I came of age in the early 1990s, just a few years after Madonna’s legendary 1990 Blond Ambition Tour and the resulting Truth or Dare documentary, so I wasn’t aware of the controversial nature of the tour or the impact of the documentary on gay audiences then and now.
But Strike a Pose, a documentary about the dancers on that tour, reflects on both so well that I wish I had a better understanding of such things 25 years ago in order to have a better appreciation for it now.
Strike a Pose directed by Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan begins by touching briefly on the selection of Luis Camacho, Oliver Crumes, Salim Gauwloos, Jose Gutierez, Kevin Stea, Carlton Wilborn and the late Gabriel Trupin (whose mother appears in the documentary on his behalf) for the tour. Because so little time is spent on the how and why each of them were chosen, the documentary could have easily just been about the dancers while they were on tour.
But by the documentary’s midway point, the tour was over and the dancers went about their lives – which proved to be far more fascinating and revelatory. The result was a more effective contextualization of the Blonde Ambition tour as a reflection of its era (particularly through its periodic mentions of the fact that six of the dancers were gay and only one of the dancers was straight) and Truth or Dare as a groundbreaker for in-your-face gay visibility on film (particularly as it related to its hot guy-on-guy kiss) at a time of increased homophobia and anti-gay sentiment as HIV/AIDS continued to raged on.
Though Madonna and Truth or Dare factor greatly into Strike a Pose, the film strikes a perfect balance between not becoming more about Madonna (who only appears in archival footage) than the dancers and not shying away from discussions about her and her effect on their lives then and to this very day.
My only problem with Strike a Pose was when it touched upon Crumes, Stea and Turpin’s lawsuit against Madonna – which contradicted the overarching themes of love and family that the film had already established. On top of that, the documentary doesn’t even mention how or even if the lawsuit was settled – which made its inclusion all the more superfluous when that time could have been better spent on the how and why each of them was chosen in the first place.
The film does redeem itself with the 25th anniversary reunion of the six surviving dancers where emotions ran high as they themselves reflected on that time in their lives. There was a moment that teased the possibility of Madonna showing up to surprise everybody, but I’m glad that didn’t happen as it would have instantly made the film about her instead of them – which is the best part about the film as a whole.
But while some of the conversation at the reunion seemed more contrived than organic in how some questions were asked and how some topics were brought up, it did lead to one of the film’s most striking moments: Gauwloos tearfully revealing a long-held secret that he was HIV-positive and had been since before the tour (mentioned here not as a spoiler but as something he himself used his part in the film to disclose).
Strike a Pose is a wonderful reflection of a specific time in history and how that time in history lives on in this time in history. But its greatest achievement from my vantage point is that one need not be a fan of Madonna or even of pop music to be fascinated (or at the very least, intrigued) by the story of a group of young men (six gay and one straight) whose time together 25 years ago taught people about expression, community and survival.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Rosan Boersma