It’s no secret that Madonna’s Truth or Dare occupies a special place in my heart (https://moviebloke.wordpress.com/2016/08/26/truth-or-dare-in-bed-with-madonna/ ). As ladies with an attitude or fellas that were in the mood, the dancers are a big reason why; all seven young guys proved to be more than incidental eye candy, each adding considerable spirit not just to the film but to the tour—and arguably Madonna’s persona. Strike a Pose shows where they are now, which isn’t necessarily pretty but certainly isn’t all that bad.
Directors Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan get into the past and even dig up a little dirt, like the lawsuits some of the dancers filed after Truth or Dare came out. Thankfully, they don’t spend a lot of time on either. Instead, they focus on what exactly working with Madonna during such a pivotal time in her career brought to each of their lives, for better or for worse. What each dancer ultimately ended up doing isn’t as interesting as the subtext, which suggests that it was all an illusion.
As one might expect, some of the dancers at least on the surface have done better than others. Salim “Slam” Gauwloos, Luis Camacho, and Kevin Stea are working choreographers (Stea also got into deejaying and recently even recorded an album). Carlton Wilborn, the only one who toured with Madonna again after Blond Ambition, published a biography and is now a life coach. Jose Gutierez Xtravaganza lives with his mother in her apartment in New York. Oliver Crumes is married and possibly disabled—it’s not entirely clear, but that’s what I deduced. Sadly, Gabriel Trupin died in 1995 (which I already knew). His mother, Sue, has a lot to say about his role in Truth or Dare.
As a huge Madonna fan, Strike a Pose did not reveal much that I didn’t already know. That said, one thing that blew me away was that three of the dancers knew they were HIV-positive during the tour, yet none of them said anything about it. I’m not judging—anyone who made it through the “crisis years” of AIDS understands why. Still, it’s sad that not even someone as big and unfazed as Madonna, who gave a poignant speech about Keith Haring and featured a gay kiss in her tour documentary, was capable of creating a safe space then. Things have changed.
It’s easy to write off Strike a Pose as a lame attempt by minor players to milk their 15 minutes of fame, but I didn’t find them to come off that way. Not at all. Each seems sincerely okay with where he is, which is great. None of them plug any current projects. If anything, the focus is on what one does after the lights dim. Each of them has faced demons—drugs, disease, career obstacles. In fact, Camacho suggests that they are all responsible in one way or another for forcing Madonna to back away from them.
None of the dancers are as fierce as they were 25 years ago; this didn’t bother me because frankly I’m not, either. Watching Strike a Pose feels like meeting up with some friends you haven’t seen in a long time. If there’s one thing I learned from this documentary, it’s that Truth or Dare touched a lot more people than I thought. The one thing that would’ve been nice: Madonna showing up.
Screening followed by a live Q and A with Carlton Wilborn.
(AMC River East) B-
Chicago International Film Festival