Pole-dancers strive for Olympic selection

With its possible inclusion as an Olympic sport, pole-dancing competition is becoming more intense.

Once stigmatised for its association with strip clubs, the pastime is now recognised as a legitimate art form and for its fitness benefits.

Twenty-two of New Zealand's top exponents were in action at the Pole Legends event in Auckland on Friday night.

"Once you start talking to people about it, they totally understand and then when you take your sweatshirt off, they're like, 'You've got guns,'" says dancer Sarah Cuthill.

"It's not like I specifically work them or anything - they just come with pole dancing."

For years, Ms Cuthill was a primary school teacher by day and a pole-dancer by night. Now, she runs her own pole-dancing studio full-time on the North Shore.

She says people are hesitant and shy when they first give it a go, but quickly become hooked.

"It's almost like they transform into who they were supposed to be, before everyone told they were too fat or not pretty enough."

Ms Cuthill says pole-dancing takes a huge amount of strength and endurance.

"It's been in New Zealand for a really long time," says judge Natasha Wang. "I first came here in 2011 to judge a competition and, back then, I remember thinking New Zealand was really ahead." 

All types of pole-dancing were on display at Pole Legend - sexy, dramatic, artistic and sporty. Dancers were free to show off their own unique style. 

"My friend gave me a pair of sparkly underwear and said 'you're short, you should be good at this', and so I thought, why not?" says Steve Ting.

Couple Kristine and Tyrone met at a pole dance class, and now they're engaged. Both took to the stage on Friday night. They're both well aware of the reputation usually attached to their craft - the tassles, high heels and strip clubs. 

"We sometimes get into the high heels too, aye?" says Kristine. 

"Yeah, well there is that part, but then there's more the gymnastics strength part and we love all parts of it," agrees Tyrone. 

Last month, pole-dancing became an official sport and those in the industry are now fighting for it to go all the way to the Olympics.

"There's like a big contingent of the pole world that really is really pushing for that," says Ms Wang.

This competition may have been the warm-up to the Olympics for some of these Kiwi dancers.