Founder & CEO, Sheila Kelley S Factor
Posted on: February 16, 2012 | Go to profile
While researching the lives of strip club dancers for a screenplay, Sheila created the S Factor, the original pole dance fitness workout, unlocking the sensuality in all women to help them develop their best bodies. Sheila gives women everywhere the opportunity to join her movement with her book The S Factor: Strip Workouts for Every Woman, and three S Factor exercise DVDs. In addition to her huge success with S Factor, Sheila has also been cast in TV roles from Gossip Girl to The Sopranos to Lost, and in films including Nurse Betty and One Fine Day.
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: In 1999, I was researching and co-writing the screenplay, “Dancing at the Blue Iguana,” about the complicated lives of five dancers working at a strip club. I went into real strip clubs and spent time with the dancers. Because I also planned to star in the film, I trained with them. During and after the training, I noticed a remarkable difference in my body…my hips and butt looked curvier yet my waist was narrower, and my arms and legs felt long and powerful. I decided to install a dance pole in my husband Richard’s guesthouse so I could keep playing with the movement. I had had training as a classical ballerina, and I had tried every type of fitness under the sun. I began to think…what if I combined pole dancing with feminized sprinklings of other forms of fitness? My friends started noticing the changes in my body too, and that I was no longer meeting them for pilates! I had to let them in on my secret. In 2000, I began teaching what I had come to think of as “S Factor,” to friends in my home. By 2002, the classes had grown through word-of-mouth, and rumors in L.A. of the “woman who teaches a strip tease workout in her guesthouse,” prompted the L.A. Times to do an article on S Factor. In the years that followed, three major occurrences changed the path of S Factor from a class in my home, to a worldwide phenomenon:
1). I wrote and published my first book, “The S Factor: Strip Workouts for Every Woman,” and I filmed my first S Factor workout DVD called, “The Basics.”
2). I received a polite eviction warning at my home informing me that I could not operate a business there. I opened the first public S Factor fitness studio in Los Angeles, the first women’s fitness studio of its kind on the planet.
3). And this is the one that really changed the course of my life, S Factor was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show seven times! The entire world was introduced to this unique brand of feminine movement, and everyone wanted to try it.
Today, there are S Factor studios in California (4), New York (3), Chicago and Houston. And several times a year, I host “Essentially Sexy from the Inside Out” weekend retreats in additional cities, so women from all over the world can immerse themselves in a luxurious feminine experience unlike any other.
Q: What’s your best advice for an entrepreneur in an early/bootstrapping phase?
A: If you are a creative person with a creative idea, remember that you will at some point need to integrate the business side of things into your planning. This does not mean that you have to take a traditional business approach, or rely on non-feminine business models. I certainly didn’t. When you view your business plan using your “feminine eye,” it will open up a whole new perspective that is currently untapped in many industries. Women are not being catered to as much as they should and could be. And it’s not due to lack of need. For years women have subsisted on what we have been given, variations of things men respond to. Just spray paint it pink and women will love it, right? Where are the cars designed for women? Where are the hotels designed for women? The restaurants? The airlines? S Factor has set the ball rolling to create a culture for and about women. There is a tremendous opportunity for women entrepreneurs to supplement and nurture this culture.
Q: It’s hard to focus on the “big picture” sometimes because we can get caught in the weeds of work and life. When does visioning come clearest or easiest for you? Or what inspires your vision?
A: To this day, I still teach S Factor classes. I am by no means an absentee CEO. Every week I am on the front lines of S, sharing this movement with the women who have come to rely on it. That’s how I am able to remain in touch with the women who make up the S Factor community, and with the brand itself. When I’m teaching…first, let me paint a picture for you. S Factor classes are taught in a circle with a teacher in the middle of the circle, and the students stretched out side-by-side on yoga mats to make up the circle. There are no mirrors in the studios, the lights are soft and red, and soul-stirring music is played as I guide the women through different movements. It’s mesmerizing both to practice S, and to observe it. It is in these moments, when I’m joined with S women in this circle of feminine energy, that I am inspired. It is in these moments that I feel the most full of creative fire, and I am overwhelmed by the power of what we’re doing, and motivated to keep pushing the envelope, to keep expanding our world, and deepening a woman’s connection to her sexy which lives within her body, mind, heart and soul.
Q: What do you feel separates your brand from your competitors?
A: S Factor doesn’t have any competitors. *smile*
Now if you were to ask me what separates S Factor from “pole dance fitness companies,” I would say that S Factor is a language for the feminine body with six elements of movement. Pole dancing is just one of those elements.
Only S Factor teaches S Factor. I have not come across anything like S Factor, so I cannot speak on what other businesses are doing. I only know that S is unique, completely original, and truly special. It is S Factor’s uniqueness that makes it impossible to find anywhere except in our studios.
In terms of everything the fitness industry has to offer, I’ve tried yoga, pilates, and mother/daughter classes. In terms of therapy for women, I’ve tried psychotherapy. Nothing has come close to addressing the whole woman within me on all levels — fitness, self-confidence, fun, and community — except S.
ON Starting Out
Q: If you had a young sister or a daughter who was a senior in college, anxious about landing her first job or unsure of what she wanted to do, what would your advice be to her?
A: I do have a young daughter named Ruby, and she’s a firecracker! I can’t imagine her being anxious about much of anything, or unsure of herself. I didn’t always feel as emotionally and physically powerful as a woman as I do at this time in my life. Through my own personal life journey creating and practicing S Factor, and studying the history of women, I have acquired this strength of mind, body, heart and soul. Through inspiration from strong female (and male) writers such as Louann Brizendine, Christiane Northrup and others, I’ve gained knowledge that has helped shape my confidence, my sense of adventure as a woman, and the philosophy behind S Factor. And I share everything with my daughter. When the time comes for her to make a big career decision in her life, I feel certain she will be equipped and ready for anything.
Q: Is there an example in your life of a time when others were against you or your dream, yet you persevered?
A: You’re talking to the woman who founded pole dance fitness! I most certainly did. That little eviction warning I found attached to my front door when I was teaching S Factor out of my home, was the result of queries from my neighbors. What can I say? At that time (and today to some extent), the definition of “pole dancing” and “strip tease” was restricted to what men pay money for in strip clubs. And the question I asked myself was, “How can I redefine this?” Because I knew and felt in my body that the movement itself was not seedy, it was the environment that had defined it. What I did was take the pole out of the environment it was in. And voila, you have something that is inarguably beautiful and valid as a form of movement. As a former ballet dancer, I knew that it was no different from a ballerina creating feminine poses on a horizontal barre as she stretches her legs and spins and twirls. At S Factor, the barre is simply vertical. We actually have a very pretty pole trick we teach that I named the Ballerina.
Q: What do you think is the key to happiness?
A: Balance. Women must find balance in their lives. We cannot be everything to everyone else, and leave whatever is left over for ourselves. We need to schedule time to nurture our mind, body, heart and soul, satisfy our desires, feed our mind, feel sexy, and be the queen of the castle. Then, and only then, after all of our needs are met and we are feeling alive, vibrant and fed, can we share with our loved ones.
Q: Oprah has that great section in her magazine “What I know for sure.” What do you know for sure?
A: 1). All women are inherently sexy, beauty lives within all women, and when women acknowledge this they begin to notice and appreciate it in other women
2). Women are not inherently threatened by and competitive with other women
3). Every woman’s body is a unique and breathtaking work of art
4). The mind, body, heart and soul of a woman is specifically feminine, very different from men, and equally as valuable when allowed to flourish
5). Women’s sexuality can be integrated into their daily lives to create a more complete life experience
Q: What are the top 3 things that you do to stay healthy?
A: 1). I stay away from diets. I eat good food that stimulates my senses and gives me spice and energy to take on the world!
2). I always have some form of movement in my life. Whether it be an S class or a bicycle ride with my kids, I keep my body moving from the moment she cat pounces out of bed in the morning, to the moment she cat crawls back in at night.
3). I keep love in my life. My son Gus, my daughter Ruby, my husband Richard, everyone in my family, my dear friends and my S women surround me with love, and keep me feeling young and alive.