain pieces of kit do. It's a useful insight but I need to remember that it only gives me a very rough and general idea of what it might be like for someone else to experience those things. Just because I like (or hate, or fear, or want to be made to endure) a certain thing doesn't mean that everyone does, nor do they like it for the same reasons or to the same level. If I only deliver the sort of BDSM I want to have done to me out of a kind of misplaced empathy I'm not really satisfying either of us. I still wince every now and then when I deliver a hard blow, but I'm finding that is rather overwhelmed by the rush of adrenaline, power and pleasure in doing so.