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Madonna's Iconic Blond Ambition Dancers Are Reuniting to Tell Their Story

An emotional new documentary examines what happened after the 1991 film "Truth or Dare" scandalously pulled back the curtain on Madonna's Blond Ambition tour and encouraged young people around the world to express their sexuality.
Screengrab via YouTube

The star of Madonna: Truth or Dare is, ostensibly, Madonna. The 1991 documentary concerns her Blond Ambition tour and all the controversy she courted with it. (Not many concerts earn a condemnation from the Vatican and threats from the Toronto police, but then again, not many concerts feature religious iconography alongside simulated masturbation.) Yet for so many moviegoers, the real icons of Truth or Dare were the young dancers who appeared alongside the pop star, laughing, voguing, and— in one very famous scene—kissing, on a dare. Their incredible charisma charmed Dutch filmmaker Reijer Zwaan when he was just 11 years old and led him to ask, years later: Where are they now?


Zwaan and co-director Ester Gould's documentary Strike a Pose answers that question, but Zwaan wasn't quite prepared for what he found. The film charts the lives of seven dancers from Madonna's Blond Ambition tour: Oliver Crumes, Carlton Wilborn, Luis Camacho, Salim Gauwloos, Kevin Stea, Gabriel Trupin (who passed away in 1995), and Jose Gutierez. (Trupin's mother represents her late son in the film.) It also examines the many controversies surrounding the tour and subsequent documentary Truth or Dare, which forcibly outed Trupin. The HIV crisis looms large; three of the dancers were secretly living with the virus during the tour. Some of the beloved dancers had taken career turns they never expected. Others were harboring crippling secrets. And before Truth or Dare debuted, none of them realized the incredible impact they would have on LGBT audiences, who were touched and inspired by the expressive artists they saw on screen.

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"[When] I saw the film, I was mesmerized by that family and that larger-than-life world where everything seemed to be possible and everyone was outspoken and bold," says Zwaan. "We were touched by Truth or Dare and by the message of expressing yourself." When Zwaan and Gould realized that the idealism expressed in the documentary hadn't necessarily carried over into the performers' personal lives, they understood the story they had to tell: "this paradox between the message that so many people felt was very important at the time in the early 90s—that helped many people to come out or to be themselves—and then at the same time, these very strong guys who have difficulties with expressing themselves."


One of Truth or Dare's most famous moments involves an actual game of truth or dare. When Gauwloos and Trupin are dared to make out, they oblige, and provide moviegoers with what was, at the time, a rare instance of two men kissing onscreen.

Camacho, Gutierez, Crumes, and Stea. Photo courtesy of Logo Documentary Films

"We were both so nervous," Gauwloos said in a phone interview. "Gabriel was in a relationship, I was in a relationship. After we realized OK, this kiss is going to be in the movie, I was like, 'Oh my God, my boyfriend is going to kill me.' But it was so innocent. We were playing truth or dare. I had crush on him, he had a crush on me. It was a perfect opportunity to just give him a kiss."

Trupin had larger concerns. He was still in the closet during the tour, and he begged Madonna not to use the footage. Stea and Crumes were also angry that she had included candid backstage shots in the movie, claiming that they had been assured only their scenes on stage would be featured, and after the documentary hit theaters, the three of them sued Madonna for invasion of privacy. The case settled out of court after over two years of litigation.

I thought, I'm going to die anyway, so why would I apply for a work visa?

Gutierez acknowledges that this bad blood between some of his peers and Madonna made him initially reluctant to sign on to Strike a Pose. "I lost contact with [the dancers] and I felt guilty," he said. "A lot of things had happened personally with Madonna. There were lawsuits that were pending at the time and I was still working with her, so it was a bit weird between all of us." Zwaan and Gould also intentionally kept the dancers apart for much of production, waiting until individual interviews had wrapped to film the movie's poignant finale, the big reunion scene.


Photo by Robin de Puy courtesy of Logo Documentary Films

It's during this scene that Gauwloos finally tells his friends about his HIV status. Although he was diagnosed in 1987, Gauwloos kept it a secret from everyone but his mother for decades. He lived in denial for much of that time, refusing treatment until he collapsed in 1997 and was rushed to the hospital.

Complicating matters was Gauwloos's immigrant status. The Belgian dancer was not a citizen and only able to live in the US on work visas. But at a certain point, he let them all expire and continued to reside in America as an illegal immigrant for six to seven years.

"After the tour, I really had to deal with this disease, and I just couldn't," he said. "I thought, I'm going to die anyway, so why would I apply for a work visa? And that's one of the reasons why I never got treatment. I was just scared to be deported. Gay, HIV, and illegal. It was all these strikes against me."

Blond Ambition tour rehearsals. Photo courtesy of Logo Documentary Films

Many years after their initial diagnoses, both Gauwloos and Wilborn are living with HIV, but the loss of Trupin is deeply felt. His absence is noted by his six friends at their Strike a Pose reunion dinner, and some (like Stea) had publicly commented on the shock of his death previously. Trupin had a particular impact on Crumes, who was, by his own admission, homophobic when he accepted Madonna's job offer. (Fans of Truth or Dare will remember his frequent use of gay slurs.) In Strike a Pose, he credits Trupin and the other dancers with changing his worldview.


But sudden fame also had an intoxicating and, in many cases, harmful effect on the group. Several of the dancers say in Strike a Pose that they developed drug addictions following Truth or Dare. Sustaining work after the Blond Ambition tour was a struggle for everyone. In one particularly heartbreaking scene, Gutierez's mother admits that she expected him to be more successful after landing the tour. Since his mother speaks limited English, Gutierez tearfully translates this sentiment for the camera. "One time she saw a picture of a house in a postcard, and she had shown it to me, saying, This is the house that one day you will buy me," he translates in the documentary. "I did so much, so many big things, and she's saying that I should've just continued. I never got to get her that house."

Oliver Crumes poses with a photo of himself from the Blond Ambition tour. Photo courtesy of Logo Documentary Films

Guiterez says he's already received an enormous response to the moment, which is an emotional peak in an already quite emotional movie. "Never once did I expect that [the interview] was going to turn into such a personal and deep discussion about things that took place so long ago," he said. "I didn't know that it was still so ingrained in her heart and that's how she felt."

Still, Gutierez says he's excited for more people to finally see his story—as are Gauwloos and Zwaan. All the dancers say fans still write to them, often in thanks for helping them accept their own sexuality. In fact, the heartfelt letters have only increased since the advent of email and social media. Some are read aloud in Strike a Pose.


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Truth or Dare made these men into icons of the gay community, and though their self-expression felt political in 1990, when they challenged viewers to have franker discussions about sexuality, now they hope they can continue those conversations.

"I hope it does for HIV/AIDS what Truth or Dare did for homosexuality," said Gauwloos. "To make it more at the front and make it more socially acceptable. Let's talk about it."

"I want people to take from the film that everything is not what it seems," says Gutierez. "That [the people] you saw in that video being so fabulous, these people also experience heartache and loss and pain. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. I hope that's what they take from seeing the film. Hope."

Strike a Pose will be streaming on Logo TV following its premiere on April 6, 2017.