When I went to the Big Island of Hawaii in June of 2008, I wanted to S in the sand. My teachers had inspired us with nature images like “Imagine your toes dragging through soft warm sand…” for years. Something about letting my inner goddess out to play in the sultry tropics with Madame Pele really appealed. I did a few luscious hip circles at sunset the first night on the beach at the Mauna Lani resort, but never managed to fit in a full S Factor workout. I suppose I felt too exposed in front of all the ocean view rooms.
And then Hawaii and Pele beckoned—walks and talking story with Danny Akaka (a cultural historian), Lomilomi massage, hikes in Volcano National Park, fifty-cent papayas in Hilo, snorkeling at Keauhou Beach and finally hula at Aloha music camp.
S Factor Retreat
I forgot about my desire until I saw the agenda for the first ever S Factor retreat at Paradise Point resort in San Diego. ‘Sunrise S on the beach’ was scheduled for 7AM every day. Would it be like sunrise yoga? Or maybe gentle stretching to start the long days of intense dance workouts? How would it be different from S Factor in the studio? It didn’t matter. It was S in the sand. I had to go.
On the first cool October morning at the retreat, rain threatened so we moved indoors. I was disappointed. It wasn’t even drizzling. So what if rained? We’d get a little wet. We wouldn’t melt. And it wasn’t that cold. I stripped off all my extra layers and decided to just go with the flow. Sheila Kelley (founder of S Factor) guided us though a modified S workout that she does in the gym when traveling. The workout itself didn’t seem that different to me from what we normally do in the studio. Of course, the more overtly erotic moves, like ‘the hump,’ were left out. As was most self-touch. I enjoyed Sheila’s stories of Richard protecting her from ogling men at the gym. It wasn’t so bad. I focused on super-slow technique. Still, I missed the music. For me, even the warm up is dance. How can I dance without music? It was interesting once, but I figured I’d sleep in the next morning if rain threatened again.
In the Grass
Though cold and misty on the second morning, we met in the grass before sunup. Sheila sat on her towel with her back to the water. Twenty women, dressed in yoga pants and layers, clustered in a tight semi-circle around Sheila. Once-again, Sheila led us through a toned-down warm up. Being outside was extraordinary. Unlike in the studio, I kept my eyes open. As I stretched and twisted, I watched the rowers on the bay and the sea gulls overhead in the pink sky. The fine mist dampened my hair, which curled in response. I slowly slid my toes through the dewy plush green grass. It felt heavenly. It must’ve showed, because Sheila noticed, “That looks like it feels so good.” She took off her socks and encouraged everyone to join us. Someone pointed out that passersby were watching us. I preferred to ignore the attention. I felt protected in the center of the circle, as if I were ensconced in a plastic bubble, like John Travolta in that 70s movie.
We finally moved our sunrise workout to the resort beach on the last morning of the retreat. The night before I wondered if I was going to make it. I was so sore that my burning, aching quads had kept me awake for hours, despite the ibuprofen to which I’d finally succumbed. But I woke up before the alarm. Even Sophie, my roommate, changed her mind and decided to come.
We arrived at the beach a few minutes late. Despite the early hour, it was a gorgeous morning. The sky was pale indigo. Lights still twinkled across the calm waters of Mission Bay. Puffy silver clouds highlighted with pink and gold from the rising sun stretched from the horizon towards the full moon, still high in the western sky.
Sophie and I traipsed through the sand towards the water. We found spots among a dozen fellow attendees already moving their bodies in languid stretches. Someone nearby whispered: “It’s silent S this morning.” I nodded and mouthed ‘Thank you.’ It looked to me like everyone was just doing her own thing. Sounded good to me.
I’d dressed in black velvet pants and a pink fleece jacket to stay warm. I positioned my S emblazoned towel on an angle to the water so I could watch the moon play hide and seek with the clouds. I sat down, grimacing as I crossed my legs. I was still so sore.
I squirmed my butt and hips into the sand. I inhaled the briny scent of the bay. I felt a breeze and let it move my body in a gentle, swaying circle. I’d sat on an incline, which felt unstable. As I moved, my hips sank deeper into the sand. This both increased and supported the stretch.
With eyes open, I enjoyed the glimmering water, glimpses of my neighbors’ bliss, the gulls soaring above and the seal curiously eyeing us undulate our feminine curves in a way he (or she) had never seen on this beach before. Nature became my music. My arms and hands joined in the fun. My fingers traced an arc in the sand in front of me then grabbed handfuls behind. I wanted to toss it in the air like glitter.
I debated trying to keep sand off, but loved how the cool softness felt on my bare feet. I dug in my toes as I stretched one foot to the left, the other right. Who was I kidding? My instructor had pegged my messy erotic creature ages before, so I just gave in. The sand embraced and massaged my sore muscles as I transitioned to my side then up to my knees. My towel shifted and twisted. I got sand all over—on my knees, elbows and backside as I got lost in ‘rocking cats,’ a sensual girly pushup.
Eventually, Sheila asked us to follow her visually. She silently led us through strength exercises. Soon she stood and looped her hips in wide, luxurious circles. Standing in the sand made me feel even more grounded and secure than I do on wooden floors.
Then she set us free to S walk the beach.
Out of habit, I headed towards the water, where I always go when visiting the beach. But I as I dragged my toes, the wet sand felt harsh and scratchy. It hurt! And it was too cold to dip my toes into the water. I tried sideways down the beach. But the slant of the hill made me feel like I’d topple over like a wobbly weeble.
So, I turned and walked up hill through the unpacked sand, which normally felt like trudging. But sashaying slowly uphill in the smooth grains felt effortless and right. I let one foot, than the other lag behind. The sand caressed my feet. I wandered.
In Rose Petals
And then, I stumbled into rose petals. What serendipity! They were leftover from Sheila’s tossing fest the night before after our Yemanja ritual. I smiled at the memory of her wild abandon. She’d reminded me of a flower girl on a sugar rush from too much wedding cake. One cluster was a perfect circle. It drew me in. I spiraled into the petals, grinning and giggling. I couldn’t contain my joy. My walk morphed into a skip and twirl. I felt sexy, sassy and free. It was as if my senses, my ability to feel, had been turned up to high. Like the grains of sand had exposed a new layer of super-sensitive skin.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a man and two women walking side-by-side towards me. All three were dressed in jeans and sweatshirts. The man was closest and turned his head to enjoy the S spectacle spread out before him. The woman in the middle peeked without turning her head. The last woman looked straight ahead, arms swinging at her side as if she were marching in a parade, not out for a sunrise stroll. I wished her the magic of S and imagined Tinker-bell sprinkling fairy dust.
I felt safe with my tribe nearby so continued my dance celebration among the rose petals.
As the man walked by, he smiled at me, waved and said “Good morning.”
“Good morning!” I beamed at him.
Before I finished my path to the center of the rose-petal circle, Sheila called us to re-join her.
As I meandered back through the towels, I noticed most were still sand-free rectangles. I spotted only three other scrunched-up sand-drenched towels like mine, which made me laugh. I loved that Sheila’s towel looked just like mine. How did everyone else keep there’s so neat?
Not that it mattered. I’d finally gotten my S’on in the sand!