What’s Love Go To Do With It?

The following is the transcript of Vicki Marie Stolsen with time on her hands, taking on pole, love, and the evolution of her Bachelor Ways. May 23, 2014 at FitPoling Studio, Panama City, Panama 

I lived in wonderful cities when I wrote The Bachelor Chapters, including Buenos Aires, Cartagena and Barcelona. I also lived in Medellin, which is where I landed on the first day of 2013, when I started to write the second draft. I wrote everyday for five or six hours, and then I’d walk to my gym for a workout. The gym was in a mall, and one day, I left the mall through a different door. That’s when I found a studio called Pole Fitness, and that was when I dumped the gym, and became a pole athlete.

Vicki Marie gets hooked on pole, Pole Fitness Studio, Medellín, 2013

Vicki Marie gets hooked on pole, Pole Fitness Studio, Medellín, 2013.

I’m crazy about pole—which sometimes is just crazy. Pole is painful, and often, pole is impossible. I’ve been doing this for sixteen months now, and from the beginning, whenever I train a new position or take on a new combination, there are two things I can count on. First, I’m wide-eyed and excited about how beautiful it is and how much I want to own it; and then I jump in and I’m clumsy and confused and certain I’ll never be able to pull it off.

 Thank God for my teachers, because they break it down into smaller parts and I learn to connect the dots, and because I try it again—and again and again—I also learn that impossible is often temporary.

Vicki Marie in Cartagena with Bianca Huls, pole and fitness diva from Holland

Vicki Marie in Cartagena with Bianca Huls, pole and fitness diva from Holland.

Pole makes me feel strong and it makes me feel sexy and it makes me want more. I want more combinations, I want more grace, I want more strength, and I want more results. I’ve come to view pole as more than sport and more than dance—I see pole as a way to be on the planet. Pole is about seeing what you want, and pushing through until you have it. Pole puts failure in your face every damn day, and pole teaches you to succeed by not giving up.

 What I also dig about pole: it is the ultimate feminist sport. Everyone knows that pole has its roots in strip clubs, and that the women who dance on poles for cash are stigmatized and denied social respectability. But not everyone knows about the global movement that began a little more than ten years ago. That was when women liberated pole from the red light districts, and planted it in the dance and fitness studios of our neighborhoods. Pole is hot—and not simply because we train half-naked, flick our hair, and shake our butts. Pole is hot because we make our bodies stronger, we make our limbs more flexible, and we make failure our teacher. Pole is hot because we make sexy normal and not shameful.

Urban poling happens in the streets, and in Cartagena, is happens at the crack of dawn before sweat and humidity take their toll

Urban poling happens in the streets, and in Cartagena, is happens at the crack of dawn before sweat and humidity slide you off a lamp-post.

It was destiny that I found pole while I was writing the book, because The Bachelor Chapters is also about making sexy normal and not shameful. The book tells the true story about a transformative moment in my life, which began a decade ago, following a serious illness. When I recovered, I took inventory of what had happened to me, and I understood that to stay healthy, I would have to change how I played my game.

I didn’t know exactly how I was going to do it, and unlike pole, I didn’t have teachers to guide me. So, I made it up as went, guided by wisdom and instinct and the drive to get it right. Along the way, I had to push through self-doubt and I had to wrestle with other people’s judgments, because I was forsaking some of our most inflexible customs.

My first audience, on the beach, near Barcelona with Pole Dance Factory.

My first audience, on the beach, near Barcelona with Pole Dance Factory.

 The first one out the door was that one we cherish without question; I became honest about the futility of romantic love, and I made a plan to find another way.

It hurts. You can't believe how it hurts.

It hurts. You can’t believe how it hurts. Pole Fitness, Medellín.

 By the time I hit my forties, I had been in love three times. That means that three times in my life, I told three different people, that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with them. That’s what we are moved to say, and that’s what we are called to do when we’re in love, because we imagine nothing less than forever.

Romantic love, partnership, and forever are the sacred trinity, and we worship without question and practice with faith. Despite divorce, despite serial monogamy, despite the excess volume of relationship wrecks, this collective faith that insists love means forever blindly ignores the facts of our lives. Why don’t we see that? And even if we did, what would we do about it? It’s

as if we have no choice to imagine anything else.

Pin Up GirlsBaile in Medellin with Monica who taught me about pole suave. Bless that girl.

Pin Up GirlsBaile in Medellín with Monica who opened my world to pole suave. Bless that girl.

 And just like everyone else, I wanted happily-ever-after, too—but reality kept dishing up a different result. With that first love, came that first heartbreak—and the incomparable suffering where I thought I was going to die. When I fell in love a second time, I was sure I had learned valuable things from round one, and I hadn’t lost my confidence that love guaranteed forever. We had a great run for almost ten years—but that’s not even close to forever. Another painful rip. Then the same result with the third love of my life. The bitter and common irony about each of those people who I promised to spend the rest of my life with is legend; I don’t even know them any more.

 I was forty-four years old when I divorced. Just to be clear, forty-four is middle-age, and I had put more than twenty years into the happily-ever-after cult, and there I was, right back at ground zero. Sure, I had many good years in my two long-term relationships, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. But the results begged the obvious: why wouldn’t love stick?

First twisted handspring at Pole Dance Factory in Barcelona

First twisted handspring at Pole Dance Factory in Barcelona.

My husband was the third love of my life, and my second long-term relationship. He was also, the first man I loved. I came out as a lesbian when I was seventeen years old, and several years later, my first long-term relationship was with a woman.

It’s confusing to some people when they hear I was a lesbian, and then later, I was not. But it was never confusing to me. Love describes how we are connected to another person; love has no sexual identity. It’s not straight, or gay, or bisexual—love is simply love. Back in 1976, somehow I found the guts to let my heart lead me to the people I could love. For me, twice it was with women, and once it was with a man.

The face of first perfect pencil

The face of first perfect pencil, Pole Fitness, Mendellín.

My husband was a great guy, I loved him like crazy, and I married him because I was sure we’d be together forever. But anyone who has been in a long-term relationship understands that on the way to forever, you live day-to-day.

Vicki Marie reads excerpt from Chapter 3

After my husband and I split up, I had steaming, super-sexy, storybook affair with a woman I had loved more than twenty years earlier. We talked about forever, as well, but instead, it blew up in my face. That was when I got sick, and after I got well, I was determined to get real.

I looked hard at the evidence and my path was clear—romantic love was no longer an option for me, because frankly, love no longer appealed to me. I’d been there, I’d done that, I was moving on. Convinced of the facts, I committed to avoiding love, without regret. Still, there was one major wrinkle to smooth out. I was cool to be done with love—but I was not done with sex. No way. Sex had to stay.

My first trainer and inspiration; Catalina Tobon, Pole Fitness, Medellín

My first trainer and inspiration; Catalina Tobon, Pole Fitness, Medellín

But how was I going to do it? Between my husband and my girlfriend, I had been coupled for twenty years. I knew nothing about dating, and I didn’t know anyone who dated without a goal for the status quo. I was motivated to find a new model and answer a fresh question: was it even possible to find sexual satisfaction without falling in love?

I didn’t want to go steady. I didn’t want to be monogamous. Still, I was interested in something more meaningful than booty calls or anonymous sex. I wanted to know how I could get laid without getting screwed, and so I jumped into the email dating pool with this question in my head:

PTY_0144

Make sexy normal and there is no shame. FitPoling Studio, Panama City.

What could happen if I told every man I dated, that I didn’t want a boyfriend, and I didn’t want a husband, and I didn’t even want a one-night stand?

Vicki Marie reads excerpt from Chapter 26

There is something I need to make clear. My experiences led me to opt-out of romantic love—but that didn’t mean I didn’t need love. I needed it and I wanted it and I had it. I was blessed: I had more than my fair share. I had loving relationships with friends that spanned decades. I had a brother and a mother that really had been with me forever. Unlike my romantic partnerships, these relationships were enduring and they were going to be with me forever.

Finally. I live in a dance studio. Panama City

Finally. I live in a dance studio. Panama City

It occurred to me that we got it wrong. Our desire for love is human, but maybe it’s just too heavy for one heart to hold. Who can argue that very few people get away with it?

When I decided to opt out of romantic love, I elevated familial love. I changed the hierarchy and I changed my life. I already had multiple love relationships. And eventually, I had multiple sexual relationships.

On the Cinta Costra in Panama City, or as we refer to it: Urban Pole Paradise

On the Cinta Costra in Panama City, or as we refer to it: Urban Pole Paradise

With love on my side, The Bachelor Chapters describes my journey as I practice and refine my Bachelor lifestyle. There were many dates with many men; and there are enough juicy, adults-only descriptions of shameless sexual action to excite the cream in your coffee.

But the book is more than a kiss-and-tell romance, because The Bachelor Chapters is not Fifty Shades of Grey for Forty-Something’s. I get real about love, I come clean on adultery, and I spell out the differences between black and white men. I raise the curtain on lesbian and gay prejudice of bisexual’s, I describe the consequences of female sexual shame, and I remind every one of the timeless injustice of slut slander and stigma. I talk about feminism and fashion and body image: and I talk about aging. I was a middle age woman when I began my bachelorhood; there is a lot to say about aging.

We go in teams. There's no stopping us.

We go in teams. There’s no stopping us.

Vicki Marie reads excerpt from Chapter 38

And with that, we have come to the end of this evening’s story hour. I thank you for your time, I thank you for your attention, and I thank you if I have tempted you to add The Bachelor Chapters to your nightstand library sometime soon!

(shout out to Pole Dance Factory in Barcelona, Pinup GirlsBaile and  Pole Fitness, Medellín,

Fit Poling, Panama, and Biana Huls, Cartgena)

Graduation at FitPoling Studio in Panama City where I learned my new favorite pole trick: performing.

Graduation at FitPoling Studio in Panama City where I learned my new favorite pole trick: performing.

Order The Bachelor Chapters: A Thinking Woman’s Romance

Are you listening?

Mid-life Rocks. Today begins my next rotation around the sun. It’s August 27th and my birthday; my own personal new year, a time to look over my shoulder at the last three hundred and sixty-five days. What did I do? What did I learn? What trail did I blaze? I made a list—a very long list—because it’s been a year of non-stop adventure. After quitting my career eighteen months ago, I launched my next reason to greet the day each morning by becoming a Writer of Life and living the Lifestyle of a Writer. It’s not an overstatement to report there has been adventure in every blessed moment.

Like most, I’m not immune to the shock of middle age; those moments when the number that represents our lifespan no longer bears any relation to how we recognize ourselves. If you’re like me, you’ll use the trick of reality to calm the fear triggered by aging. Which is why I filtered my trail-blazing list of the past year into a specifically age defying list:

What did I do this past year for the very first time?

Vicki Marie's first Twisted Handspring at Pole Dance Factory in Barcelona

Vicki Marie’s first twisted handspring at Pole Dance Factory in Barcelona

This Is Fifty-Five:

1) Published my first article (thank you, David Lee of Medellin Living)

2) Finished my first manuscript, The Bachelor Chapters (thank you to every author I’ve ever read—you are my teachers)

3) Revised it—twice (thank you, Stacey Donovan, the editor that made me a better writer)

4) Lived in four countries (thank you Colombia, Spain, Antigua, and the miracle of a USA passport)

5) Convinced Colombia that I deserved their visa of domicile (thank you Alan Gongora, the attorney who drew the map)

6) Became a pole athlete, and nailed the infamous Twisted Handspring (thank you to my teachers; Cata Tobon, Bianca Huls, Laura Fly & Estela Diego)

7) Declared war on cancer and marked my first year of victory (thank you: simply thank you)

8) Talked to God—and he talked back (thank you, dear angels, for leading the way)

What struck me about the list was how interdependent my accomplishments have been. Nothing of significance happens without facilitation. I claim my motivation and my dreams—but my achievements are always the result of collaboration. And so today, on my birthday, I plan to celebrate my collaborators. I am nothing without you, and I am more than I ever knew I could be—because of you.

Are you listening? Mid-Life Rocks. So, let’s party.

I gave him a pole dance for his thirty-seventh birthday

last Friday night. I worked it for three weeks, after picking his romantic favorite from my playlist. Bianca did the choreography, my pole teacher from Holland, whom everyone believes is my twin sister. Well, I won’t argue we’re not sisters—the best kind—separated at birth until the stars lined up for us once again in the streets of Cartagena.

I took on pole when I was living in Medellin. Catalina Tobon’s studio is fine-tuned for fitness, and I learned the inversions with names like Géminis, Escorpio, El Libro, and Superman. The classes were in Spanish, and “pero, me duele!” entered my vocabulary. It was tough and it hurt in ways I could not believe I agreed to endure. The bare skin on the pole is a safety device, the slow drag of flesh on steel brakes downward momentum, and can even imitate Spiderman suction. The consequences are broadcast in purple and black, on thighs and biceps. Blood can be drawn; the face of my foot sprung open again and again from the repetition of climbing a twelve-foot rod.

Gemini Over Cartagena

I keep a strong body; so a few things came easy, which sucked me into the rest without a second thought. The impossible positions were even more satisfying; beating it up, day after day, until finally—those stars again—everything lined up and I pinned a new badge on my chest.

In Cartagena my progress was interrupted by ninety percent humidity in a gym with two windows and a fan. Tough was now swimming in sweat. I was eight feet from the floor, and threw my legs into Gemini when my flesh failed to grip and I dropped like an egg from a countertop, gravity working faster than reflex, nothing left to do but wait the sound of the break. There was luck in that fall, and when Bianca and I locked eyes from my position on the floor we gave thanks to the Angel de Tube de Gymnasio Atlantis.

I live in the small and elegant studio apartment that overlooks the old city of Cartagena, and her Caribbean coastline. This is the highest floor, twelve stories above the street that feeds Puente Roman, the bridge to Getsemani and Cartagena’s walled city. The sky-rises of Bocagrande tower the horizon on the left, and the sixteenth century fortress of San Felipe dominates the view to my right. The two hundred and forty degree view is easily described as breathtaking, and when I moved here in March to finish the revision of The Bachelor Chapters, I planned my days around puesta del sol—the sunset that amazes every evening after six. This is where we moved the pole: to the entrance of my balcony, between the two-meter gap of the sliding glass doors.

With a camera and a tabletop tripod, I repeated the routine, again and again, moving from awkward mimicry to personal style. New bruises erupted, faded, and were replaced by fresh markers. When it was too hot, which was every eight to ten minutes, I closed the doors and blasted the air conditioning, bringing my body temperature down, evaporating sweat, and reviewing the fresh video, the honest mirror of my progress.

Finally, on the eve of his birthday, my young lover found himself in a transformed apartment; an elegant and sophisticated lounge I had created by rearranging furniture and lighting on the balcony. I cued the playlist for the performance, left the room to mix his drink, and returned in my costume of bra and panties to deliver it to his hand, a soft kiss meeting his smiling lips. With my back against the glass railing, the sea wind lifting my hair, I faced the pole with the attitude of a seasoned entertainer, my ear alert for the cue to enter the open-air stage, present Bianca’s invention and my labor; and premiere the sensual athletics of my new sport that fooled as dance.

There was a grace that led me through the following four minutes; the athletics of body memory, united with the soaring soundtrack, against the backdrop of his eager eyes and applause. I found my flow, and connected the transitions between the inversions and spins as spontaneous punctuation and not the well-rehearsed details of footfall and hand positions. It was more fun than I had expected—motivated by love I fell easily over to joy. In a world full of stuff, I had elevated experience as the gift worth giving. In a world obsessed with instant gratification, I had revived the practice of practice: of moving from the unknown, through the sweat of failure, toward the acquisition of skill.

Feliz cumpleaños a mi amante de Cartagena, con todo mi agradecimiento por nuestras vidas y por todos los que nos hemos atrevido a compartir. Que Dios te bendiga, mi amor. 

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