Once confined to strip clubs, thin metal poles are popping up in kitchens, bedrooms and exercise studios across the United States with gym fanatics, moms and even grandmothers using them to get fit.
Former auto mechanic Robert Trent installed a stripper pole in his bedroom a decade ago to spice up his marriage having no idea that it would lead to a new career - selling poles.
"I put a pole in our bedroom for what I call marriage maintenance and then everybody wanted one," said Trent, who set up pole business PoleDanzer seven years ago in San Diego, one of several such firms now making and selling dance poles.
"The girl doesn't have to know how to pole dance to entertain her husband...and if they take classes then it's really good exercise."
Enthusiasts say pole dancing has taken off in recent years, with a rising number of classes set up to show women how to pole dance safely - without pulling muscles or falling from the top of the pole.
A serious workout
Pole dancing is billed as a serious workout, more closely aligned with gymnastics than anything else. Advanced pole dancers can perform acrobatic feats such as spinning upside down and hold themselves in all kinds of positions on the pole.
Shawn Frances Lee, who worked as an exotic dancer for about a decade, says she has taught pole dancing to about 5 000 women in recent years since the craze took off. She runs Urban Fertility Dancer in West Hollywood, California.
"It's gotten mainstream enough that my mom tells her friends that I teach pole dancing," she said.
Lee, who says she has taught everyone from porn stars to a Vatican librarian, began a recent introductory class in Las Vegas by asking if any of the women had tried pole dancing.
"Last Saturday, I got ridiculous," one woman replied.
Another also mentioned a previous encounter with the pole, adding "alcohol was involved".
Lee then led the women in a series of exercises in preparation for some pole moves, with class mates applauding the women who were willing to give the pole a try.
Trixie Lovett, 36, who used to manage a cosmetic dental business and now teaches pole dancing from her Las Vegas home studio, said pole dancing was given a huge boost a few years ago when Oprah Winfrey featured a pole on her TV show.
"As soon as that hit, my business exploded," said Lovett.
Trent of PoleDanzer said he and his wife sell about 100 poles a month for between $340 and $465 each, including foreign sales to Europe, Russia and New Zealand, and struggled to keep up with demand.
The US's largest pole vendor, Lil' Mynx in Fresno, California, expects to sell about 10 000 poles this year raising about $2 million, said firm publicist Jenn Hoffman.
While most people confine their pole dancing to their home or the fitness studio, some are also trying to make it into a business.
Prestley Rose, 24, who was taught by Lee, said she earns $350 to $1 000 for performing at private parties.
"When they walk into that door, they are in my world, they are in my control," she said. – (Reuters Health)