Madonna's Ex-Dancers Dare to be Truthful in Strike a Pose

Madonna's feature-length rockumentary Truth or Dare spotlighted many of the Queen of Pop's sexy song-and-dance numbers from her 1990 Blond Ambition Tour. But it was what director Alek Keshishian captured offstage that truly curled mainstream America's toes and almost garnered the film an X rating. For the seven male dancers — six gay and one straight — that made up Madonna's dance troupe, however, certain truths were still too shocking to reveal.  It took 25 years, but today they're ready to tell all in a new documentary about the truths behind Truth or Dare, entitled Strike a Pose.  

SF Weekly caught up with the band of “brothers,” Luis Camacho, Salim Gauwloos, Kevin Stea, Carlton Wilborn, and Oliver Crumes III, between a Macy's in-store appearance and their film's Frameline premiere on June 25, about the secrets that they didn't dare expose. 

There's a pink elephant in the room that I can no longer ignore. Where is your fellow dancer Jose Gutierez?

Salim Gauwloos: He has some work in New York, so he couldn't be here.

Switching gears, when Madonna first decided to document her Blond Ambition Tour, did she have a specific purpose in mind outside of just showcasing life on the road? Was she pushing an alternate view of the gay community?

Carlton Wilborn: There was never a conversation with her in regards to the purpose of that particular tour at all. All that we knew was that at some point she wanted to film the life that we were having when we were on the road, and it was just an organic catching of all of who we were and what our experience was.  

Kevin Stea: I think she knew very well that she was pulling from the gay nightclub scene in New York and presenting that. Also, her friend world was filled with gay people, and her experience of gay people is that we are normal, friends, human, and the people around you. 

It was also a collaborative thing going on with her and Alek Keshishian. Alek is also gay, and I think it was within their conversations. You can see his vision of the movie and his message just as much as hers, so I think he probably influences a lot of that.

One thing that's certain, according to statements made in Truth or Dare and Strike a Pose, is that the late Gabriel Trupin was Madonna's favorite dancer. Why?

CW: He was all of our favorites. He was the favorite child.  

Oliver, you were not everyone's favorite off the bat. In Truth or Dare you come off as very homophobic, yet today you embrace the gay community wholeheartedly. What was the turning point for you?
Oliver Crumes III: The day of the Vogue photo shoot. It opened my eyes up. I kind of adjusted, but I didn't really get to know everybody. We began rehearsing before the “Vogue” video, and it took time. We weren't close in the beginning, but as the tour went on, I learned everything about everybody.

So was your claim in Truth or Dare that your fellow dancers were all after you true or not?

OC: No. But anyway, I love them. I found out the reason that they are who they are. I found out about their whole lives, and from then on, I went from being ignorant to being mature about it. They turned my life around.

SG: He was also young, and imagine being stuck in a room for one year with six queens.

OC: It was hard, but they made me stronger.

After the tour ended, did you expect the ride to go on for much longer?

SG: It would have been nice, but it didn't. 

Luis Camacho: I didn't expect it to go on forever, but I wanted it to. It's only because there was something about being with these guys on tour. It just felt like we were brothers. So I just wanted it to keep going for a little longer, because I was having such a good time and learning so much from these guys. 

CW: Did I think I should have been working with her again? Yes, because it was a lot of fun. But it's also a gig. One job ends and another begins. 

When you were riding high, fresh off the tour and the movie, I would imagine that you had no shortage of starfuckers pursuing you. Was it difficult to discern who was really there for you?
CW: It's an ongoing thing. Even down to the email that we got from the directors of Strike a Pose. All of us have been getting some kind of reach out over the years trying to have a conversation about that time. So when I got the email from them, I had to figure out if this is legit. Because when you do get put in that heightened reality in the eyes of other people, it's hard to say who's there for you.

Were you all eager to drudge up the good, the bad, and the ugly history when you were approached to do Strike a Pose

CW: All except for one particular diva. 

It took a few emails, a few phone calls. To echo what Carlton's saying, it's hard to sift through what's real and what's not real. It took Kevin calling me and saying, “No, they're real. You should definitely reach out to them.” At that point, I said I would.

Carlton, you talk about grappling with social anxiety in Strike a Pose. How did you overcome that?

CW: I think the first really critical look I took was writing my 2007 autobiography, Front & Center: How I Learned to Live There. I call that book my “getting free.” Because of HIV, I've been dealing with people not wanting to date me or a really good friend of mine didn't want me to come to her dinner party. So I thought, “God, if I could just have one thing that's out there and everyone knows what my fucking deal is, then if they want to invite me, they know what it is, and I don't have to keep saying it.” I was diagnosed in '85, so it was many years that I was shrouded in all of that. It was a process. 

SG: I didn't know that Carlton was HIV positive till 2011 through the Internet. 

Salim, you've been HIV positive since 1987. How scary was it to finally go public about it in Strike a Pose?

SG: It was terrifying, liberating, all of the above. I wanted to come out for a long time. I was going to write a book and do all these things. But these two directors showed up, and I thought that this is the way to do it, in a documentary. What better way to do it than on a big screen and to show other people that you can have a life after being diagnosed.

Talk to us about your decisions to keep your statuses private.

SG: I didn't want to come out, because I was jealous of other people. I envied them, because it was, “Wait, why am I HIV positive at age 18 when they're not?” So I was very jealous, and it made me angry, too. But thank God for these guys and the Madonna job, because I don't think I'd be here. It was the thing to hold onto. The denial and the dancing helped me so much. That's why I'm still here, because that's how I connect to the universal divinity. 

So the denial helped?

CW: The denial also saved me, because I've never been an HIV-diagnosed guy that knew all the stats of what was going on in the field of HIV medicine. I didn't want to read a bunch of shit, because it felt too close. I did immediately go on meds, so I was not in denial in terms of maintaining my health. But I was in denial in regards to choosing to not marry myself to all of this. 

Luis, in Strike a Pose you discuss your battle with heroin addiction. Where are you with your sobriety today?

LC: I'm 12 years sober. My parents sent me to LA to dry out, so I did it. I dried off heroin, but was still smoking pot, drinking, and taking pills. It was the day that I was supposed to go back to New York, and I was staying at [Madonna's onetime backup singer] Niki Haris's house. She is a soul sister, and she knew what I was going through. She just passed by the guest room and said, “You don't have to leave if you don't want to.” I just started balling, because I knew that if I left, it was not gonna be pretty. It wasn't because of who was in New York; it was because I wasn't ready yet. 

Kevin, in Strike a Pose, you say, when you all reunite around a table, that you wish Madonna could be there, so you could talk to her adult to adult. If she were here right now, what would each of you say?

KS: I would like to say, “Thank you.” As this process and this movie and these audiences bring all this affirmation and acknowledgement to us, I realize that truly what a special experience that was, and I don't think I ever really said, “Thank you.”  

OC: I would say “Thank you, too.”

CW: I chime that.

Has Madonna acknowledged the film yet?

CW: Not yet.

LC: She sent this cryptic tweet where she wrote the words, “Strike a Pose” in all caps, but we don't know if she's talking about this or not. 

SG: I'd like to ask, “Why do you never mention it? Why don't you ever go back to that time and talk about it? It was such a great experience.” That would be my question to her, because people want to hear about it.

I always got the sense that she prefers to look forward. 

CW: In her defense, I don't know that I'm any different. I've never wanted to do the same job again or repeat something. As an artist, you're always wanting to expose the new juice that comes up for you. I don't think she's slighting us by not acknowledging it. I think it was a job for her and onto the next thing. 

Several of you kissed Madonna in Truth or Dare. What does she taste like?

KS: She was very tongue-y, and she tasted like lipstick because she had just put her lipstick on. 

SG: I just remember her being a good kisser. But when I kissed her in the bed, it was less tongue than Kevin got. 

LC: She tasted like Fisherman's Friend lozenges, because she always had one in her mouth for her throat.

Before Gabriel died, he expressed regret that his gay kiss with Salim was kept in Truth or Dare. Is there anything that you wish hadn't made it into the final cut?

 When the cameras started, I was very much aware that they're logging things. So if you don't want to be seen in a certain way, you don't act a certain way.

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