Pleasures of Pole Dancing: S Factor Founder Sheila Kelley

After taking an intro S Factor class, I had the opportunity to meet founder and actress Sheila Kelley when she visited her Chicago studio from Los Angeles.

Sheila first discovered the beauty and power of the movement when training for a role in the film “Dancing at the Blue Iguana”. She recently appeared as Zoe on the final season of “Lost.” In our conversation, she explains how her classes are about so much more than pole dancing.

Marjie: When I told people I was taking an S Factor class, they were shocked. Pole dancing has a sleazy connotation.

Sheila: It does, which is why I don’t call S Factor pole dancing. S-Factor is a feminine workout for women. There’s a pole in it and there’s stripping if you want to, but the core movement—the big, round, circular, sexual, slow movement—that’s the rich, dark chocolate cake of what S Factor is.

Marjie: Your studio doesn’t have any mirrors.

Sheila: No, I don’t want mirrors. That makes women start to judge and tear themselves apart. I want it to be like a sanctuary in here for the feminine. I want a woman to relish her shape, her sensuality, her power, her strength, and her sexuality. I want her to be like a child on Christmas morning every time she comes into class. I want her to be giddy and excited, learning about this side of herself that has been cut off by a culture that doesn’t know how to deal with women’s sexuality. And by sexuality I mean women’s bodies.

Marjie: I love your emphasis on curves as opposed to a straight, skinny figure that most of us can never achieve.

Sheila: And who wants it? God gave women the bodies they have for a reason. They’re supposed to be beautiful and make people’s jaws drop; they’re supposed to turn men on. Every single species on the planet knows how to do a mating dance except the human female—and they’re scared to learn.

Marjie: Do you feel that society doesn’t honor women as they get older? That once a woman hits middle age there’s this…

Sheila: De-sexualization?

Marjie: Yes, but it’s not true.

Sheila: I’m going to be 46 and I’ve never been happier in my life. I’ve never been more fulfilled, I’ve never had a better relationship with my body, my family, my husband, my kids—everything. When I was on Oprah, I was 40 and Oprah and Kim (Cattrall) were both over 50 and they said life really starts at 50.

Marjie: Is S Factor for women of all ages?

Sheila: Yes, absolutely. I taught a woman on her 85th birthday.

Marjie: Our instructor, Julie, did an amazing demo—climbing to the ceiling, flipping upside down. How long does it take to learn that?

Sheila: You can climb the pole by Level 2 and you learn inversions at the end of Level 2.  (Each S Factor level is comprised of 8 weekly 2-hour classes.)

Marjie: Once women reach the highest levels at S Factor, what are they like? Are they out there flaunting their stuff?

Sheila: It’s not flaunting; it’s a pride and a comfort in the body. The journey of S-Factor is the awakening of the erotic creature. By levels 6 and 7 it becomes an internal confidence. Women become humbled by their own beauty and respect it so deeply. That’s what my goal is, to get that love affair happening between the body and the critical mind.

Marjie: How long have you been married? (Sheila is married to actor Richard Schiff.)

Sheila: We’ve been together for 20 years, married for 14. He’s my baby. (smiles) And it’s the hottest, it’s so sexual.

Marjie: How psyched is he that you explore these issues?

Sheila: Beyond. He’s like a kid in a candy store.

Marjie: Who’s the better pole dancer, Conan O’Brien or Martha Stewart? (Sheila appeared on both shows.)

Sheila: Conan, easily. Well – he’s the better pole athlete. She’s the better dancer. He couldn’t get the curves going.