COLUMBIA, SC (WACH) - When you hear the term pole dancing, images of underdressed women, dollar bills, and poor lighting likely come to mind. However, there's a competition taking center stage in Columbia this weekend that is turning a mainstay of adult entertainment right on its ear.
Pole dance athletes will compete in the Miss South Carolina Pole Dance Competition at Columbia's Marriott Downtown starting Saturday. And it isn't what you think. Performers with names like Jade, Misty and Tigress won't be working hard for your money.
According to the competition website pole dance fitness classes have been inspirational in the health and well-being of women as they promote activity through entertainment. Competitions encourage women to work towards a fitness goal and motivate others to get started on a regular workout program. Competitions are a way to reward women that work hard to achieve their fitness goals and entertaining for those that support their physical activity.Read more Fitness with a twist
That mission statement is backed up by what's happening right here in the Midlands. In the last decade, pole dancing has become an increasingly popular form of fitness and dance training. It involves dancing and acrobatic tricks with a vertical pole, and enthusiasts have set up dedicated gyms and studios to train others in an activity that experts point out requires significant strength, flexibility and endurance.
Even in the politically conservative Midlands, where the term pole dancing might rub some the wrong way, enthusiasts are shattering preconceived notions. There are at least a half-dozen pole dancing studios in the Columbia area, where instructors whip people into shape just like they would at an aerobics class in a conventional gym setting.
Competitions exist well beyond the local level. In the past few years a wide range of amateur and professional competitions have been established in countries around the world.
In 2009, Columbia's Kurt Wiegner qualified for the International Pole Dance Fitness Competition in Japan where he competed against dancers from 11 different countries.
Wiegner, a trained dancer, picked up the sport by watching a few videos on Youtube.
"It just got me interested so I just bought a pole for my house," said Wiegner. "It's kind of a rush. You're doing things the average person off the street can't do."
At the time, Wiegner was training roughly six hours a day up to five days a week.
"You just really have to have drive and ambition and just go for it," he said. "If you really enjoy it then don't let what people are going to say or what they're going to think about you stop you from doing something you might enjoy doing."
The competitors at this weekend's event are taking that advice to heart at the regional competition in Columbia. According to the competition website, eight women from South Carolina will square off against other for the Miss South Carolina Pole Dance crown.
Do you consider pole dancing a sport? Vote in our poll and leave a comment. Make sure you watch some of this weekend's competitors in the videos below.