WEST PALM BEACH—Pole dancing isn't just for strippers anymore.
In fact, it was hard to find anyone at the International Pole & Exotic Dance Fitness Convention on Saturday with a background in the adult entertainment industry.
There were plenty of sexy, scantily clad women climbing and spinning on vertical poles. But if you're looking for a lap dance or a striptease, you're in the wrong venue, organizers say.
"This is so far from that. These girls are athletes," said Jessalynn Medairy, organizer of the convention. "They're here to become better pole dancers, not better exotic dancers."
About 700 pole enthusiasts from around the world are attending the three-day event at the Palm Beach Convention Center, which concludes Sunday. The attendees include gymnasts, ballet dancers, personal trainers, housewives and grandmothers. They see "poling" as a fun and sexy way to stay in shape and make new friends.
"It's the only place where you can exercise and someone will applaud you if you get it right. It's very encouraging," said Fran Stierstorfer, 50, of Baltimore, who was attending a "pole jam" workshop, which taught advanced techniques of the sport. "I've taught aerobics, taken other fitness classes. Everything else is boring."
Stierstorfer practices the sport both in a studio and at home, where she has her own pole. "Everyone should have a pole in their home," she said.
Fitness instructor Carla Dunlap-Kaan, 57, of Boca Raton, attended the convention to learn from more experienced dancers. She works at Avenue Pilates in Delray Beach, and the owner wanted to offer pole dancing.
"She said, 'I think this is the next thing, so why don't you teach it?'" Dunlap-Kaan said.
Pole dancing may be one of the hottest fitness trends of the past few years. Pole dancing classes and studios are popping up all over, including Pole Fitness in Miami, Sensual Souls in Hollywood and Cheeky Fitness in Royal Palm Beach.
There are also several major pole dancing competitions around the world. In December, Fox Sports televised the International Pole Dancing Competitions in Tokyo. Enthusiasts are pushing for it to become an Olympic sport.
"Pole fitness has really become mainstream," said Felix Cane of London, whom many credit with igniting the pole fitness craze.
Cane, 26, won the 2006 Miss Pole Dance Australia competition. A three-minute video of Cane's sexy and artistic moves received more than 3.3 million views on YouTube.
She was at the convention showing off a line of pole dancing products, including an instructional DVD and athletic wear. Cane also has created a mobile device app called "Pocket Pole" and has a solo pole performance in the touring production of Cirque du Soleil new show, "Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour."
Pole enthusiasts say they still get strange reactions when they tell people about their sport.
Lisa Peklo, 42, of Ashburn, Va., said people mistakenly assume she has worked as a stripper because of her love of pole dancing. She said she just sees it as fun exercise.
"It embarrasses my 13-year-old son," she said. "But I think this is empowering to women. We cheer each other. It's something that makes you feel good about yourself."
email@example.com or 561-243-6637 or 954-425-1421