Saturday, October 21st 2017

Working the pole to connect with my soul

Sheila Kelley’s S Factor: A workout slinks out of the strip clubs and into the mainstream

pole dancerBY CYNDI INGLE — Can you wrap your mind (as well as your body) around a workout that helps women feel comfortable about their sexuality, encourages female bonding and may even include slipping into a pair of stiletto heels? Oh yes, and it also includes a pole.

When a friend suggested that I give a pole dancing class a try, I initially balked. To my chagrin, I’ve never even been inside a strip club, and from faithfully watching The Sopranos I knew that I didn’t have the correct equipment (ie. mega implants and non-existent hips) to look at home wrapped around a pole.

I had heard rumblings that pole dancing was becoming a popular workout, but the Internet photos that I’d seen of women (civilians, not pros) spread-eagled and hanging upside down did little to whet my appetite.

With my friend’s urging, I decided to be less judgemental and find out exactly what I was afraid of. Could getting more “in touch” with my sensual side be such a bad thing? Would I be opening up a veritable Pandora’s Box, or would I just be getting my workout on?

As I soon discovered, the art of pole dancing is well out of the closet (and the strip clubs), having been reclaimed by legions of non-strippers thanks to Sheila Kelley, an actor who starred in Dancing at the Blue Iguana, a film about the ladies who dance. Since 2001, Sheila’s popular S Factor studios have offered women the opportunity to discover a creative workout practice that is infused with movements from the worlds of pole dancing, yoga, ballet and, yes, striptease.


S Factor San Francisco

On the surface, of course, it’s just plain pole dancing. But make no mistake: It’s not about sex. It’s about expression and creating that in-the-moment experience. Dare I call it Zen like? It’s a curious and exciting sanctuary for women — a sort of safe community for us to support one another in reclaiming our femininity (men aren’t allowed in these classes, or in the studio).

I discovered all this after I stopped by Sheila’s studio in San Francisco, and I dipped my toes into the practice with a two-hour intro class.

Once inside the well hidden studio, I joined a group of women of varying ages, stages and sizes — two young European students, a new mom, a couple of women in their 20s and 40s, and Lydia Linker, an S Factor instructor, who was participating in the class.

Ana Hyatt, our beautiful and luminescent instructor, quickly put me at ease by turning the lights down low. The only source of light came from two ornate lamps that glowed with ruby tones. Two silver poles dominated the room, provoking the question — would I ever be able to master these pillars? And was that even the most important aspect of the workout I was about to experience?

During the next hour I was led through a series of calming floor exercises to help me experience my body in a new way. Directed to keep my eyes closed as much as possible, I “drizzled” my hands over my hair, face and body — encouraged to linger any place I wanted to.

Soothing music flowed through the room as I stretched and reconnected with my physical body and sensual self. My usually overactive mind moved to auto pilot as the safe and welcoming darkness engulfed me. Ana’s gentle voice ushered me into a semi-trancelike state as I learned a few rudimentary floor moves.


Sheila Kelley, S Factor

Practicing “the S Factor walk,” a sexy strut performed around the pole, was a natural progression. At first I felt self-conscious as I attempted the undulating stroll, but soon I was prancing about the room as I caressed the pole.

Now that I could walk the walk, it was time to talk the talk. Trying a basic move called “The Firefly” was my assignment. After grasping the pole with one hand and strutting around it, I wrapped my outside leg around the bottom of the pole, and ended with a twirl. Well, that’s the theory, I never quite mastered the practice, but gave it a good try, and the next day had the bruises to prove it.

As the session ended Ana and Lydia unleashed an inspiring demonstration of their dancing abilities to the strains of Marilyn Manson’s interpretation of the classic 80s tune Tainted Love. As the class hooted and hollered their approval, the duo traveled to the tops of their respective columns, defying gravity as they performed a bevy of Cirque de Soleil-esque moves (call it Cirque with uber sex appeal).

I learned that my pole dancing experience wasn’t about conquering the moves in one session; that will take some practice. What I’ll remember is being increasingly comfortable in my own skin and being embraced by positive female energy for the entire two hours that I spent at S Factor. Perhaps my friend was right after all. . .

S Factor, 2159 Filbert St., San Francisco, 415.440.6420. There are also studios in Los Angeles, New York City, Encino, Orange County, Houston and Chicago.

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28 Comments on “Working the pole to connect with my soul”

  1. I can't decide if I like this website or not. You do some real reporting and have some wonderful stories of personal depth and pain and recently published a thoughtful piece about what happens when we die. You do some political commentary. Then you publish shallow stuff like this -- what on earth for?

    There's nothing wrong with the author's ability to write but the subject matter seems a little lame. Nothing else going on in this great big world? It looks like you picked the picture to make the story look even seedier than it is. I'm going to think twice about where to spend MY valuable time, and it won't be wrapped around a pole.

  2. Suzie R. said it all for me. Some readers actually want quality content. This is not it.

  3. I can see where some women would be offended by the ideal of pole dancing for spirituality -- but I don't think that's what the writer is saying. I think she is saying that she wanted to try this to be comfortable in a group of women, with herself, with her body -- and I find it kind of sad that we have to belittle that.

    I think that if we are to find common ground -- we have to be willing to agree to disagree and give the other person the room and the dignity to explore.

    People edit discovery all the time -- it's called religion.


  4. I wish they had pole dancing for men. Too many of us are not that comfortable in our whole body. The emphasis is just on those certain parts. Too much spirituality denigrates the body. This can be about inhabiting the whole body, bringing spiritual awareness to the whole incarnation.

    Thank you, Cyndi!

  5. I'd love to see a guy do this. But something tells me it will never happen. If you do it (David Rickey), please post photos for us women. Let's see you walk the walk.

  6. Is there a place that allows men? I'd take this as a dare and actually try it! :)

  7. That's a much better picture on the story. As to this exchange, the only picture I've seen of David is in his priestly robes... (no offense, couldn't figure out how to describe)... and I just got this visual of pole dancing and getting caught in the robes.

  8. What I got out of this article was a glimpse into something I've heard about, and possibly even feared, for the reasons the author hints at -- not feeling "in" with other females, opening up a sexual Pandora's box, etc. She addressed my questions in a gentle, approachable way. Why is that not a good fit for this site? It's hard to be spiritual when one part of one's self is being hidden like a dirty secret. Thank you!

  9. I've been taking pole dancing for a year now. I am a wife, mother and professional. It is not about 'sex'. It is about strength and acrobatics. To me, pole dancing is about body, mind and spirit.

    For my body, it is a great workout. It requires a tremendous amount of strength and conditioning. For my mind, it is my stress reliever. When I'm in class, I'm concentrating so hard on perfecting the moves that I don't think about anything else (work or home). For my spirit, it is a huge confidence and self-esteem builder. I am comfortable in my own skin. I couldn't have said that year or so ago when I was 40 lbs. heavier. Pole dancing shapes my body, gives me a 'brain break', gives me confidence and makes me feel sexy. All of those things make me happier. If I'm happier, i have better relationships with family and friends and have a better outlook on my life.

    Sounds good for the soul to me!

  10. Call it a meditative trance-state. Call it an endorphin high. Call it a peak experience, like this site does in one of the categories in its banner . . .

    There are many modalities for achieving an elevated or expansive mind-body state; Thank you for finding such a creative and surprising technique.

    It reminds me of the Take Back the Night marches women organized as protests against violent and sexual crimes. S Factor says to women: take back sensual and erotic movement for ourselves -- away from entertainment for men.

    The downside, being a man, is that I don't get to see the demo of their moves to Marilyn Manson's "Tainted Love" cover but thank you for your evocative description :) The choice of that track says so much about the spirit of these women -- take that sarcastic take of Tainted Love back from the Goth punk, and give it a spiritual spin!

    Here's a funny You Tube video of the comedienne Chelsea Handler trying to do an S Factor session:

  11. I would like to thank Cindi for such an amazing article. She has captured the art of pole dancing. This newly accepted form of exercise enables women to be more confident, stronger and aware of their bodies. The very motion of pole dancing empowers a woman to feel free, sensual and feminine. Being in a class of all women allows for freedom of expression without the worry of criticism or embarrassment, as well as time for female bonding. This is another thing that can lead to reinvention, recovery . . . even realization.

  12. If I thought that this could raise some substantial money for a worthy cause, like a breast cancer cure, I'd do it and get it photographed. Perhaps, of course, I wouldn't do it in full clerical garb unless that would raise the bidding considerably!

  13. morning; seems that our culture is still rife with 1950 sexual paradigms that basically cause both sexes to have body issues.Thus many of us break through and expand our perceptions and challenge others. Taking pole dancing from oppressive male dominated sex clubs to an empowering space forpersonal and group development. Like taking a name that has been used against you...back.
    We need to raise our sexuality to the heart chakra as a culture from the base level it now resides. These experiences and stories help with that.

  14. You caused quite the controversy Cyndi. I enjoyed the article. You did not waste MY valuable time *eye roll.

  15. An eye opening article that tackles the spiritual and introspective from a very different angle . . . I loved it! The best thing about this website is the diverse subject matter it draws upon.

  16. I think any subject that deals with women's sexuality is uncomfortable. So many expressions of women's sexuality is exploitive, pornagraphic and based on really ugly power dynamics.

    But it's all about context ... sure, pole dancing in a strip club is nasty stuff .. but is there anything intrinsically wrong with the concept if it is done by a woman who seeks to feel empowered, in a room with other women who are looking for the same thing?

    It is the abuse of power that makes things like pole dancing and stripping disempowering for women ... but if we are reclaiming our own power by turning these symbols on their head (so to speak) .. where is the harm? And even more important, there may even be benefits when we reclaim our own sexuality for our own enjoyment.

    I think it sounds like fun in this context. I want to try it. Good for you, Cyndi.

  17. Victoria, well said. The context, in this case, is unambiguous and unequivocal. First of all, the pole-dancing/S Factor account is on a site that's called, SOUL'S CODE. Not :)

    It's on a site where every other article or column has something to with spirituality, psychology and mind-body healing.

    And that lists the following mission statement in its "About" page:

    "The only code that we advance is the individual one that makes you tick at the deepest level . . . the clock-cycle of your inner evolution . . .

    "Soul’s Code doesn’t pretend to have “the secret”; Our starting point is that you’re already in on it with us, that you possess an equal ability to get in touch with your own true nature."

    Thank you for sharing your observations!

  18. I love this piece and the debate is sparked. there isn't a male equivalent because, well, there doesn't need to be because, in general, we're not objectified by society in the women are. What's the male equivalent of the a strippers' pole? There isn't one that i can think of.

  19. Cyndi, I commend you on bravely trying this out and using the opportunity to reconnect with your body, which I believe will allow you to grow spiritually. Congratulations! In many parts of the world women's bodies are considered hideous...some regions even consider it culturally acceptable or religiously mandated to use violence to destroy the female form.

    It's nice to know we live in a society where we have the freedom to explore and celebrate our bodies by whatever means we feel comfortable with.

    The road to self-acceptance is not clearly marked -- you just have to trust your instinct and sometimes that may mean trying new things that seem scary at first.

    In the words of "the quiet Beatle" George Harrison, if you don't know where you're going...any road will take you there!

  20. Cyndi,

    I'm ecstatic to hear that you enjoyed joining the many women of S Factor! I have been taking classes at the LA Studio for over 2.5 years now. And the experience has brought me nothing short of joy.

    It has given me so many things that I am not even sure where to start. First off, yes it is spiritual in nature. It's not about learning the pole. It's about learning yourself. Learning that you are a strong, vibrant, and beautiful woman. Sensual, sexual, and empowered. In fact, to the point where a majority of the other women I know tend to want to keep this to themselves and do not necessarily share it with the men in their lives. People think, oh you are just learning stripping etc. But as you have experienced it is so much more than that. It is two hours essentially where you can be alone with yourself. A safe haven to explore, and challenge yourself.

    It is a confidence booster like no other. And not necessarily on a sexual level. When you realize you can flip your own body weight upside down and simply hold yourself up with your own two arms. That strength and knowledge cannot help but seep into the rest of your life. Essentially it spurs an, if I can do this, I can do anything. I can pick myself up after that horrible breakup, I can take that risk of changing to the job I always wanted to have. I can catch myself if I fall. You learn to pick yourself up. You learn that other peoples opinions matter less, and your own matters more. You also over time learn not to judge and compete with the women surrounding you. You come to appreciate beauty in everyone. You inspire one another. And you learn that this movement, no matter what moves you learn, becomes uniquely yours.

    All women are different. Therefore, all our movement is different.

    The class you are in becomes a home, the support networks within S Factor are truly amazing and wonderful. This helps you along your journey. Finding yourself is always a journey. An amazing adventure. S Factor allows women to reconnect with themselves. For two hours a week, you get to be uniquely you. You get to release the tensions of the week and just let it all go.

    I know that pole dancing has a stigma. And that usually when I initially tell someone that I take these classes it spurs at least a half hour conversation. But in the end, they get it. Even my dad gets it. Which is nothing short of amazing. I have had countless friends try the intros that they offer. And even the ones that went into the class wearing sunglasses and were trying to hide in the back, by the end of the class were having the time of their lives.

    To be cliche, don't knock it till you try it. I guarantee if you do, you won't regret it. And even if for you it's not amazing. It will be an experience you will not want to forget, and surprisingly may even enjoy.

  21. Wow i just read ur article & its great, shame that everyone has such a bad opinion and a blinkered view - i dont get mad anymore about that it just makes me laff that they think they know it all ......... and they have never been anywhere near a pole in their lives!

    Ignore them and continue with the pole, if you love it as much as we do you will overcome all negative aspects. And you never know, those who think we are just a bunch of strippers, prostitutes ect. maybe one day get over the fact of where this all originated from and find out for themselves what pole dancing is REALLY all about.

    Its all about the pole............
    Happy spinning xx

  22. Ok just reading back thru some comments made earlier on, here is a link to an interesting video -

    And a message to those who criticise the art of pole dancing -

  23. hi everyone, thanks for all the great comments and support for my article and new endevour! hopefully pole dancing will be made an olympic sport soon :) i know that some of you are working on this!! keep the faith and keep spinning, sistahs!

  24. Hello Cyndi, Nice page you got there. Will come to read more. The article about the pole was great. I guess it take a well trained women to climb up on it. Stay in focus etc. Kisses.

  25. Cute! Rick wants to know when you'll send us pictures of the pole dancing! Great article, you go girl!

  26. Wow! Very risque of you. Good article and I can tell you enjoyed your experience. That pole must have enjoyed you as a partner. Lol! Ciao."

  27. I hope I don't start hearing about any of our firemen misusing taxpayer property to practice their moves!

    I had no idea that pole dancing was becoming a recreational activity. I do think that it takes the negative power away from its reputation as a strip club thing by legitimizing it. And in today's economy, you never know when you're going to have to consider a profession you might not have before--it's good to be ready!

  28. As a member of Father Rickey's congregation, I will PAY for photos of him pole dancing in full clerical regalia!

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