How much am I loving myself for this post title? A WHOLE LOT.
This is the first in what I hope will be many Interviews with Awesome Ladies. Let’s kick things off with the lovely Seraphine Naeymi. Seraphine is my pole dancing instructor at S Factor NY. I started classes at S Factor almost exactly a year ago (August 4, 2011), so it’s especially nice to be able to share her with you now. Behold:
I get to hang out with her every week while she teaches me how to haul my entire body weight upside and over my head using only my spaghetti arms. She’s a remarkable lady: kind, encouraging, funny, positive, and strong as hell.
Hi Seraphine! Tell us about yourself.
Hi, I’m Seraphine, and I’m an instructor at S Factor. I’ve been a teacher for about six years now; before that I worked in real estate in California.
Wow. That’s a pretty big change, how did it happen?
Well, I’d been through a really bad break-up, and I did what lots of women do, and I started buying myself things to fill a void. My income didn’t support it, so I started bartending and waitressing at a Hustler club. I didn’t tell anyone about it, I knew my parents would freak out. But I watched the dancers there, and I realized that I really, really wanted to learn how to do what they were doing. It was so sexy and so beautiful.
How did you find S Factor? Did you ask the dancers at the club?
Ha! No, I think S Factor would be a little, like, the Disney version to them. No, I actually googled it. Whatever I googled, there was Oprah and S Factor right next to each other, and I thought “Whew, Oprah’s gold seal of approval! My parents would totally approve.” So I started taking classes and I loved it, and then my teacher, Stephanie Nidess, suggested I go to the teacher auditions. So I went to audition for Sheila [Kelley, founder of S Factor], and of course I was late and freaking out, like “this is the woman I want to be my guru and I’m late!” and I showed up and she just said “grab a mat and show me what you can do.”
No, no, it wasn’t that bad. And the audition went well, and I trained with Sheila, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Have you always been a dancer or performer?
A little bit, just sort of the way lots of girls are, you know, dance classes through childhood, cheerleading and stuff like that. Nothing, like, Juilliard Conservatory or fancy training or anything.
When did you know you wanted to be a teacher?
I love teaching, and I love watching these other women’s bodies. I mean, I fall in love with you all every week. I see my own Erotic Creature journey reflected back through you, and it’s so amazing to me that you all say “I can do this because of the way you taught me.” It’s really wonderful. I tell the men in my life that if only they could see what I get to see every week– really the innermost soul of these different women, their Erotic Creatures are all so different, these women just being totally free and vulnerable, in their underwear no less, I mean, these men would be rendered speechless. It’s so powerful, that combination of strength and vulnerability.
Seems like there’s a tension between doing a dance form that’s historically (and currently) about voyeurism and in some cases exploitation and commodification of women’s bodies. How the hell is it so fucking fun, freeing, and empowering?
Well, yeah, there’s exploitation associated it with it. I don’t know, it feels good because women’s bodies are good at it. We’re curvy, we’re multi-faceted. Men’s bodies can’t do the things ours can do, the hip circles, the curving, and it’s enticing and intriguing for them. There’s a lot of power and strength in moving this way, in owning and using and seducing with the play of strength and weakness, openness and guardedness. That opening up, that intimacy, how it makes the woman feel– it feels amazing and wonderful. My feminine body loves the power of her sensuality, but she also embraces her vulnerability. This ability to be both strong and soft. Both warrior and maiden. Dominant and submissive…it is in all of us. S – gives us the permission to explore both.
Switching gears a bit, what do you think about lingerie? What do you look for in your personal wardrobe? I mean, obviously your work wardrobe is a little different from many people’s . . .
Yeah, oh man, if I had to go to a job interview right now . . .
Gold hot pants?
Seriously. Um, well, I’ve always really been drawn to black lingerie. All-black or all-white. My Creature is very drawn to darkness, mystery, seduction. The black is great– I love the things we have here [at S Factor], like the leg wraps and bindings– I think a lot of women like wearing the bindings, you get to play with the constriction – the push and pull – the tension – the build of climax to exhaustion. Sometimes I go to white because it’s like ice. My EC can be an ice queen; she likes to keep defenses up, hide her vulnerability, guard her fortress.
I also really love feathers. I love feathers, dancing in them, the feel of them, how they move and fall. My Creature really responds to them. Charlize Theron as the queen in that Snow White movie– god I loved her. She is a total EC inspiration. If someone could design my lingerie to be like her costumes from that movie, that would be my dream.
I know you’ve gotten to dance in Agent Provocateur (the Madison Avenue boutique’s opening party video can be found here, be sure to scroll down a ways) and The Lake and Stars (see The Lake and Stars’ campaign video starring Seraphine here); can we live vicariously through you and ask you to tell us all about the super-fancy stuff? What did you think of the pieces?
Agent Provocateur– I feel like every woman should own something like that in her life, buy it for herself, or get a lover to take care of that, I mean, it’s just —
I feel like some women who are used to basic department store lingerie almost feel like they shouldn’t even look at the AP stuff, it’s just so–
It’s so, it’s just the epitome of lingerie. All the lace and ruffles and details and designs and colors. And it’s completely seductive. I mean even in the name, the woman is a secret agent. She is on a mission, and she will complete that mission. She is so powerful. That party was kind of amazing. There were four lingerie models and five professional dancers and me, and it was a really wonderful experience. I mean, obviously the lingerie models, they were just amazing and gorgeous, just really stunning women, but the focus of the party was really on the dancers, and their bodies were all so different, and wonderful, all women can wear Agent Provocateur. It’s just so amazing. The gorgeous store manager Regina at AP contacts me to let me know when they have new stuff and I’m just like “errghhh why are you tempting me?”
And then on the other end of the spectrum, to some extent, there’s The Lake and Stars.
Yes, The Lake and Stars is really wonderful. It’s . . . it’s very powerful, in a way. Maayan Zilberman and Nikki Dekker, the designers of The Lake and Stars, are amazing, they love fashion, they love women, they love art, they love music, it all comes out in the lingerie. I mean, this is what a woman wears to make love in. She doesn’t need to be a secret agent, she doesn’t need to seduce. She knows who she is, she’s powerful, she’s sophisticated, and her partner worships her. It’s like if Basquiat, Robert Smith and Tyler Durden were somehow combined and had a girlfriend, the Lake and Stars woman would be her. She’s a badass, and she owns it. I mean, she rocks these high-waisted bottoms and small triangle tops, and it’s the sexiest thing ever.
What’s sort of your personal lingerie style?
Well, I don’t really love doing the super-padded bras, I mean, I have A-cups and muscled arms, the guy’s gonna know when the bra comes off. I love the late 60’s-early 70s California Beach Girl-inspired lingerie. I guess it is the former Laguna Beach girl that still lingers inside me. Low-rise bikini panties, side-ties, and simple opaque triangle tops, it feels super sexy and chaste all at the same time.
Seems like it can be really fun and powerful to walk that line or play with the line between all of these different dichotomies women are supposed to embody. I mean, you have the virgin/whore, angel/devil, sinner/saint– we’re all supposed to be either-or, and it’s frustrating.
Yes. My Erotic Creature likes to play in a fantasy world. That black-and-white thing coming back. I love fantasy, I love darkness, I love fairy tales, like Grimm’s fairy tales. I really strongly respond to the image of the fallen angel.
Probably because of my name, but that angel/devil/light/darkness shadowed area. The feathers, the wild creature, the darkness and innocence all mixed up together. My favorite fairy tale of all time is Alice in Wonderland. Alice’s “curiouser and curiouser” is my mantra, my EC inspiration. She is me, tumbling upside-down down the rabbit hole into strangeness and curiosity and wonder.
So what can pole dancing do for women?
I can’t speak for all women who are involved in pole dancing – but what S Factor provides for us is something that is uniquely feminine. The movement itself, that is so inherent in our bodies, it’s enticing and thrilling to explore. Every toss of the hair, every arch in our backs, every roll of a wrist…it means something. Even my hair…it is a veil I use to tease and play hide and seek with. The chance to dance in front of your S Girls or even imagining a lover real or imaginary in the lap dance chair is so powerful – sharing the divine feminine of all that is you – is so incredible. In the, you know, gentlemen’s clubs, strip clubs, titty bars, whatever you want to call them–
I will now always call them titty bars, just because I can’t believe I just heard that come out of your mouth–
Right, in these clubs, it’s not about that gift. It’s not about that sharing, it’s not about the intimacy. I think that’s why I, personally, wouldn’t want to dance there. The girls who danced in the club where I waitressed were so supportive, they kept wanting me to show them what I’d been learning at S Factor. It’s too intimate a thing for me to trade for a paycheck in a room full of men who are there to spend money. I think if I asked the girls who danced there they’d disagree with me, but I don’t think anyone really wins, in that situation, either the customer or the dancer. Neither person really gets to honor or celebrate the woman and the gift she’s giving.
I’m a curious person – just like Alice in her Wonderland. In my classroom I want to awaken the curiosity of the feminine in my students. I see that curiosity in their bodies as my music playlist becomes the score to their body’s ballet – the way they seek new heights on the pole, the way they spin faster, the way they slink deeper into their crawl…Whenever I doubt my ability as a teacher – all I have to do is look to my students…just like Alice Through the Looking Glass I see their beauty reflected in each others eyes – their applause and cheers – this gorgeous reverb of knowing they are celebrating each others beauty through dance. S is so much more than pole dancing…what happens in my classroom is magic, it’s my own version of Wonderland. My students continue to awaken my curiosity in my own feminine power…this is why I do what I do. Why I love what I do.
My thanks to the wonderful Seraphine, for teaching me and chatting with me and then saving me when the stupid recording of our interview vanished into the ether somewhere. If anyone has any questions for Seraphine, leave them in the comments or shoot me an email and I’ll try to grab her before my next class. Do you have an Awesome Lady you want to hear from? Are YOU an Awesome Lady who’d like to share her story or talk about her underwear preferences? Holler at me; we’re all friends here.