The lights are dim and the music vibrates the walls. Women in their 20s, 30s, 40s and even 50s exchange hugs and change quietly into booty shorts and leg warmers. You find a mat, and class begins.
When you’re in an S Factor studio, two things are certain: female energy is beautiful, and pole dancing is a hardcore workout that puts you in touch with your own body.
“We’ve all had experiences in life that disconnect us from our bodies,” said Ali Kozoll, Director of Teacher Training & Curriculum. Dancing at S Factor, she continues, “is a way to learn to feel comfortable in your own skin.”
Kozoll, who started off as a student in 2005 and has been a part of S ever since, was initially looking to be part of a community. She quickly learned that the women at S Factor celebrate each other.
Because at these studios, women cheer each other on in ways I’ve never experienced before. It is truly a judgment-free zone.
Sheila Kelley’s S Factor was “originally recognized as the first and only pole dancing and striptease workout in the world,” according to its website. Now, there are plenty of studios to choose from, but each takes a different approach.
Typical journey classes at S Factor often begin with a warm-up. Mats are placed end to end in a circle around the room, students facing the instructor who guides the class through stretch and strength moves. You’re working your abs and you’re doing leg lifts in between hair tosses and bridge grinds. You’re encouraged to play with your hair, run your hands over your body, and simply enjoy the sensuality of the sweat. Embrace the shake your arms get in push-up position. Roll with the stretching.
Upper-level classes typically end with students taking turns dancing to a song they’ve picked out for themselves. There are themed weeks – for instance, one week’s assignment was to bring color into the dance – and time for free dancing.
It sounds weird to first-timers (believe me, I was very skeptical and very nervous the first few visits), but once you’re inside those doors, it suddenly feels totally normal to break out into hip circles in the middle of the room, and do your “S walk” from one pole to another without feeling embarrassed.
The easiest way to get used to it is to simply be in your body, and get out of your head.
There is so much out there these days about how to deal with your mind, Kozoll says, so S focuses on the body.
“When you build an intimate relationship with your body, you are able to get the answers we are always looking for,” Kozoll said.
But what about the actual pole part? Well, that’s where your muscles will be used in ways they’ve probably never been used before.
The pole tricks start out easy but get advanced – though not too advanced. Some women are likely to advance a little quicker, but those who are new to any kind of workout can still keep up.
I was in the latter group for a long time, and it took me many weeks to be able to do even a pole hold, which is simply lifting your body weight up by your arms around the pole. Now, just over a year later, I can climb, invert, and do various flying tricks. There are certain tricks I gravitate toward that are easier for me, and others I have yet to perfect. I’m far from advanced, but I’m also far from beginner’s status.
Still, the workout and strength aspect of S Factor is the bonus. The real gift here is in the things you learn about yourself. The things you didn’t even know, or maybe knew but were denying yourself. Like how to move your hips. And the meaning of the word sensual.
And how to run your hands slowly from the top of your head down to your hips, pausing at every curve of your beautiful, womanly body, without recoiling in discomfort.
“S Factor is about learning to exist in the world in the body that you were given,” Kozoll said.
Journey classes begin at Level 1 and go to Level 6, where students can stay for as long as they’d like. A journey class constitutes a two-hour class once a week, and students often can advance with the same instructor the whole track. S Factor also offers single classes such as Pure Dance, which is a warm-up plus group dancing without pole instruction, and Super Pole, which is essentially the opposite of that – a warm-up plus pole instruction without dancing.
S Factor studios are located in Costa Mesa, Los Angeles and Encino. For information on how to take an introductory class, visit sfactor.com.