When Greta Pontarelli walks across the stage, the lights make the red rhinestones adorning her bra glitter.
The crowd erupts. They really came for her and she knows it.
As a bass-heavy techno remix of Adele’s “Skyfall” starts to boom over the speakers, Pontarelli mounts the pole with ease. Her legs envelope cold metal and she twirls around, somehow making eye contact with just about everyone in the room.
She holds herself in mid-air for what seemed like forever. Upside down and parallel to the ground, the crowd can see every rippled muscle in her 62-year-old, well toned back and stomach.
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Pontarelli releases the pole and elegantly brings herself back to earth.
She is one of 66 contestants who are competing in the Southern Pole Championships Thursday at the Deauville Beach Resort in Miami Beach.
The two-day competition offers a way for men and women to practice their pole dancing skills in a safe environment. When the competition is finished, three contestants will be selected to go on to a national competition and have a chance at winning a $10,000 prize.
Melinda Bradford, 37, from Austin, began when she was on a business trip in Britain. She finds it a great way to lose weight. She has competed four times before.
“It’s like a workout in disguise,” she says.
In a year and a half, she has lost 30 pounds and four dress sizes.
For many of her other “pole sisters,” as she calls them, pole dancing can be a confidence booster.
Don’t dare call their routine “stripping.” It annoys April Padovan, who said she was depressed for 6 months before she found pole dancing.
“It’s very different from going to a strip club,” says the 27-year-old Houston resident.
And being in a community that is non-judgmental helped her turn her life around.
“To me, it’s more ballet. You’re telling a story,” Padovan says.
For others, pole dancing means something totally different.
Eduardo Amador’s routine featured him taking his shirt off to a techno remix of “I Want You” by The Beatles.
Amador, 28, of Hollywood - one of four men to compete in the regional event – hopes to turn a seven-year hobby into a career. This championship is his first competition.
“When you get on stage, you just want to give it your all,” he says.
He has been teaching pole dancing for four years.
“All the bruises are worth it,” he said.
And though he admits his routine is a mix of artsy and sexy, he doesn’t appreciate being compared to strippers.
“Half of the things we do, a stripper can’t do,” he said.
Amy Guion, an organizer of the event, says she tries to educate people before they have the chance to call what she does “stripping.”
Guion, 26, is a co-owner of the Pole Sport Organization and Seattle native, has been pole dancing for six years.
She makes arrangements for the event, like the stage that takes about two hours to set up to ensure safety.
“This is like a blank canvas,” she said of the stage.
Besides art, there are other motives for competing.
Three of the winners of the professional division have move onto the national championship where they will compete for $10,000, she said.
As someone who has made this art form their life’s work, Guion said she enjoys every second of educating people and furthering the art.
“There’s nothing that’s not awesome about this experience.”