I recently attended the most splendid play. I love plays. And of course, I love pole dancing. So a play that combines the two is just, well, delicious. The play was called The Why Factor: Proportion Distortion. The Why Factor is an all-female writing ensemble started by Christina Howard in 2006. Over the past few years, these women have created four original productions each focusing on a different theme in women’s lives. This particular production focused on exploring female body image and sexuality. The story centers around nine women who attend a pole dance class in an attempt to get in touch with their sexuality. Through the work they do in class, the women are forced to confront issues of self-acceptance, the ways in which they keep themselves chained to their past and the realization that they each have tremendous untapped power.
The play was sponsored by S Factor, an all-female pole dancing studio based in Los Angeles. The structure of the classes and the dance movements were based on the S Factor experience. S Factor emphasizes the emotional connection between erotic dance and the female sexual psyche. Many students who have attended S Factor classes (including Christina Howard) call the experience “transformative”.
The instructor in the dance class (played by real-life S Factor Instructor Janelle Taylor) is cast simultaneously as Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire, dance, volcanoes and destruction. Pele represents the passionate and creative force that transforms and rebuilds our lives. She has the power to clear and purify all that is not needed. As the instructor, Taylor beckons the women to bring forth that which lays dormant at the very core of their being. She believes that every woman has a fire that burns deep within and that calling out this fire has tremendous healing potential.
This Pele archetype is particularly important for the modern day women As a goddess who is associated with destruction, Pele is often misunderstood and even misjudged. We often like to connect the Divine feminine with cozy, comfy things such as nurturing, mothering, unconditional love, and non-judgmental support. However when it comes the darker, wild side of the feminine, i.e. the chaotic, the unpredictable and the destructive, we shy away and even disown these parts of ourselves. Pele reminds us that fiery eruptions and emotional upheaval are almost always followed by new life and change. She reminds us that this wild side of the feminine is where a part of our power resides, and to disown it or deny it is to deny a core aspect of the feminine nature.
There is a particularly poignant moment towards the end of the play when a student, unable to handle where the class is asking her to go and the implications it has on her marriage, chooses to leave. Pele/The eacher leaves the classroom to go after her and returns unsuccessful only to face a classroom full of doubting women. The students challenge the teacher, telling her the work is easy for her and questioning the validity of the journey she has taken them on. “OOOOHHHHHH!” bellows Pele. Her fiery explosion stuns her students into silence. She rages on, telling them about her own journey and it’s darkest moments, explaining to them that this sexual openness has never come easily for her, that she struggled for years with her demons and that it had, in fact, required a part of her to die and then rise from the ashes left behind.
In this scene Pele is describing a struggle that many women face with when confronted with their sexuality. It is easy to think that a woman who can lead you into a deeper relationship with your sexual self has it all figured out or that somehow, her road was easier than yours. It was not. It is easy to think that the girl on the mat next to you has it all together. She does not. The wisdom that we see in our teachers comes from a willingness to dive into the darkest parts of ourselves and to know and love those places intimately. The demons inside may change or go away but that is not the goal. And when we find ourselves back in what seems to be the same place, for what feels like the millionth time, it is wise to take the lesson, be utterly kind to one’s self but also to notice what is different this time. In my experience, we rarely visit the same places twice. Rather, we circle around in an upward spiral, coming to what seems like the same place from a different perspective.
At the end of the play Pele says she believes that within every woman there is a fire that burns hotter than the earth’s core. But that it is often buried, making it burn even hotter. The journey then is to uncover this fire, this wildness, and to let it out so that it might purify and energize us. The journey is to let others feel and see this fire, to make them understand that it is as inherent to a woman’s nature as nurturing might be. The journey is to let the ashes of that fire be the fertile ground for new beginnings.