By Hans Pedersen, February 2017 Web Exclusive.
For many of us, the documentary Madonna: Truth or Dare was a refreshing mainstream window into gay culture back in
1991, at time when media images of the gay community were dominated by the AIDS crisis and the struggle for equality in the 1980s.
Alek Keshishian’s hit concert and documentary film was one of our first glimpses of our own community laughing, dancing and even marching in a gay pride parade.
The award-winning reunion documentary Strike A Pose, serves as somewhat of a sequel to the story of those seven unforgetable dancers, 25 years after they toured as part of Madonna’s Blonde Ambition Tour.
Written and directed by Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan, Strike A Pose relies on the fact that many people know the original Madonna doc as a touchstone of gay culture.
Shot in high-definition black and white, the interviews with the six surviving dancers are in stark focus. They contrast beautifully with the grainier standard-definition backstage and concert footage, shot in black-and-white and color, respectively, from the original documentary. And, in inspiring interviews and letters from fans, we hear about how encouraging Truth or Dare was for so many audience members, especially younger ones struggling to come out.
Strike A Pose opens with two dancers voguing in the darkness, followed by initial recollections from Jose Gutierez and Luis Camacho. Both dancers recall how Madonna plucked them out of the underground scene once they’d developed a reputation for voguing.
“We carried our flamboyances as a warning,” says Camacho, one of the youngest of the bunch, who describes the feeling back then that he had to “put up a front” in those early years.
Dancer Kevin Stea points out the purpose of the original groundbreaking documentary was to push buttons, pointing out that “you can be gay and be human” was one of its key messages.
“We each had a story to tell,” Oliver Crumes says of the Truth or Dare dancers. Coming from a hip-hop background and best remembered as the only straight dancer of the bunch, Crumes explains how, after the tour was over, he woke up facing partial paralysis of the face, a condition knows as Bell’s Palsy.
Others had stories they worked hard to conceal at the time, including Carlton Wilborn, often remembered for dancing with Madonna in “Oh Father,” and Salim Gauwloos, who points out the irony of harboring secrets while dancing to “Express Yourself.”
One of the seven dancers, Gabriel Trupin, passed away from AIDS, and his mother shares recollections about him; she also describes the lawsuit he launched against Madonna, accusing the entertainer of outing him in Truth or Dare.
More dirty laundry is aired, including the story behind a separate lawsuit launched by Crumes and Stea. And Stea also shares his perspective on the “fishbowl situation” of the spotlight, and having throngs of crowds screaming at him while on tour.
“It’s a physical wave, a wind of screams, a gale …” he says in a vivid description of the tangible forces of fandom. “It’s hitting you in the face.”
In another insightful sequence, a couple of the dancers discuss substance abuse problems, from heavy drinking to heroin, and describe how their sobriety was life-saving.
One of the treats in this film is watching the dancers express themselves 25 years later; some of the most evocative moments captured on camera are their expressive dance moves.
But Strike A Pose is at its finest in the final 20 minutes of the film, when the six dancers gather together for a reunion. Over dinner, the love between these six men emanates from the screen.
The notoriety of these talented dancers has vanished to a large extent, but how lovely it would be to hear more about what their careers are like now, or the projects they’re involved in. While we do get to see each of them in a modern milieu – like instructing dance classes or serving food in a restaurant – their lives now seem equally relevant, but get little screen time.
This documentary is gem, especially for anyone who enjoyed Truth or Dare. For some folks (like my boyfriend who was serving in the Air Force abroad) Truth or Dare never made it on his radar. Strike A Pose may inspire viewers in situations like his, as well as younger LGBTQ community members who missed the original Madonna film.
Ultimately, following the dancers’ later steps through life and their moves onstage is a real pleasure. While the doc glosses over aspects of their lives now, fans of the Madonna doc and concert film will appreciate this fond trip down memory lane.
Strike A Pose screens at 3:30 p.m. For more information, desperadofilmfestival.com/event/strike-a-pose.