Poles have long been a staple of smoky strip clubs, but the women scaling and swinging from them in Las Vegas earlier this month weren't doing it for dollar bills.
Many of the attendees at the 3rd Annual Pole Expo are taking the lead of expo founder Fawnia Dietrich and refining their slinky craft as a workout activity.
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"Most people that pole dance in the studios are everyday women, not strippers," said Dietrich, who got her start as a stripper but has since launched a Las Vegas studio offering fitness-focused pole classes. "It has that connotation of sensuality or eroticism that makes it a little more fun."
The expo, held at the Palms Casino, offered workshops on everything from strength conditioning to lap dancing. Vendors sold sparkling two-piece pole dancing outfits—exposed skin is key to gripping the slippery brass pole—as well as the poles themselves and sky-high heels.
Some of the best pole dancers, however, skip the stilettos and go barefoot so they can better point their toes and stick to the pole. Showing off the splits and gravity defying handstands off the side of the pole, their athletic performances are more akin to an Olympic gymnast on the uneven bars than a burlesque show.
Dietrich said her students have many different reasons for choosing pole dancing. Some want to build upper body strength and lose weight. Others want to surprise their husband with an anniversary dance or recover from a divorce.
"They need to find their sensuality again," she said.
While pole dancing has become more sophisticated and widespread, its evolved versions are rarely seen in its birthplace. Strip club patrons are still far less interested in watching a dancer execute an acrobatic move on a pole than watch her shake and shimmy, according to expo attendee May Chen.
"Customers don't care to see Cirque du Soleil," she said.
—By The Associated Press