AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - It was a busy time for pole dancers in Amsterdam at the weekend.
While the red light district's troupe were gyrating as usual on Friday night, a host of girls from Albania to Spain flew in to compete for the European pole dance championship title.
Wearing sportswear reminiscent of Olympic gymnasts rather than skimpy leotards, girls performed gravity-defying dance routines based around two 6-metre poles -- one rotating, one fixed.
"Everything which we do requires so much strength. You train your legs and your muscles. It has nothing to do with eroticism. You have no time to think of that!" said Jeannine Wikering, the 26-year-old competitor for Germany who came third.
"I think one day it should be an Olympic sport -- but that will take time. You would have to agree which moves on which to judge competitors, at the moment we all have such different routines," she added.
Galina Troschenko, a 36-year-old representing Spain, won the event judged by a panel of five with a virtuoso performance full of acrobatic feats.
"I've only been doing this for three years, but I suppose I have a background as a dancer," she said.
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.
The 10 girls of different nationalities taking part had competed for the contest in their home countries and most donned tracksuits at the end, reinforcing the sporting image.
Kenneth Tao was in an audience of several hundred watching the event in a central Amsterdam night-club.
"I didn't see anything which I thought was erotic. It was gymnastic," he said.
"I was watching their choreography in particular."
Amsterdam is among many cities across Europe and the United States offering fitness classes incorporating pole dance inspired moves.
Women attending such classes are often advised to wear full makeup to boost their self-confidence, and businesses selling poles say they are frequently installed in bedrooms, showing pole dancing has not quite shed its image of sex and seduction.
Additional reporting by Amsterdam bureau; editing by Philippa Fletcher