26 October - Ummm...Did You Say 'Poll' or 'Pole' Dancing?

I have known my dear friend Mindy since the first grade. She was the kickball champ. The athlete. The captain of the cheerleading squad. Contrary to popular belief, possibly the most painfully shy person of the school. As a woman, she had been through several trials of anguish as well as being a rock for those around her over the past 15 years. And through her incredible care for her husband, parents and children, maintaining their insane schedules, her community service and a few major physical problems, there has never been a complaint. Quite the contrary -- she typically recounts each new "story" with a laugh. Her sense of humor and adventurous spirit coupled with her ability to lend a compassionate ear in the middle of a pub... these are the traits that attract many. Her humility and incredible work ethic not only commit her to seeing things through, but she picks up the pieces for a stranger and helps him rebuild. She befriended a woman living in a hurtful relationship and with little means. Mindy mentioned in passing that she dropped off bags of groceries on her doorstep anonymously. Till this day, none of our friends even knew. Proof in wanting nothing in return. On the outside, one might see her life as intact and one to be aspired. And it is. But only because it is well-deserved.

I wanted to see Mindy do something for herself. Part of this year's journey is to inspire or help others to try something they might not try on their own. When I asked Mindy to list a few things, she came back with one that caught me offguard. Knowing her hilarious and intrepid nature, I processed the suggestion and sputtered, "'Poll' dancing? or 'pole' dancing?" Oy. The first thought that came to mind: Taboo. Kinda made me reach for the Purell and want to take a shower. Second thought: I'll blog about HER.

I realized it had been nine months since I asked her that question. It was time to pull the trigger. As I thought about it, I wondered what made me shy or embarrassed to try? Am I abandoning my own philosophy of experiential living? Why should I judge without having any knowledge base? I asked what inspired Mindy to think of this of all things. She simply said she remembered seeing a woman in excellent shape and asked what she did as a workout. Good thing our triathlete friend Yvette and her sister were game too. Crazy Yvette, who takes us all back to our college days, looked at me and said one word: GiggleFest.

In researching this potential bonding experience, my friend Lisa recommended Sheila Kelly's "S Factor" in Chicago. Looking at the site, it actually seemed...professional. The attire was typical yoga or workout clothes. We arrived at the studio and found the sitting room full of students. It was relatively quiet as ladies filled out paperwork and kept to themselves. None of us knew what to expect.

Our instructor, this tiny beautiful woman whose sweet voice and respectful demeanor, made us laugh and feel comfortable straightaway. Monique led us into a room with 12 pilates mats laid in a circle, low red lights and no mirrors. "This is a non-judgmental facility, ladies." She explained that we as women tend to critique and break ourselves down. There would be none of that here, thus, no mirrors. The purpose of this workout regimen is to empower. It was feminine. The "S", was not for Sexy or Stripper. It replicates the S curvature of the female form. These movements are circular and fluid versus the linear movements of regular cardio workouts... atypical to the curvaceous form.

Monique continued to explain how the founder, actress Sheila Kelly created the curriculum from her research on a role as a stripper. Because there was no formal training, she had to learn hands on. Noticing the cut physique of her "research subjects", she too began to see her body transform. After having children, Sheila wanted to get back into exercise, bought a pole and started dancing for herself for an hour each day. Friends began inquiring of her regimen, thus began her teaching.

As class began, we spent a good amount of time introducing ourselves and understanding what the class was about...its origin, everyone's names, what brought us here, feeling comfortable with one another. The warmup was about stretching and letting go, getting lost in ourselves. The slow movements and eyes closed were not sexual, but sensual...dare I say spiritual, and almost emotional. The first half of class is dedicated to building up the core and upper body strength. We learned movements like the "flirt", the "fiddler", the "cow" and "cat", and the "s-walk" of slowly dragging our toe and crossing the mid-line. We then learned our first pole trick, the "firefly", where we grabbed the pole, hooked one foot around, fell and let the other foot follow, keeping the knees open while we spun around the pole. It was more difficult than it looked. It was playful. And we laughed at ourselves like little girls and cheered the next lady on.

Lastly, our instructor danced for us. Wow. It really WAS dance. She incorporated some of the things we learned. The movements were slow and deliberate. She climbed up the pole with grace, ease and such fluidity, almost like a cat. Her movements were fluid as she spiraled downward like a ballerina in flight. It was lovely. At the close of class, we talked of what to expect in the following levels. Everything works at the individual's pace, where the learning curve is like a merry-go-round. We continue to work on what we learned while adding on and building our strength to the next level.

Monique shared with us "none of us [instructors] are strippers. I am a speech pathologist and work with children. I have my hair pulled back and glasses on. And this is my only workout regimen." It was important to note this. I realized I made some inappropriate assumptions - these ladies were professionals, just like the rest of us. These were accountants, moms, saleswomen, medically trained women, even an aerobic instructor from another studio. She added, "But this [class] is what I do for me." Monique expounded, "This is a journey. This really is a journey of transformation. I get to help these women evolve and see their own bodies transform."

Aside from walking away (and craving Carnevor's BLT wedge salad), we talked about our impressions of the class. If we take away our own discomfort and judgments, just like anything, we begin to see things in a new light. I walked away thinking this was an art, an exercise regimen that brought about femininity with the power to hold our own body strength.

Juxtapose that regimen to my upcoming class: boot camp. Perhaps when this 8-week session is over, I may just treat myself to a little me time and take another form of body transformation at the S Factor.

For more information, please visit http://www.sfactor.com/.