'Strike a Pose' Picks Up Where Madonna's 'Truth or Dare' Left Off
Updated: Apr 13, 2020
In 1990, seven men set out on Madonna’s Blond Ambition World Tour at the height of the pop star’s fame. That tour was filmed and turned into a documentary called Truth or Dare, which gave fans an insider’s look into Madonna's world.
Now 27 years later, a new documentary, Strike a Pose, catches up with those seven dancers who found the glare of the spotlight sometimes difficult to navigate.
The film takes a look back at some of the trials and tribulations the dancers faced post-tour.
From Gabriel Trupin being outed in Truth or Dare before he had the chance to tell his family to the misunderstood financial lawsuit Trupin, Kevin Stea and Oliver Crumes III filed against Madonna after the tour ended, Strike a Pose tells the story of what happened after the cameras turned off and the dancers returned to their normal lives. In the end, though, the artists are all connected by that special moment in time.
Dance Dish got an exclusive interview with Blond Ambition World Tour assistant choreographer and dancer Kevin Stea and dancer Carlton Wilborn to reminisce about their Truth or Dare days and how the follow-up documentary, Strike a Pose has positively impacted their lives.
Dance Dish: How did you each get cast on the tour?
Carlton Wilborn: I went straight through the audition process. It was at Landmark Studios [now Alley Cat Studio] in Hollywood and 700 to 800 guys showed up [to the Los Angeles auditions].
Kevin Stea: I saw it in The Hollywood Reporter or Variety first because that’s the only place I knew how to get my auditions. Then my agency called me in on it. Everybody knew about it. There were 5,000 people on both coasts who came in.
Madonna was looking for personalities that she could get along and hang out with. She was there through all of the auditions sitting on the floor.
DD: What was it like working with choreographer Vincent Paterson for the Blond Ambition World Tour?
Kevin: He set the bar. I applied things I learned from him everywhere in my life and my career there forward. The special attention he brings to his work is storytelling. It’s not about the step. The step comes from an emotion, a message, and communication. If you are not aware of what that communication is, it’s a lost opportunity. Vince opened my eyes and ears and body to the poetry of dance.
Carlton: For me, in terms of commercial choreographers, he was definitely the first one who brought the merging of actor tools and dancer tools. He really structures from that place. It was such a blessing to be in that place.
Kevin: He choreographs for the eye, for the observer. He’s not choreographing for how it feels good on your body or how it works. Sometimes his stuff feels really, really awkward, but it’s because out from the audience side it has an impact on the eye rather than the body. That’s the effect he’s going for. It’s a nuanced approach to choreography.
DD: When you signed your contract for the tour, did you know the Truth or Dare documentary was going to be made?
Carlton: We didn’t know a documentary was going to be made, but we knew the footage was going to be used for something else. We knew this once the tour began, not when we signed our contracts.
Kevin: It was literally guys dressed in black hiding in corners and filming. After two weeks of them being there, they were invisible. Most of the time, I turned the volume down [on my personality] to not draw attention to myself on-camera.
Carlton: Same here. As the cameras came around, I honed it in.
DD: What made you decide to join or opt-out of the lawsuit?
Carlton: I can tell you what made me not join. I was introduced to it by the time the deposition was happening. I was told they [dancers Stea, Trupin and Crumes] were basing their lawsuit on the fact that they didn’t know that it was going to be used for a public show. I thought, There’s no way that they could not know that.
Kevin: That’s the dangers of the press. That’s what’s been out there the last 25 years — the misinformation. I think Madonna also felt like we were out to get her because she was given the same information [as the press]. It’s all wrong.
For me, it was all about the contract and I was standing up for Gabriel because they [producers] told him anything he doesn’t want to be in the movie, won’t be in the movie. I was right there when they said that to him, so I was his key witness.
I was writing letters to Madonna saying, I love you, I miss you, let’s talk about this. I just wanted to get paid what was in my contract. Her lawyers thought I wanted to get a percentage of the profits from her movie. Even to this day, they think this. I love the movie and even to this day, I will support it.
DD: Did you worry about getting blacklisted in the dance industry?
Kevin: I was worried about it. I didn’t make the choice to sue lightly; I had to be willing to not dance ever again. I didn’t know if I was giving up my career by doing it.
I ran into Madonna at a premiere and she said, “F**k you. You are on my f***ing s**t list.” She thought I was the spearhead of the lawsuit.
This whole situation shouldn’t have happened. It’s not my responsibility to get my money. That’s what I pay the agent for. They made us do personal lawsuits against Madonna when it’s their responsibility to get her to pay my contract.
DD: The other big issue from Truth or Dare that is carried into Strike a Pose is the kiss between Gabriel and Salim Gauwloos. I didn’t realize it carried such consequences for Gabriel and his family. [Note: This was the first major film to feature a same-sex kiss onscreen.]
Carlton: His mother isn’t angry anymore. In promoting Strike a Pose, she’s seen how the value of Gabriel’s choice actually helped other people. She sees that a really powerful thing came from it in the end.
Kevin: She saw the amount of love and respect and empowerment the gay community got from seeing him at that moment. It was a very resolving moment for her. Gabriel also had a lot at stake — Gabriel had a boyfriend, his boyfriend had a son. When he came out [Truth or Dare outed him to his family and the world], there was an impact.
DD: During the filming of Truth or Dare, three of you — Gabriel, Carlton and Salim —were HIV-positive, but everyone kept it a secret from each other. Carlton, you and Salim didn’t talk about it until you were face-to-face in 2015 during the filming of Strike a Pose. Talk about that journey. [Note: Gabriel died from AIDS in 1995.]
Carlton: It’s so crazy that life can happen that things can go down for you, but you are so pent up and somebody right next to you is going through the same thing. You don’t have the advantage of being a pillar for each other when you keep it a secret.
Kevin: People have a hard time understanding how pervasive the stigma of AIDS was then. It was whispered because it was basically saying someone was dying.
Carlton: I didn’t want to talk about it in life because I didn’t want to marry myself to it more than I needed to — to then give it license to then take over my body.
DD: Carlton, How much did you think about being HIV-positive when you were on tour?
Carlton: 24-7. With the logistics of the show, I worried all of the time.
Kevin: There was no swing to replace someone; everyone was vital to the show. We were all worried about coming down with simple colds.
Carlton: It was a constant craziness. The biggest gift that Strike a Pose has given to me is that I can be 100% available to my career because I am not hiding behind the scare of anything. That has been such a mindblower for me.
DD: What are your thoughts on the LA dance community? How is it different from New York?
Kevin: It’s style over substance in Los Angeles. In New York, there is a training and sensibility of teaching and the craft that is not here in LA. Because of the nature of commercial dance where every job is different, you do the job and then it’s gone. It’s throwaway. I always have to come back to: Why am I doing this? Has what I’ve done made a difference for people because it’s just commercial dance?
That’s why Strike a Pose has been so powerful. It’s meant something, it’s done something and I’ve actually made an impact.
Carlton: I think the culture of the film industry versus the theater industry shapes the perceptions. The theater industry, you go for distance and time. With film, it is shot and done. One gets conditioned to just move on in LA.
DD: If you could address one issue in the LA dance community, what would it be?
Kevin: I would address the ageism issue. There is a cliff. I feel like I’ve hit that cliff. Dance is such a young expression of sexuality and suddenly you’re the dad character trying to be in the industry.
Carlton: I think the pay structure is just pathetic and sad. A show like So You Think You Can Dance doesn’t have the structure to create a headlining show for the winner. Why are they not?
Kevin: Why can’t dance create stars? Why are people being paid less than we were being paid 30 years ago? There’s a short life span on dancers because it’s so hard on our bodies. We need to cultivate careers.
Strike a Pose is currently being shown around the world. Check the website for the latest screenings in your area.
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