Directed by: #MichèleOhayon
Academy Award Nominated director Michèle Ohayon's film follows women of all ages and ethnic backgrounds who heal trauma and body image shame through sensual dance and daring pole dance artistry.
Strip Down, Rise Up is a beautifully moving documentary centred around the work of Sheila Kelley, the founder of S Factor which primarily involves pole dancing classes to help those who identify as women in unlocking their inner feminine power. The film follows one of Kelley’s classes from their first introduction day right through to their graduation ceremony, showcasing jaw-dropping growth in confidence and expression along the way, as well as other pole dancing professionals who are more performance orientated, yet everyone’s journey of twisting around the pole intertwines gracefully.
At first glance, you may think that Strip Down, Rise Up is simply a documentary filled with information on the artistry of pole dancing. However, as a viewer, you are met with such a striking load of emotion and great strength in many forms to add to this. The women who enter Kelley’s class do not expect to be awakened in this way either. As a group, they slowly open up to each other about certain trauma they have suffered and how that has impacted their way of life, movement and view of themselves. A safe space is created by Kelley and other teachers for these women and the vulnerable atmosphere is transferred to viewers almost immediately. I felt as though I was sitting in that room with them, letting my tears stream and my hands shake as I watched. Braided with this output of deep emotion is the addressing of the stigma and perceptions surrounding pole dancing — the documentary shows pole dancing as the true form of art that it is and directs the attention away from the male gaze that has landed upon it. It focuses on the empowerment of women and their bodies; how they heal, thrive and begin to feel all their senses heightened through dance. These women are blossoming flowers that are finally opening in the light of a golden summer morning.
The cinematography of this film has a subtle vision, following these dancers as they allow themselves to break free. To the eye, the cinematography techniques used are not a game changer but there’s no doubt that they match with the documentary’s content perfectly. Because of the substantial amount of emotion that is being shared throughout its duration, the simple and flowing style of cinematography helps to balance this overwhelming experience. While the audience’s hearts are about to burst with intensity, in their eye-line they are met with calming scenes of each dancer’s elegance. It is almost like building a warm cushion around one’s heart. The cinematography also allows audiences to clearly see the shining change in each woman’s demeanour and motion as they progress in the class due to its slow, delicate nature.
The film’s sense of structure is different from what I’ve seen in other documentaries which I adored. Whenever I mention that the documentary ‘follows’ certain aspects of the topic, it does exactly that — calmly following along with those involved instead of upholding a strong, compact structure from start to finish. It is easy to follow as well, still maintaining the much needed core of organisation by presenting Kelley’s class scenes with markings of how far through the course they have travelled together. I felt that this somewhat unconfined presentation blended with that of pole dancing too, as if viewers are also dancing with those onscreen but through their supportive gaze: a joint performance between the body and vision.
Strip Down, Rise Up is one of the most powerful and strengthening documentaries I have seen in a very long time, especially on a platform like Netflix, and I feel privileged to be writing this review under its title. Having the opportunity to see women embrace love, sensuality and sexuality through impressive, healing dance is something that will replay in my mind.
I have definitely gained a more positive and guided view of my own emotions through this documentary; each unfolding scene made me want to take a step to heal and blossom in the same way as these immensely empowering women. I’m stunned that only two hours of footage has drawn out this type of reaction from me. I thoroughly encourage everyone, however you comfortably identify, to join in with this experience as well.