Numerous outlets have attempted to tackle the suppression of women and how to move away from outdated ideals of what it means to be a woman. Every single day, those identifying as female face judgments and rules that they must follow to fit into a suffocating box of ideals, and anything outside of that box is an outlier. Women try to achieve empowerment and take back control in a variety of ways, whether it is through therapy, protests, or any other number of methods. The latest method to join that group? Pole dancing. While typically chastised or considered to be something only sex workers take part in can actually be incredibly powerful, as a new documentary exposes.
Strip Down, Rise Up tells the story of a class by the name of S Factor, where founder Sheila Kelley among other instructors not only teach pole dancing, but also how to achieve female empowerment. The documentary follows a group of women who begin a six-month long journey at S Factor and uncover a fun way to workout, a place to heal, and a new way of life.
The documentary itself is therapeutic in its own way. While hearing members of S Factor detail past traumas or reasons for joining, it is nearly impossible not to recount your own internal struggles, whether you’re a man or a woman. Through participants that include Evelyn, Megan, and Lisset, we hear relatable and heartbreaking difficulties that span across all walks of life. Empathy is the central theme of these moments as they show these women describing instances where they have felt downgraded, abused, or subdued by others in their lives. The documentary does a beautiful job of telling their stories with grace, as well as introducing audiences to each woman through shots of their lives outside of S Factor. By the end of the film, viewers feel attached to each of these women, and like they have created new friendships during the 112-minute runtime.
One major topic that Sheila and S Factor classes around the world target is shame and how to sever ties with the shame that accompanies numerous women throughout their daily lives. Shame of their bodies, shame of being too emotional, shame of being too sexy, too loud, too present. The film shows the many ways this group liberates themselves from their daily shame, not only through dancing, but also through group activities and letting their every emotion out without any hesitancy or judgment.
Director Michele Ohayon has been crafting touching documentaries for decades, so it is no surprise that this movie fits right into that category. Fellow works from Ohayon include Power and It Was A Wonderful Life. In this documentary, the director tells stories that contain serious issues, yet she still leaves viewers feeling uplifted by the end. The way Ohayon frames segments of pole dancing, or quick clips from the S Factor classes, is beautiful and exposes the true art behind a misunderstood method of dance.
The film also follows pole dancers outside of the class, including Amy Bond. Bond’s story is a touching one that takes multiple twists and turns, and truly hammers the point down that people—specifically men—shame sex workers of all kinds and view them as “less than human”. One of the most important—and necessary—things that this movie sheds light on is the many misconceptions and abuse that sex workers and women in general face daily. To fully understand and heal the issues at hand, we have to begin by facing them head on, and Ohayon assists us all in doing so through what she shows us in this film.
This film will leave you surrounded by soaked tissues while proclaiming: women are fucking powerful. It is highly recommended for all to watch Strip Down, Rise Up, which is available on Netflix beginning February 5, 2021.
If you want to take a class with S Factor, they have studios in major cities across the United States, and their website is www.sfactor.com. I, for one, am hoping to join a class soon.