Once regarded strictly as a burlesque act, pole dancing nowadays figures into fitness routines and even athletic competitions.

This year, New Orleans plays host to the fifth International Pole Convention, or PoleCon, June 4-7 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, and organizers aim to challenge the public’s view of pole dancing while celebrating the varied groups who participate in this sometimes stigmatized activity.

“We would like the public to see that there are lots and lots of options,” Colleen Jolly, PoleCon CEO, said.

The options are meant to show that athleticism and poles are not just limited to strip clubs, though the convention is supportive of that type of dance as well.

Jolly says the main goal of the convention is to unite the various groups who enjoy the activity.

People come to the pole for different reasons: Some see it as performance art, and others use it as an exercise or an extension of their regime, à la CrossFit. There are those who see it as an Olympic sport and are trying to have it added to the next summer games; and some still admire the burlesque aspect.

“Really, this is a way to unite a community that is diverse, that is potentially challenging some long-held beliefs, so they can find a common strength,” Jolly said.

Another major focus of the event is networking for pole studios. As it becomes an increasingly popular avenue for exercise, such studios are cropping up across the country.

“This is about helping to give the industry space to be professional,” said Jolly. “To say, there are people who are making careers out of this. To be a pole dance studio owner, to be a company that specifically addresses this market, is a legitimate career track within the fitness industry.”

The event will bring people from all over the country and the world. Some, called “pole stars,” will run workshops on business or pole lessons, while others will come to participate in the many showcases, certification programs, seminars and networking opportunities.

Featured recently on such TV shows as “Dancing with the Stars,” “America’s Got Talent” and “Ellen,” the popularity of pole-dancing has skyrocketed.

“We absolutely see that it’s growing,” said Jolly. “We see more and more pole dancing studios popping up around the U.S. and the world. We have quite a global representation. Lots of ‘pole stars’ are coming from Australia, where pole dancing is pretty popular, as well as Europe.”

“I definitely want to extend an invitation to the public,” Jolly said. “Come and check us out.

“Maybe you’ll gain a new impression.”