The Truth Behind ‘Truth Or Dare’
Some time during the course of Madonna’s 1990 Blond Ambition tour, audiences started showing up with posters that displayed names other than hers: Luis Camacho, Oliver Crumes, Salim Gauwloos, Jose Gutierez, Kevin Stea, Gabriel Trupin and Carlton Wilborn.
They were Madonna’s male backup dancers on the tour. And while backup dancers often are only noticed in the context of whatever artist they’re with, these seven stood out for their impressive moves and — possibly more so — their bold attitudes. They became stars in their own right.
The tour, taking place at the peak of Madonna’s career, was her most controversial, being noted — and nearly banned in a couple instances — for its explicit sexual material. It was all detailed in a documentary about the tour, Truth or Dare, which further thrust the dancers into the spotlight. Six of the seven dancers were gay, and they became icons for the LGBTQ community.
Among the people impacted by the tour and the film were Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan, who both saw the film as adolescents. As adults, they were curious what ever happened to the dancers — so they went about finding out. The result is their documentary Strike A Pose, which checks in with the dancers 25 years later.
The film has been screened all over the world, and next up, it’s part of the lineup at the annual Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival, which is hosted by the Honolulu Gay & Lesbian Cultural Foundation and runs Aug. 6-28 at Honolulu Museum of Art’s Doris Duke Theatre. Strike A Pose screens at 7 p.m. Aug. 6 and 5 p.m. Aug. 7. At each of the screenings, two of the dancers — Jose Gutierez and Kevin Stea — will be in attendance and available for a Q&A following the film.
Metro recently got a chance to chat with Gutierez and Stea, and here are a few things we learned about them and Strike A Pose.
THEIR FAME CAME UNEXPECTEDLY
Ever since the tour, all of the dancers have been receiving letters from fans who tell them how big of an impact they’ve had on their lives. While being openly gay doesn’t seem like a big deal today, at the time, it was. To put it in context, Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival director Brent Anbe says this: “For many in the LGBT community … Truth or Dare was the first time they ever saw two men kissing and saw gay men as real people truly expressing themselves.”
As Stea states in the film, “the sort of daring, progressive message in (Truth or Dare) was that you can be gay and human, because up to this point, being gay was to be the other and be subversive and perverse, and all of a sudden here was this message that you can be gay and happy and successful and be full of life.”
But it hadn’t been the dancers’ intention to make any sort of sweeping social statement.
“Back then, it was unbeknownst to us — we were all little kids,” Gutierez says. “We weren’t setting out to move a community and become a part of pop culture history — we never set out to do any of that.”
“It was just people filming us being ourselves,” Stea says. “It was just us having fun, and it is odd for us to look back and have all this acknowledgement and appreciation from thousands and thousands of people who say, ‘you changed my life.’
“It is hard to accept that I was walking to the grocery store and that changed your life. We were just being ourselves and doing our thing,” he adds with a laugh.
THERE WAS INITIAL SKEPTICISM ABOUT PARTICIPATING IN ‘STRIKE A POSE’
According to Stea, the group has had various offers throughout the years for Blond Ambition-related projects — but they had turned them down until now.
“They all sort of obsess over Madonna,” he says of past pitches. “When these filmmakers approached us, it was very clear that they were interested in our stories … and they really wanted to know who we were as people.”
At first, Gutierez admits that he didn’t initially want to be a part of the film. He was worried that firstly, it would be too focused on Madonna, and secondly, about what being reunited with the group would be like.
“It had been so long since I had seen the other guys. We have never been together as a unit, so I was a bit afraid,” Gutierez admits. “Did I even want to see these guys? So much has happened.”
But what sold them is when they realized that it wouldn’t be a tell-all about Madonna; the filmmakers were truly interested in their lives.
“We were out there being bold and loud, but we also weren’t sharing everything of ourselves (on tour),” Stea says. “It was an opportunity to share our story, all of us, and I thought that was invaluable and about time.”
‘STRIKE A POSE’ ADDRESSES SOME BIGGER ISSUES
Part of that story that they could finally tell is about HIV/ AIDS.
One of the dancers, Gabriel Trupin, died of an AIDS-related illness in 1995. Two others — Salim Gauwloos and Carlton Wilborn — had been HIV-positive during the Blond Ambition tour, but kept it a secret. Only in recent years did Wilborn go public about his health, and Gauwloos reveals his status in the film after not telling anybody for 28 years.
Stea hopes that the film can help raise visibility and awareness about AIDS and spark discussions about it. There is still a lot of stigma, he says, and misinformation — erroneous ideas about how it’s transmitted, as well as a perception that it’s only something people in the ‘80s and ‘90s had to worry about.
“It needs to be discussed — there is a reason why there are so many people that are HIV-positive that … are quiet about it,” Stea says. “There is still incredible discrimination.
“People are still suffering in silence and quietly hiding themselves because of the shame and the guilt and people around them don’t understand still.”
THE FILM DEPICTS THE FIRST TIME THEY’VE ALL BEEN TOGETHER IN 25 YEARS
Despite any initial skepticism from a few of the dancers, they all agreed to meet for dinner — a big emotional payoff about a quarter of the way through Strike A Pose. It’s a joyous, happy-tears kind of reunion.
Gutierez and Stea, at least, are glad they did it.
“When we all stepped into that room together, I don’t think we realized what a big, empty hole there was in our lives,” Stea says. “It was immediately apparent the second that we got together, that we instantly stepped back into our youth.
“I feel like I just gained five brothers back,” he continues. “I can call them at any time — and we actually do; we text all the time.”
“I am glad they edited so much of it out, because I was just a ball of emotions,” Gutierez says. “It was beautiful … Now that I am back in their lives, I am not going to let another 26 years go by without being part of these boys’ lives.”
In fact, the film could be a new beginning for them as a group. Gutierez gave this teaser: “We are working on some stuff … There are some things lined up that we are scheduled to do as a unit.”
It may be more than 25 years since they were on stage with Madonna, but Jose Gutierez and Kevin Stea are still very active in the dance world. Here’s a brief look at what they have been up to recently.
Jose Gutierez, aka Jose Xtravaganza, is the leader of dance group House of Xtravaganza. He recently wrapped a project with Baz Luhrmann and Jaden Smith that’s set to be released on Netflix.
Kevin Stea went on to work with other big-name artists including Michael Jackson, Prince and Lady Gaga. Today, he works as a choreographer and is a singer under the moniker That Rogue Romeo. He currently is writing a memoir (“It’s a summarization of all the odd moments and places I have found myself in”) and is in the process of editing a documentary about his father’s life and their relationship.