Redefining sexy – an interview with Sheila Kelley, founder of S Factor

Recently, I was given the amazing opportunity to interview Sheila Kelley. Sheila is the founder of S Factor, and is on a mission to redefine the meaning of the word “sexy”. She stirred up pre-conceived notions about “stripping” when she debuted her striptease inspired workout, S Factor, on the Oprah show in 2003. There are now seven S Factor fitness studios across the nation and Kelley is widely regarded as the worldwide originator of pole dance fitness. Her book The S Factor: Strip Workouts for Every Woman, not only thought outside the box, it smashed it. The Redefining Sexy: Believe in Your Beauty campaign will do the same. Through a series of amazing and provocative videos, Sheila has set out to show that “sexy” takes all forms in all people.

What initially attracted you to pole dancing?

In 1999, I was researching a film I wrote, produced and starred in called Dancing at the Blue Iguana, about a group of women working in a strip club. I went to real strip clubs, and I met real women, I went online and visited websites like and watched women being vunrerable, sensual and sexy. I had studied classical ballet at the Tisch School of Arts in New York, but this movement was unlike anything I had every seen. It was curvy, sensual, and feminine. I wanted to try it but I didn’t want to be a professional dancer, so I installed a pole at home and began creating my own form of the movement.

With all of the negative attitudes surrounding pole fitness, what advice do you have for someone who is curious about it, but is worried about the stigma?

I would tell them S Factor has redefined “pole dancing.” 10 years ago, “pole dancing” was solely defined as something women did in dark clubs to arouse men for money. That definition was changed in 2000 when I incorporated fluid feminine movement with the pole, and S Factor was born. What began as a small group of brave women trying S with me in my home, has grown into a global appreciation and respect for pole dance fitness and artistry. All of the women who tried S Factor feminine fitness way back before the world was introduced to it in my book The S Factor: Strip Workouts for Every Woman, and on Oprah back in 2003, removed the stigma. It is now mainstream enough so that every woman can experience the pleasure of moving joyously in her sensual body.

What is your favorite pole move or combo?

I absolutely love the pole trick we teach at S Factor called the Firefly. It’s the first pole movement we teach women in our Introductory Teaser and in Level 1 of the Erotic Creature Journey. It makes every woman, no matter her age, shape or athletic ability, feel feminine and free.

Why is it important to you to encourage women to discover their sexy side? What benefits do you feel it has?

I believe that every woman on the planet has an Erotic Creature. She is the wild, untamed, sexual alter ego that lives inside us. We live in a society that teaches women from a young age to shut down their Erotic Creature, which is the source of their feminine sexuality and physicality. It’s done under the guise of protecting women. Society believes that by covering up a women’s sexuality, we protect it from the dangerous eyes of men. I believe this shutting down of women’s bodies, the bodies we were born in and should not be ashamed of, is psychologically damaging, and it weakens us rather than protecting us. At S Factor, through the Erotic Creature Journey, we give women back this missing piece. We turn back on what has been shut down, so that women can feel whole and powerful again.

What is your favorite part of pole fitness?

My favorite part is what happens before you touch the pole, and after you walk away. This is where a woman’s Erotic Creature really comes alive, and this is what we teach at S Factor. The way she saunters up to the pole, circling her hips and flinging her hair, swaying her body to the rhythm of the song she’s dancing to, fully connected to her sensuality. And as she slides down the pole, her body melting toward the smooth wood floor, where she writhes to the music in complete bliss. That’s my favorite!

Many people who try pole fitness find that they struggle at first, and hit a wall – do you have any advice to pass along to people to help them break through that?

Come to every S class. Don’t let anything stop you from coming, especially the voices in your head. The only walls you’ll find at S Factor are the studio walls, which are a lot of fun to dance on! Any other walls you come across are ones your brain has built, and you have the power to knock those down. But you must immerse yourself in your Erotic Creature Journey. Schedule time each week to come to class, and make that appointment as important as you would a doctor’s appointment. S is therapy.

As you’ve said, so many moms lose their sense of self after becoming parents, and no longer feel beautiful. What benefits do you feel that reclaiming your sensual side has, to a new mom especially?

This goes back to women believing in society’s definitions of things instead of believing in their own beauty. And this is why I launched my global women’s social movement, Redefining Sexy: Believe in Your Beauty on It redefines the terms “sexy” and “beauty” through a series of videos that inspire women to believe in their own beauty versus believing in society’s definition. When a woman becomes a mother, society suddenly defines her only as a mother. She gets a scrunchie for her hair and a pair of pajama jeans. It’s like they tell us, “You don’t need to feel sexy, you’re a mom.” As a mother of two, I know that a women’s sexuality and feminine physicality is a natural part of her mind, body, heart and soul. A woman cannot feel whole and healthy if a vital part of her is shut down. She must be allowed to radiant her sexuality always.

Any last words of advice?

“You must do the things you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Sheila’s newest video features Ali, a new mum. Ali’s story is here, and it is one that is experienced by so many women. Ali, however, has found an outlet.

As a mum, I know that it’s hard, especially when your child is small, to really remember who and what you are. You are tired, feel frumpy, and, at least if you were me, felt like you had a baby attached to you 24 hours a day. I wish that I had been involved in pole fitness when I had my son, as I know the huge impact that it has had on me, my self-confidence, and my physical fitness, in the almost 2 years that I have been doing it. For so many, it feels wrong or weird to focus on yourself, to feel beautiful, to feel sexy. As a mum, I have learned how very important it is to do these exact things. We are all beautiful creatures, even when we haven’t showered for a week, or have one shirt left that doesn’t have food, or snot, or whoknowswhat on it. We need to embrace that part of ourselves, hold it tight, and not let go. Surveys have up to 80% of women feeling unhappy with the way they look. 80%! This cannot continue. For ourselves, for our daughters and sons, our friends, our future. Let’s all join together, women and men, and follow Sheila’s lead. We need to Redefine Sexy, and we need to do it now.

You can find Sheila on her website, follow along with the Redefining Sexy Campaign, and join Sheila on Twitter @TheSheilaKelley.

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