photo: courtesy of S Factor
I used to think that the terms "exercise" and "sexy" were mutually exclusive. But that was prior to my first visit to a strip club in New Orleans, where I had my mind blown by women with the ability to transform physical exertion into an art form. I was fascinated by the beauty and athleticism of their routines, which merged choreographed dance moves with pole tricks, and wondered if I was capable of exhibiting such power, confidence and eroticism.
I got my answer following a visit to A Body Within Pilates Studio, where I participated in the first session of a class known as the S Factor. For two hours, I explored a side of my personality that had previously lain dormant, and learned that it was possible to feel unapologetically comfortable with my sexuality.
The skinny: The S Factor was originated in 2001 by actress Sheila Kelley, and involves a combination of yoga, striptease and pole dancing. The emerging exercise phenomenon is named after the natural S shape of the female form, and aims to improve women's emotional and psychological fitness in addition to offering an alternative to the traditional workout. My class was held in an airy, candlelit space, where the absence of mirrors allowed me to practice without feeling self-conscious.
The getup: Comfort and ease of movement is top priority, so your best bet is the standard yoga/pilates get-up. Participants are encouraged to experiment with sexier wardrobes as they advance, however (push-up bras, stripper shorts, g-strings), and eventually strut their stuff in six-inch platform heels. Adjustable poles can be purchased for home use at a cost of $279, and will fit any ceiling between eight and 10 feet.
The payoff: I was coated with a fine layer of sweat upon completing my session, and departed the studio feeling tranquil and self-possessed. Continued practice tones and lengthens the muscles, unleashing a shapely figure and a sensual awareness that is nothing short of amazing.
Wear and tear: Bruised knees are common in the beginning, as are aching muscles and pole burns, all of which I experienced. The discomfort was relatively minor though, and dissipates as your body grows more accustomed to the movements. Techniques can be modified to accommodate your physical limitations, if any, and are said to be safe for women of all ages and fitness levels. Kelley was 34 when she began practicing regularly, and eliminated back pains she'd had since high school with this workout.
The commitment: S Factor classes nationwide are scheduled in two-hour blocks once a week, for a total of eight weeks. It's possible to develop an understanding of the basics within this timeframe, but intermediate and advanced courses are recommended for those seeking complete proficiency and confidence.
The cost: Sexual awakening does not come without a price, so be prepared to fork over $440 for an eight-week session. This must be paid in advance (a $220 deposit is required up front, with the remaining balance due prior to the first class) and is nonrefundable. Private and semi-private classes are also available with varying rates, and special two-hour classes are a popular choice for birthday celebrations or bachelorette parties.
Difficulty level: The yoga portion of the class is physically demanding but relatively easy to master. The pole work, on the other hand, may pose a challenge for the uncoordinated, as I learned after three or four unsuccessfully attempts to execute a basic pole spin. Something clicked eventually, though, and once it did I was flying around as if I was born to be an exotic dancer. Luckily, class sizes are limited to allow for personal attention; my teacher was careful to spend extra time with anyone who struggled to catch on immediately.
The verdict: This class may not be especially affordable, but its physical and psychological benefits are worth the investment if you have a great deal of disposable income. Regular practice is a must in order to develop adequate muscle memory, as is the willingness to check your inhibitions at the door. Recommended for any woman who dreams about fulfilling her erotic potential.
Classes are held at A Body Within Pilates Studio, 3701 N. Ravenswood, Suite 204; (773) 404-2412. Learn more online at www.sfactor.com.