Learning how to rock like a cat, strut like I’m sexy & fly like fire (not yet)
Today is the seventh anniversary of my S Factor intro class. And my very first attempt at pole dancing. To celebrate, here’s an excerpt from my in-progress memoir.
An hour before I had to leave for the S Factor class, I no longer wanted to go. I took a deep breath and fought off panic. I tried to read to distract myself, but couldn’t concentrate. I re-read the directions for the fifth time and put them in my bag with a water bottle. I was already wearing black shorts and a favorite pink t-shirt Brian, my husband, had brought me from Disneyland, featuring Tinker Bell. Normally, we did new things together and he drove, but this class was for women only.
When I signed up, I knew it was going to be tough for me, a morning exerciser, to take an 8 pm pole dancing class by myself on a Saturday night.
I had to pee again. I’d just gone twenty minutes ago. I was so nervous. But I’d promised myself I wouldn’t skip it.
I suspected I’d be the least flexible girl in the class. The heaviest too. What if I couldn’t do anything and everyone judged me? And thought things like, “What is she doing here? She’s fat!” Or worse, “Eww, disgusting, soo not sexy.”
At 275 pounds, it was likely. And some people might think judgmental, even mean things, but probably not speak them out loud. I took another deep breath, remembering why I signed up. I needed help with some moves—rocking cat, S walk, and pump—I couldn’t do in the S Factor Basics DVD. Then maybe I’d finally be working up a sweat when Sheila Kelley said I should fifteen minutes in.
I drove across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco and through the city with butterflies for company & Kelly Clarkson singing on the radio about hiding tears behind her hazel eyes. Traffic wasn’t bad and I didn’t get lost. After parking in a garage, I found the studio easily. A large white flag sporting a big purple S marked a white & lilac Victorian. Not what I expected for a pole dancing studio.
The small entry room was full of women filling out forms or chatting quietly. A friendly woman sitting behind a desk introduced herself, but I was too nervous to remember her name. She checked me in and gave me a clipboard with a waiver to sign. I found a seat on a bench by the wall, moved a red velvet pillow out of the way, and skimmed the lengthy form of legalese that included questions about prior injuries. I knew from having taught sea kayaking while in graduate school, that these types of releases from liability were standard. I handed it in, then went to pee again.
While waiting for class to start, I admired black and white photos of founder, Sheila Kelley hanging on the wall in the hallway. In one she demonstrated her descending angel, resembling a gymnast. My favorite was one of Sheila with her child propped on her hip. Though presumably taken during a photo shoot, it felt like a spontaneous moment occurring after Sheila finished teaching a class. Their mutual joyous laughter leapt out of the photo, reminding me of the magic I sensed present in hip circles when I saw her on Oprah. If only I could sashay through life, feeling the same vibrancy, joy and sensuality I’d felt that day in the grocery store, after reading the S Factor Strip Workouts book. I wanted to connect with my sensual, sexual, erotic self and free her. Really free her.
Soon it was time for class to start. Eighteen of us walked into a small dark room, lit only by two red lamps & dim recessed ceiling lights. We settled onto purple yoga mats that covered most of the wood floor through the 500 square foot space. Two stainless steel poles stood like sentries in the center with a single mat between them. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I could see it was even worse than I thought. My pink Tinker Bell t-shirt, which normally boosted my confidence and drew compliments, seemed out of place. All of the other girls, except one, were so fit and trim they wore thin strap, fitted yoga tops. I was the only one in shorts; everyone else wore yoga pants.
First Rocking Cat!
Ana, our instructor sat on the mat between the poles. She had short pixie blond hair with dark brown low-lights. She radiated warmth and encouragement. She introduced herself, told us about S Factor—how Sheila had discovered it’s magic when she learned it for a role in Dancing at the Blue Iguana. And how excited they were for San Francisco to be the second studio after the mother ship in West Hollywood.
After introducing ourselves to each other, Ana turned down the overhead lights and turned up the music. Besides a few pop tunes, the playlist included hip-hop & rap, some classic rock and something I later learned was called trip-hop. Ana asked us to close our eyes as much as we could and “focus on how the moves feel in your body. Let me be your mirror.” Her voice was soft, soothing and enthusiastic. We started out just like in the DVD, sitting cross-legged in the center of our mats. Moving forward and back, bending from our hips. Then circling to the left. Then rotating to the right. Having done these at home I closed my eyes and enjoyed the slow sway. I tried to listen and do what Ana said, but had to keep sneaking peaks to see and then try to mimic her with my body as she transitioned from move to move. She made it look easy. Gorgeous. Sexy. Fluid.
I didn’t feel that way. Especially not with ‘the pump.’ I didn’t feel a stretch in any part of my body. And I didn’t understand how it could feel luxurious or sexy to ‘imagine myself being skewered’ while kneeling on my right leg with my left foot planted next to my right heel (left knee turned out at a right angle), and lifting then lowering my body up and down. Nope, still didn’t get ‘the pump.’
On other hand, I finally learned the ‘rocking cat.’ It was hard. Like a moving figure eight girl-style push up. But I got it. Sort of. It felt awkward to do. And physically demanding, but I felt sure it would come with time if I practiced at home. And oh those glorious hip circles. We did ‘em slow and fast. Up and down. Circled out booties and our whole bodies. My quads were burning by the time we finished. And then it was time to learn the infamous ‘S walk’. The one I’d seen on Oprah and still hadn’t conquered! It was harder than it looked. Especially to move so slowly. Everyone found it awkward as indicated by giggles, comments and hands reaching out to the walls for support. But I finally understood which hip I was supposed to fall into. And how to drag my foot. Ana told us to practice. To make it our own sexy strut. I wasn’t sure how to add my own sexy flair while stumbling around like a doe taking her first tentative steps, but at least it was fun and a little silly. And I could practice at home.
Gulp. Pole time.
The pole scared me. Especially the most important part, which was the ending—to get up butt & hip first, super slowly. How was I supposed to ‘milk it for all it was worth’ and look and feel sexy when I felt so scared, weak and awkward. I didn’t trust my body. I didn’t think I could my weight. Despite my sweaty palms, lump in my gut and throat and tears burning behind my eyes I tried. I was the worst. My right foot stayed velcroed to the floor during all my attempts at the firefly (aka fireman) spin. And I hated being watched. I hadn’t realized I was holding my breath until it escaped in one huge sigh of relief when Ana finally announced it was time for the instructor demonstration.
The rest of us sat on the floor, clustered at the entrance end of the room to free space for the instructors to show us more advanced pole dancing. Music I didn’t recognize— loud, dark, sexy male vocals with a heavy beat —started playing and Ana and Shannon S walked into the center of the room undulating their hips and their entire bodies. They made it look effortless and enticing. Energy from the music and their movement coursed through the room and our bodies. I could feel the charge, as if I’d been plugged in to the energy of the universe. They stalked the poles, which held no fear for them. They flew, spun, climbed, flipped, slid, and crawled in a controlled, yet freeing movement that oozed power, energy, and sensuality. We cheered and hollered and erupted into huge applause when the song ended. Watching them magnified the glimmer I’d felt during the floor work 10-fold.
I talked to Ana after the class. She encouraged me to sign up for the first 8-week session that had just begun. I told her I didn’t think I could do all the moves. “Yes, you can. You just did!” She reminded me. I was still hesitant. Not ready. The intro was physically challenging for me. I didn’t have the endurance to do multiple rocking cats or any of the moves done on our backs with legs in the air. I told her I’d practice at home with my DVD vowing to sign up for the second session scheduled to start in late August.
Post Class High
I left the studio buzzing with energy. My muscles and skin tingled. The night air felt surprisingly cool and refreshing on my hot & sweaty skin. Sweat. I grinned from ear to ear. As I left the garage to drive home, my normal pop radio station, K 101.3, sounded mellow and boring. I needed the same kind of music I’d been listening to for the last two hours. It was stronger, more energetic. More primal. I used the seek function on the radio until I found something I didn’t recognize that I could feel strongly in my body. And played it loud!
I felt strong. I felt vibrant. I felt sexy! I wanted more.