Just days before the pole dancing competition he'd devoted his whole year to, 68-year-old Glynn Owens dislocated his rib.

But that didn't stop the Auckland man from climbing the stairs to a smoke-filled stage to perform his routine to a screaming crowd.

Owens, known to fellow pole dancers as "The Prince", might not be what one expects when thinking of pole dancing, but he's the perfect symbol for a sport that embraces anyone brave enough to give it a go.

"I would like people to know that you don't have to be female, you don't have to be stunningly gorgeous and you don't have to be young to get a lot out of it and get a lot of enjoyment. I'm a little decrepit old man and I'm still having a whale of a time doing pole," Owens told the Herald after his "agonising" rehearsal for Pole Legends, a competition showcasing New Zealand's top pole dancers.

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Owens spent the year training for Pole Legends - then dislocated his rib just days before the competition while practising his routine.

"My life has just consisted of pole, recovering from pole, sleeping, doing more pole, and at the last minute getting injured," he said.

Pole dancer Glynn Owens (performance name The Prince) dislocated his rib while training for Pole Legends. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Pole dancer Glynn Owens (performance name The Prince) dislocated his rib while training for Pole Legends. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Despite the pain, he's not willing to give up on the performance when he has spent the whole year preparing for it.

"Competing here at Legends is phenomenal. It's pretty much everybody's dream to perform here on the Legends stage, and certainly was mine."

Owens said people did not care about his age.

"Pole dance is an amazingly accepting community. People will take you at face value."

Before the competition, last year's female winner, Auckland woman Michelle Kasey, said she was feeling the most prepared she'd ever felt before a performance.

The 27-year-old was a "curious concoction of excitement and nerves" as she got ready for the competition, held in Auckland's Mercury Theatre.

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To her, pole dancing is about expression, "which I know is like a wanky artist thing to say".

"To me specifically and what I see for people, women and men, is a way to connect with and reclaim their physicality, their sensuality, their ability to take up space," she said.

"I'm really not in this for any kind of validation from anyone."

When asked whether there are any misconceptions she wants to clear up about pole dancing, Kasey is adamant that the usual "I'm not a stripper" response is unhelpful.

"I personally really reject that argument, because pole dancing came from stripping," she said.

"It would be, in my personal opinion, incredibly anti-feminist and disrespectful to the people who created our art now or who created the platform on which we build upon [to say that]."

Her belief is shared among many pole dancers in New Zealand, whether they are strippers or not, that trying to distance the sport from its roots and shame those who made it popular would be wrong.

Competition organiser Karry Summers is also one of the organisers for the NZ Pole Industry Awards, which celebrates and unites the national pole community, within which she said there was "a lot of love and support".

The 34-year-old wanted to put together Pole Legends to create a combination of a competition and a show, and give dancers a platform to showcase their style.

There are various styles of pole dance: exotic and sexy, full of tricks and flips, lyrical and flowing, dramatic and themed, and those showing great amounts of strength.

Summers said competitors would start planning their routine three or four months before the show. They would have to figure out choreography, theme, costuming, props, and many trained up to five times a week.

Wellington pole dance instructor Peter Rowe, whose stage name is Poleman Pete, has gone all out with props and theme.

A builder by day, Rowe walks onto the stage with a tool belt strapped on and, nail gun in hand, literally starts building his props as part of his routine.

Rowe said he enjoyed performing, then quickly changed his mind.

"Well, no, that's not entirely true. I enjoy being on stage and having a bit of a thrash around," he said.

"I get more out of teaching others and seeing the development and change in others than out of doing it myself."

Glynn Owens, 68, devoted his whole year to training for Pole Legends. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Glynn Owens, 68, devoted his whole year to training for Pole Legends. Photo / Jason Oxenham

The 32-year-old said pole dancing had increased his self confidence, though people occasionally laughed and joked about a man doing it.

"At the end of the day you kind of just don't give a shit what other people might think. When they see what you can do, they obviously shut up."

One of the biggest misconceptions was that people did not see pole dancing to be as difficult as it was, or didn't understand what great exercise it was, he said.

Rowe wanted people to know there was "no easy route" learning to pole dance, and that even moves that seemed simple were hard work.

Despite this, fellow instructor and competitor Michelle Goh said people shouldn't be put off trying pole.

"You start off as a beginner and you learn the basics and the foundation and step by step you just get stronger and more confident," said the 33-year-old, known on stage as Mish GoGo.

"If you want to try it, don't be afraid of failing cause you're going to fail a million times, but it's worth it. You will succeed in the end.

"I think what people won't know about pole dancing is that it can be whatever you want it to be.

"I think that the freedom of expression with an apparatus, it's limitless, like, the creativity and the amount of confidence it gives you is worth giving it a go.

Goh has a particularly sporty background, having done martial arts, break dancing, and served in the New Zealand Army, among other things.

"I'm still figuring out my style of pole dance. I'd say if I had to put it in one word it would be 'power'."

Goh's performance shows her journey from a martial arts background, to reacquainting herself with her own sensuality.

"When I discovered pole dancing I rediscovered, I guess, my femininity," she said.

For her and many dancers around the country, pole dancing - whether you call it a sport or an art form - is the bridge connecting strength and beauty.

"You don't have to compromise your femininity to be powerful."

Michelle Goh's performance detailed her journey from martial artist to pole dancer. Photo / Jason Oxenham.
Michelle Goh's performance detailed her journey from martial artist to pole dancer. Photo / Jason Oxenham.