Business Unusual: Pole Position

Sheila Kelley's S Factor cleans up on dirty dancing.
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This story appears in the January 2010 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
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An Exotic dancer who wants to be an actress? OK. But the other way around?

Meet Sheila Kelley, a star on NBC's L.A. Law and in films such as Cameron Crowe's Singles. Her career detour began back in 2000, when she portrayed a stripper in the film Dancing at the Blue Iguana. "The more I moved, the more my body responded. I shed weight, and my muscles got long and lean," Kelley recalls. "I was feeling cocky, sexy and hot. My whole relationship with the world changed."

After the film wrapped, Kelley gave birth to her second child and gained 55 pounds. "I was feeling miserable," she says, so she set up a dance studio in the office of her husband, actor Richard Schiff--and included a pole and chair. "My body popped right back into shape. I was reclaiming myself as a woman, and other women started noticing. The other moms would ask, 'What are you doing, and can you teach me?' So I started figuring out a way to teach this experience."

Almost a decade later, Kelley is the entrepreneurial engine behind S Factor, a fast-growing chain devoted to pole-dancing workouts fusing ballet, yoga and striptease. In addition to opening seven locations from Los Angeles to New York City, Kelley wrote The S Factor Book: Strip Workouts for Every Woman, released three DVDs and launched a line of apparel, all bolstered by spots on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The View and 48 Hours.

"S Factor is a movement--not just a physical movement, but also a movement of women taking back their feminine bodies," Kelley says. "It reminds me of a masculine martial art. We're combining the power and strength typically associated with men with the sensuality and curves of women."

Kelley is currently overhauling the curriculum, and she has plans for a second book as well as three new videos scheduled for release in 2010. She still acts, but S Factor commands most of her attention. She regularly teaches classes and travels to collaborate with instructors and students.

"I'm an accidental entrepreneur. I set out to find something I loved to do, and to have fun," Kelley says. But unlike most entrepreneurs, she rarely brings her work home with her.

"The great perk is that I can share this with my husband, but I only dance for him two or three times a year," she says. "I don't want him to take it for granted."

 

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