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When Women Gather: A Personal Response to SK Live

By on November 17, 2016

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There’s something special that happens when women gather. From prayer groups to political protests and everything in between. Pole dancing retreats are no exception. The journey of women and girls on this planet has not been an easy one. Our story as a gender has been marked with the labels like weaker sex, cause of sin in the world, virgin, whore, slut, prude, witch, temptress, evil, too emotional, sex object, less than, just a housewife, alpha bitch, spinster, crazy, cat lady, cool girl, basic bitch, man hater, mean girl, catty, shrill and most recently:

Nasty Woman.

The story of our gender is written in our slurs.

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And so, we gather. Away from labels, judgments, and even from mirrors which can often serve to reflect back those internalize slurs. We gather to heal, to laugh, cry, scream, and dance. We gather to safely explore and discover our unique exotic bodies, which have been hijacked by a culture that means to use us- and our female sexuality – for it’s own profit. Gathering in groups can bring us peace, empowerment and joy even in the midst of a hostile culture.

I was recently invited to one such gathering on behalf of Bad Kitty®. The retreat was Sheila Kelley Live (SK Live), a two day mini-treat offered by Sheila Kelley S Factor. S Factor offers pole dancing classes, feminine movement classes, big week-long retreats at fancy resort hotels, as well as these more accessible “bite size” weekend ones. In it’s past incarnations (which I have also attended as a social media liaison) SK Live got women out of their comfort zones by placing them in groups, or Posses. The conference leadership decided what would be a good fit for each participant.

From my SK Live 2014 live social media sharing.

                                                              From my SK Live 2014 live social media coverage.

That method was great because it encouraged new friendships and placed women together who might have otherwise never met. This year, however, the leadership tried something different. Women were invited to build their own posses – to bring their tribe already intact. This created a real sense of bonding and pride – similar to what we see in a lot of sports teams and even Comic Con fandoms. But it was team spirit in the pole dancing community. Women were proudly banding together with their dance studio friends with T-shirts, costumes and logos.

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                                                                              The “Goddess Rising” Posse’s Graphic

 This was the first (of many) times during the conference where I failed to maintain my journalistic neutrality. I was spotted by women from my LA studio. They would have none of my “just here to observe” business and threw me in their posse’s t-shirt and sparkle cat ears. I was claimed by my tribe. My women would not let me be isolated. When the feminine gathers, magic happens.

Playful Pussy Posse

                                                     Yes, my shirt says:”Playful Pussy Posse” 

From here we did the most logical thing you would do at many pole dancing retreat: we got our notebooks out. If that spins your head around, hang with me. Yes, we danced during the weekend, but we also took notes like we were at a high level intellectual summit on The Feminine. Yes, it’s a weekend about your body but there’s also plenty of hearty brain food. Sheila did the primary instruction with dance demos and visual aids from teachers along the way. We learned about the Five Feminine Geniuses: Curve of movement, sensuality, emotionality, communication, intuition. These geniuses are neurologically proven gifts of the feminine biology.

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                       S Factor Teachers, Jameelah, Abby, and Cat demoing feminine movement.

We shut them down in our pedestrian lives, sometimes just to survive. Something hurts us and we cringe. To quote Sheila, “You are a pumping, breathing, living, fluid creature. And when you cringed you ceased to pulsate. You pulled your muscles tight and you stopped the pulsation within those muscles. As we move through this world, we cringe all day, every day. We pull those muscles tight to shut down the innate feminine nature. And we stop the pulsation, the liquidity of the feminine nature.”

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We also learned about the three different body types: Endomorph, Mesomorph, and Ectomorph. We had the honor of witnessing three live, nude, female models, with each body type. Endomorph: round, soft, full hips, breast, and belly. Mesomorph: muscular and tone. Ectomorph: long and lean, not much muscle or fat. Each is developed in the womb from specific cellular tissue. Each has had a time on earth as the cultural beauty standard. There are no good and bad bodies. Also, you really cannot change your body or it’s type. It’s just you. We took inventory of our own bodies and decided what percentage of each we have. I’m 50% Mesomorph, 40% Endomorph, and 10% Ectomorph.

Another fun through line of the event was the discovery of your Erotic Creature . What in the world is that? Great question! The Erotic Creature, or EC as it’s commonly referred to, is as Sheila puts it: “Erotic is equal to body and creature is the feminine. The feminine body. The reawakening of the feminine body is a life process because as you begin to stir her awake she will awaken at whatever age she went to sleep. Usually she will go to sleep at The First Offense. One of the first things I do with women is ask them to identify their first offense in writing. I ask them to identify in a kind of writing that I call right-brain writing. The body doesn’t recall literal events, the body recalls sensual and emotional events. It recalls events through her words and her words are movement, sensuality and emotion.” I could keep going but I wouldn’t do it justice in trying and regurgitate it here. But it’s worth noting that there are facts we should know about ourselves, our bodies, emotions and sexuality that are not taught in traditional classrooms.

It’s also worth noting that there were two other high profile Feminine teachers at the conference. The first was Bernadette Pleasant, creator of Femme. She did a 30 min demo with us, which included live drummers. It was incredible. Go take her class!

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The second was New York Times best selling author,Regena Thomashauer. Or as we know her, “Mama Gena.” Perhaps the one thing we can give thanks to the RNC nominee for is making the title of her most recent book very topical: PUSSY: A Reclamation.

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The feminine is out there and it’s waking up. We are waking up. Sheila, Bernadette, and Regena are great teachers, and there are many other amazing women waking up the feminine. Including, Bad Kitty’s own editor-in-chef, Claire Griffin Sterrett. No, she didn’t make me write this part. In fact she’s probably freaking out as she does her editorial pass. (Editor’s note: I DID freak OUT) If this makes it in the published piece, and I believe it should, let me tell you why I believe she’s on the level of these master feminine leaders:  She holds MA in Somatic Psychology and her thesis topic was “The Embodiment of Female Sexuality Through Erotic Dance” and a Masters in Social Work with a focus on Health. She published her first book on pole dancing, “Pole Story: Essays on the Power of Erotic Dance”,in 2011. SK Live is awesome. But is it one stream in this great resurrection of the feminine I’ve spent my 20s as a curious pupil of all things feminine and dance. Here’s my bottom line: Many streams; one source.  Anyone who tries to own or control this movement is not on board with the bigger picture. That’s a patriarchal way of thinking, and the feminine is rising above it. A couple other great feminine teachers/leaders of note: Intuitive Massage therapist and Erotic Movement Arts teacher, Rie Katagiri. Stripcraft founder and Stripper with a PhD, Lux ATL. Wild Magical Woman, Sheena LaShay. Sacred Seduction founder and Burlesque Dancer, Kitty Cavalier – and so many more.

Try all of these Master Feminine Leaders and find the one that works best for you. They are all different and uniquely qualified to help you reconnect to the feminine within yourself. Stop trying to “man up” to get ahead in this world. You don’t have to. There is another way.

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Oh my God, Katie, get to the pole dancing part already! OK. Yes, moving on. But it is important to note that actual pole dancing is a very small part of this experience. There were always pole to access for free style movement, as well as yoga mats, and there were working pole stations to learn/practice tricks. If you’re training for a competition or looking for a trick heavy, technical pole, workshop style weekend- this is not for you. However, if you want to tap into your sensuality, expand your unique floor work, and find your “exotic creature” – this is 100% for you. This is one of many tools you could use to better your pole sport/pole fitness journey. But it is not a workout weekend. Yes, there’s plenty of movement but leaving you’ll be more ready for Esalen than the Olympics. Again, many streams; one source. Take what you need.

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“Yes, there’s a pole. But it’s not about the pole, even when it is.” – Jameelah Nuriddin

I would like to address the issue of cost. I believe this type of education and experience should be accessible to all women. Currently, SK Live and all S Factor movement is priced out as luxury items. I understand why. It’s expensive. I get it. And I’m thankful for the waived fees and favor I’ve been given time and again because of my writing/social media. I also know there were scholarship women from AA at SK Live as well as a dear friend of mine who was given a medical scholarship because she just survived a brain tumor. I LOVE that S Factor did this. But the sticker price for their retreats and classes are higher than most average women can pay. I feel like there’s the women who can afford it and those who are scholarshipped – but what about those in between? The majority of women fall into this category. I’ve spent years inviting women to S Factor events and classes. The frequent refrain: “I’d love to but I can’t afford it.” This breaks my heart. It’d be one thing if this were Equinox, a luxury brand that makes elitism part of it’s appeal. But it’s not. Or, at least it shouldn’t be. I feel like S Factor tries to be a little bit of both? Simultaneously a high priced indulgence and a vital necessity for feminine health. It can’t hold space for the two ideals. They negate each other.

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“If it’s not accessible to the poor it is not radical or revolutionary.” What would be radical or revolutionary about a pole dancing retreat? Everything. Women of all ages, shapes, sizes, and beliefs, gather to do the one thing we’re told makes us bad: express our feminine sexuality.

Oof. That got heavy. Let’s bring it up a notch. I want to highlight particularly tender moment when Sheila invited her 16-year-old daughter up to speak and take questions about growing up with a healthy relationship with her emotions and sexuality. First, Sheila explained, “ I have two children and they were both sexual beings the moment they came out. We aggrandize one of those sexual beings. The minute my son came out we said, “Be as masculine as you can in that masculine body. Conquer, defeat, take the ball put it in the hoop, take the ball kick it over the line.” The minute my daughter, and you, and I came out of the womb the world said, “Don’t move like that, don’t be like that, don’t move your hips like that, don’t be joyful, don’t be happy in that sexual body, don’t touch your body, don’t open your legs.” We start to degrade everything the feminine body is. Bringing women back into their bodies is my passion.” This beautiful young woman was raised by her mom to have empowered sense of her full range of emotion and knowledge of sexuality. And you know what? She’s a quirky, shy, innocent giggle box with braces who hasn’t even kissed a boy. In an age where girls younger than she are being pressured to perform like porn actresses and sext naked pictures, this young woman has kept her innocence by empowered choice. Innocence is not naivete.  Our patriarchal cultural teaches us that in order to preserve a healthy childhood and “innocence” we must adopt a puritanical ignorance. This is a lie. Knowledge is power. We have to start giving woman back that power. We did it at SK Live with an intense 48hr retreat. But is can start earlier. We can start trusting women with knowledge of our bodies and trusting us to make healthy choices for ourselves. My generation suffered with virgin/whore messages and purity pledges. Our bodies were God’s, our future husband’s, or even our father’s. Sheila’s daughter will not have to endure this indignity. The only person she strives to please with her sexuality is herself because she’s been allowed to embrace her autonomy. After speaking and taking questions she even danced for us! It was amazing. It was raw, wild, young, fully of sexuality and life. At her age my body was learning ballet and being told not to move or dress in a way that turned of boys. Watching her body move, I saw a different story being told. A story my body was jealous for. Who would I be if my movement had not been shamed at such a formative age? … Oh well, wherever you go there you are. Right? And here I am. So publicly processing my sexuality’s expression and journey. (And hopefully not tanking my writing career in the process.)

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I don’t know what else to say about the event, except that it’s something you should experience for yourself.  In a place like SK Live you might catch a glimpse of a part of yourself you haven’t seen before. And all of you is worth getting to know. SK Live is for high level polers, day one beginners, and everyone in between. We all have something new to learn. Many streams; one source. I’ll leave you with this video that was played before we said goodbye. If we unite together as women, we can heal ourselves, each other, and the world. Today I will rise.

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Katie Johnson

is a Los Angeles based Fine Art Model, Actress, Writer -- and most importantly - Pole Fitness Devotee. She's been called everything from “magic” and “fearless” to “dependable, bendable” and even “the balliest f***ing model I’ve ever worked with!”

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