The things we at Rocks Off won't do for work. Craig Hlavaty has gone undercover as a guido for a look into the Washington Avenue scene. Chris Gray trolls Craiglist for the most... interesting... entries. And we, as the token Rocks Off lady, are the one who gets to go to the pole-dancing class for a story on sexy songs with which to seduce your significant other. [Ed. Note: In our defense, the classes are female-only... we're sure Craig would have loved to go.] The idea was spawned by a recent Groupon offering two introductory classes at Sheila Kelley's S Factor. You know Sheila Kelley. She's that actress from L.A. Law and, more recently, Lost, who learned how to pole-dance for a role in the film Dancing at the Blue Iguana. Kelley later incorporated yoga and pilates moves into what she'd learned and launched what she calls a feminist movement. Even though Rocks Off is four goofy appendages attached to an awkward torso, we became the sacrificial lamb. And lest you think S Factor is all sexy or something, know this - even Martha Stewart has tried it.
Our first class was Friday night. Rocks Off showed up at the Galleria-era studio and wouldn't have known we were anywhere but a typical dance studio with wood floors and a nice, welcoming interior if it weren't for the lucite shoes and fingerless elbow-length gloves for sale against one wall of the lobby. Then we met our instructor, who was wearing a lacy tank top and a black lace bra, thigh-high leg warmers, leopard-print panties and nothing else. No cameras were allowed inside S Factor's three studio rooms while classes are in session, but in each is a wall of benches covered in fluffy pillows. Several silver poles are placed equidistantly apart, and some rooms have overstuffed armchairs. The floors are a warm-colored wood, and the room would look like any ballet studio in daylight except the barres are vertical, not horizontal. However, even in the middle of day, the lights in the studio are dimmed very low, and the only color comes from a handful of red lamps in each corner. The effect is so Lynchian we almost swore Angelo Badalamenti was coming from the instructor's iPod. Once Rocks Off knew a stripper who conceived an entire elaborate dance to Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." She'd come out onstage in a white glove, black porkpie hat and gilttery vest with little else underneath and rocked out the MJ moves. That was the only modern striptease we'd ever perceived as an art, as more than just a prurient talent, and it also broke our preconceived notions of what kind of music strippers can dance to. Forget "Cherry Pie," The teacher for Friday night's lapdance class started us off with Love and Rockets' "So Alive".
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"Just to warn you," she said. "When we get to the top peel-off, if you aren't comfortable doing it, you don't have to." Rocks Off wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. Then she led us in a series of warm-ups moves similar to yoga streches, but with instructions to feel our curves and run our hands through our hair. Portishead's "Glory Box" vibrated from the stereo while we learned moves like the "cat pounce" and the "S walk." Then it was time to practice the lap-dance routine we'd learned. That's what the big armchairs were for. "Let's Get it On" seemed like a kind of obvious choice, but what do we know? Rocks Off has never given a lap dance before.
The Andrews Sisters' version of Johnny Mercer's "Strip Polka" is more our style. Years ago, Rocks Off bought a record for $1 at a Salvation Army in Oklahoma called Music to Strip By that has one of the best instrumental versions of "Night Train" we've ever heard. (You can download the record at the first link above.) Saturday morning's class promised the mastering of one pole-dance move, and this was what we were really looking forward to. Because, face it, some of those moves are impressive. The warm-up was similar, except this instructor, a wild-maned earthy type who encouraged her students to slap their own asses, was much more vicious, and Rocks Off's legs were sore 30 minutes in. Saturday's instructor told us at the start of class that she not just expected but required vocal encouragement from her students. "When I go 'Whooo!' I want you to 'Whoo hoo!' back," she said. Then she growled "You girls look GORRRRRRRgeous." None of the studios at S Factor have mirrors, and the darkness encourages students to keep their eyes closed, which means you aren't watching the other women's moves and criticizing your own. As "These Arms of Mine" played and we practiced hip circles and bridges, Rocks Off gave silent kudos to the mother in the group who had brought along her two daughters, aged 18 and 20. Rocks Off thought we felt awkward. We can't imagine how we'd have felt with our mom in the room. The pole dance move was called the firefly (other studios have appropriated S Factor's moves and slightly altered the names). It was meant to be a teaser, a sampler to encaourage students to sign up for a full eight-week session. To further the point, our instructor left the room, changed out of her yoga pants into some skimpy bottoms, and gave a five-minute pole dance demo to Faithless' "If Lovin' You Is Wrong." The classroom was full of catcalls, and the mom hollered out "Great music!"