All Ireland Pole Dancing Championships: More men climbing the pole to dance success as Belfast hosts top event
More than 35 athletes will take part in the All Ireland Pole Dancing Championships in Belfast tonight, proving that their skills are a far cry from those seen in strip clubs.
Within the last decade pole dancing has grown into one of the most popular exercises for women - and now men.
El Fegan, the organiser and first person to set up pole dancing classes in Ireland, said: "We have twice as many men competing this year as last year and there will be a change in that over the years as more men become interested."
This year marks the fourth year the competition has been held and there are different categories for beginners, professionals, men, and those over 40. Competitors will be judged on their creativity and athleticism.
El said: "Its about overall body strength, endurance, and flexibility. You work muscles you didn't even know you had, but it's fun."
Magz O'Neill (45) will be competing in the over-40s category and has been pole dancing for about two years. She said: "My family thought I was crazy. They thought it was another fad that would die off eventually, but I'm still here."
Magz came third in the competition last year. She added: "It's nerve-racking and exciting, but a great atmosphere, and if you mess up everyone cheers anyway."
Professionals like Marcin Miller, who started pole dancing three years ago, said it was easy for him to get the movements, because of his strength.
The 31-year-old has won two competitions this year and is hoping to bring home a third with a routine that will take him out of his comfort zone.
Marcin said: "I have never been a flexible person and this year I have worked on my splits and flexibility. I'm performing to one of my favourite songs and I hope everyone enjoys it."
Trained professional Sarah O'Reilly (26) owns a studio where she teaches pole and Latin American dancing.
She said: "I wanted to go out of my comfort zone this year and instead of doing a bunch of tricks, I'm adding more of a dance element to my performance."
Leah Aftab (22) won the amateur division last year. She started out pole dancing as a New Year's resolution three years ago and now it's a part of her everyday life.
She said: "Pole dancing empowers men and women and it teaches you to love yourself. I think that it's a really good thing that there are more men, because it is amazing to see their strength; it's breathtaking."
First-time competitors Gemma Kirvell and Tanya Cheung are excited but very nervous about their routines.
Gemma will be competing for the first time in the amateur category. She said: "I feel like my belly is going to fall out. I am so nervous."
She'll be performing to The Circle Of Life from the Lion King.
She added: "I'm having a costume change during the performance and I'll appear to grow from a baby lion to an older lion."
Tanya has a background in ballet and will be performing in the doubles category with her friend Olivia.
The All Ireland Pole Dancing Championships take place in the Mandela Hall at 7.30pm.