This week, The Pole Story sat down with Sheila Kelley, the founder of S Factor Movement, to find out what her studio is all about and how she sees pole dancing helping women. But first, a little background:
Sheila Kelley is a passionate voice for the advancement of women in the world. She is an esteemed actress, author, filmmaker and dancer.
When she starred in and produced the film, Dancing at the Blue Iguana, she needed to prepare for the role of "Stormy" by learning how to striptease and pole dance. As a result, her body became long, lean and fit. She decided to take her knowledge of ballet, exercise and exotic dancing and combine them into the most effective fitness dance workout ever devised for and about women - S Factor.
"S Factor was born when I discovered my sensual power and the best body of my life while preparing for my role as an exotic dancer." says Sheila. "My life changed so profoundly just from moving in this organically feminine way that I’ve dedicated myself to sharing this extraordinary Journey with other women." (from S Factor website)
1. You have built the largest and most well known pole dancing company in The United States. S Factor has 7 locations across the country and many devotees. At a time when pole dancing is exploding and new studios are cropping up everywhere, what do you think sets S Factor apart?
What sets S Factor apart from pole studios, yoga studios, from Pilates studios or any other form of workout is the groundbreaking S Factor technique of movement, which is a choreographed series of flowing curved movements that are seamlessly combined together to form the S Factor workout. Each class within the classic journey series of 7 levels has several elements, one of which is the pole. When you call S Factor a pole dancing studio, well, we do teach pole and we love our poles, but there is so much more within each class. In fact this coming year we are introducing 2 new elements to the upper level classes. Watch out world for another mind-blowing experience in the form of challenging the status quo!
2. S Factor focuses on the emotional journey of their students in class as well as the fitness aspect. Why do you feel that it is important for women to get in touch with the emotionality of the dance? What happens? Why did you decide to include this as part of the S Factor curriculum?
My passion in life is helping women find their S. Whether it’s on the pole, in a chair, on a mat on the floor in their S movement or at a board meeting surrounded by men in suits. Seemingly simple goal, right? Women have come a long way from shutting down their bodies out of fear of objectification and fear of judgment but not so far that they feel safe and entitled to the beauty that is their feminine S-ness. I started S Factor in 1999. What happened to me when I discovered this side of myself the side I call the Erotic Creature, is my entire life shifted into Technicolor overdrive and I have not stopped reaping the benefits since. I found my body truth in movement as a fully realized, sexually alive woman and what I have gotten back is completeness and all the universe has to offer.
2. You have taught women like Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart (Martha!!) to S walk, to hip circle, to let their sexy sides come out to play. In your opinion, what is the biggest barrier that women face in terms of embracing their sexual side?
Teaching Oprah the S walk, hip circles and peel off on her show in 2003 was one of the most enlightening moments in my life. First off, it set the world on fire and helped blossom what is becoming a beautiful new fitness trend and global industry! But personally what it did was show me that the moment is now for the advancement of the feminine into her rightful place in her body and in the world.
Now seven years later getting Martha Stewart to move into her S through hip circles and pole playing was another monumental moment in history. Here’s a woman, a cultural icon, who is synonymous with the word “conservative” moving her body sensually and with great joy! Then to top it off she jumps up to the pole and takes a fun swirl and almost flies into the “Half-Pint” pole trick! Yes, oh yes, the world is changing and that change is very, very good.
But there are still many barriers. In this journey, women are up against thousands of years of social conditioning to get their bodies back. Fear is the greatest of these barriers. No matter how many other women they see playing in the field of their femininity, like Oprah and Martha during my visits to their shows, the majority of women have been conditioned through social morays, religious beliefs, traditions and cultural boundaries to keep their bodies locked and shut down. Fear is an ugly friend to have yet so many women carry it around with them wherever they go. The funny thing is, once a woman confronts this fear and actually walks through the S Factor doors, sits down on her mat and begins to move it is almost as if the fear just evaporates. Instantly! That is how organic this movement really is. I find that miraculous transition truly inspiring.
3. The word "empowerment" is used quite a bit in reference to pole dancing. What do you think makes this movement so empowering for women?
Any movement that allows a woman to live fully in her body and her sexuality without shame is going to empower her. Whether you are into pole dancing for fitness, for self-improvement, for self-expression, or to titillate a lover, the fact that you are playing around a pole, (which no matter how hard the world tries to deny it or ignore it, is a phallic symbol to the male eye) is going to provoke the feminine in any woman.
6. What is the major difference between what happens at S factor studios and what happens in a strip club?
At a strip club a woman in encouraged and paid to sell her body visually. She is paid to arouse customers. She is performing for the benefit of someone else and is exploiting her body to make money. Any way you look at it she is undervaluing her body. No matter how much money a customer pays her, she is underselling one of the great natural wonders of the world, because the value of the female body is priceless.
On the other hand, at S Factor, a woman is learning to express the authentic nature of her sexuality and her wondrous beauty. She is being allowed to explore the natural inclination her body has to move into her curves with truth, muscle, emotion and individuality. Ahhhhh…..pure bliss. Oh yes and there’s the P-O-L-E, too!!! Playing on the pole is akin to what I imagine it would be like to fly on the soaring wings of a phoenix.
7. If you could do one thing for women, what would it be?
S Factor!!!! (Smile.) I’ve already created a movement technique that I love. I believe it is fun and inspiring for any woman who gives it a try. What I would like to do next is expand the S to include more facets of women; S retreats, S clothing, S forums, S for teens, S road trips, S books and DVD’s, etc. I would like to continue to help women create our own culture. And, because I am a professional provocateur, of course I would like to continue to push the boundaries and what is considered ‘appropriate’ feminine behavior. I’d like to turn other sexually stereotypical icons on their heads and re-assign them for the benefit of the feminine. Touché!
8. Is there anything else you would like to add?
I love having you, Claire Sterrett, in class! Watching your Erotic creature come out is no less than wow, holy heck and hallelujah! Can’t wait for next week.
Thanks Sheila! I'm looking forward to it too!
*Please note that the opinions reflected in Pole Story interviews do not necessarily represent The Pole Story's views